Week of the Living Hedge

We have a hedge that marks the northern line of our property. It has run amok, untended for the last several years and as a result it has become misshapen and overgrown with weeds. As often happens in these situations, the hedge has overstepped its original boundaries and now encroaches upon the dirt driveway to the one side and the neighbouring acreage on the other. As the summer begins and the days lengthen, more and more the hedge has acquired a wild and willful appearance. The weeds and vines have taken hold sporadically along the length of the hedge choking the life out of random shrubs. Other sections of the hedge have flowered and stretched for the sky. In some places the foliage looms 15 feet above the ground, an impressive height for a simple shrubbery.

Cooler weather has finally arrived bringing a welcome relief after the unseasonably suffocating heat and humidity of the last week. With the dog days of summer looming ahead and no guarantee of a more temperate future, the time has come to face the hedge. Wednesday was as good a day as any. The sides would be easy I figured but not being tall of stature or long of reach the heights would be interesting. I gathered together the things I thought I would need to get the job done.

One 5 foot 5 inch tall woman stands under an overcast sky. She’s armed only with a pair of light weight hedge clippers (borrowed from my brother-in-law and not really designed for this mammoth undertaking), a ladder, long pruning sheers, short pruning sheers, a wheelbarrow, a bow saw, a rake, 250 feet of electrical cord, and one can of WD-40. Her hair is gathered up in a loose ponytail and she is dressed in her gardening best, a pair of overalls with dirt ground into the knees so deeply that they will never see clean again and an old pair of runners with a hole in the toe of the right shoe.  Bare feet in the shoes as that hole lets in a lot of dirt and a foot is easier to get clean than a white sock that’s been gardening. The dog sits in the kitchen banned from the yard. This is serious business and there is no time to keep tabs on a stick eating squirrel-chasing ball of fur. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, the trimming and weeding of a 130 foot hedge with a single cut…and so it begins.

Through Wednesday, stopping to wait out random rain showers passing over. Through Thursday, wallowing in the weeds. Standing on the ladder and leaning into the hedge, reaching dangerously far with the clippers flailing in one hand trying to tame the wild heights. Stopping, amazed, to see a snail perched on the very topmost leaf. How long did it take to get there and what would it think of its fall from grace? The surprise of finding not one but two red currant bushes hidden under the weeds, the berries already beginning to ripen. The dawning realization that I am just too small to reach the middle, my husband comes to the rescue. On Friday, making the cruelest cuts of all. The wind is high and the sky is still overcast.  Weed choked and dead or dying, it is time to cull the fallen. There aren’t many but enough that empty spaces like gaping wounds begin to appear in the hedge. Still all is not lost. Cut to the quick, new growth can already be seen sprouting from the ground where the fallen once grew.

The weeds and vines are gone. The fallen are heaped grey and dead upon funeral pyres silhouetted by a setting sun finally finding its way through the cloud scattered sky. The long days of summer are close at hand. They will bring light and life into those empty spaces. The gaping wounds will heal and the hedge will again stand whole and healthy, a sentinel on our northern boundary.

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