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May 2008

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Extracting Leyland cypress, ‘Joseph Rock', and the Tibetan cherry

Getting rid of a leylandii hedge in the garden is a bit like the feeling of exquisite relief one experiences when a rotting, abscessed tooth is extracted. Admittedly some leylandii hedges are attractive - they're the ones that have been managed well because, like children and dogs, they've been properly trained from the beginning and clipped so that they narrow to a point at the top. The one in our garden wasn't. It had been planted in the seventies when it was the height of fashion and trimmed by a garden contractor once a year. However it had spread outwards as well as growing upwards and this spring we finally decided to have it removed. It was completely dead in the inside.

Our garden is no longer secluded but, because the hedge faced south, it has let much more light in and that is no bad thing. Its removal revealed an almost forgotten sheugh (a primitive field drain). Andy, who does the heavy work in the garden, cleaned it out and thanks to the excessive rains of winter and spring, the water now runs in it. I'll have to wait and see if it continues to do so because sheughs can be temperamental things and it might just dry out  - like a turlough, a vanishing lake. If it keeps on running I have plans for planting the edges with candelabra primulas and damp-loving irises this autumn. Gardeners always need something to look forward to.

There is a Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock' stuck at the end of where the Leyland cypress hedge was and not having a chance to thrive. It's supposed to have yellow berries which apparently birds don't like. I've never seen any. After it flowers every year birds eat them in the transitional stage between flower and ripe fruit. This tree, now that it's out on its own, looks much bigger and, apart from a slight list eastwards because of the thuggish spreading of the leylandii hedge, is an attractive one.

Young's weeping birch has been replaced by Prunus serrula, the Tibetan cherry, not for its little white flowers which are a minor bonus, but for its gorgeous deep mahogany-red bark.

The weeping birch, Betula pendula ‘Youngii', was not. Even before I had read Helen Dillon's very apt description of this weeping birch in her latest book - ‘a blobby looking bird's nest on a stick' - I had decided it would have to go to the big arboretum in the sky. Like ‘Joseph Rock' it listed eastward and the local free-ranging heron used it, not as a nest, but as a rest. This was after clearing the fish from every ornamental pool in the neighbourhood and all the frogspawn from the three pools in this garden. I sincerely hope it had acute indigestion. I also wish it would add slugs to its menu because they're not being eaten as much now that the frog population has been depleted.

Young's weeping birch has been replaced by Prunus serrula, the Tibetan cherry, not for its little white flowers which are a minor bonus, but for its gorgeous deep mahogany-red bark. This very tactile bark asks to be smoothed and stroked - if it's not given such attention, it can become hidden in blackish scales and numerous little bumps making it less attractive. I've wanted one of these for years but have never had the space for one.

The leylandii hedge has been replaced by three magnolias which are my favourite trees. They are well spaced out because they're fairly rapid growers. Occasionally I think that a garden comprised of my six favourite genera would be the ideal set-up: magnolias, rhododendrons, hellebores, snowdrops, daffodils and wild primroses. During summer and autumn I would just visit other people's gardens and be hypercritical!

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