Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Nationals 2013

Yesterday was The Nationals at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire. The weather was reasonably kind, with just a few light showers. However, the wind was quite strong at times, making it necessary to hang on tight to the taller stems as they came down to prevent them blowing way out of the hedge-line and breaking off.

Parking was away from the hedge and we were ferried to and fro by tractor and trailer, which always makes it difficult for people like me who like to bring the proverbial kitchen sink with them. 

The hedge itself was at first glance very manageable - how many times have I fallen into this trap - but was rather tall, at some fifteen to twenty feet, and did contain some sizeable Field Maples, but I think we all felt comfortable that the cants were much of a likeness, at least within our class. The side had been flailed up to about eight feet removing some useful side growth.

The first problem to arise was that two of the SoE veterans had been held up waiting for transport to the hedge and it was ten minutes past the draw time when the decision was taken that we could wait no linger and to draw for those that were present. The delayed two turned up a short while later and were told they could have extra time at the end so as to put things on a level playing field.

In the draw I get the first cant, which looks OK, except for some large Field Maples that appear to have been damaged when younger and had dead wood in the area of the pleaching hinge. Quite a lot of Spindle and Dogwood in the cant too, which could prove interesting.

 And then I get a bit of a surprise - the cant next to mine is the last of the SoE Intermediates and one of them has not turned up and so after I had laid-off the first two stems - I hadn't noticed that there was no one working that cant - I'm told by their judge that I will have to stake from my first peg and make what I can of the join into the un-laid section. No point in worrying about that now as there is a hedge to lay. So, I press on and take the tops out of a couple of Field Maples and get them down and it looks like this at about a third of the way down the cant.

Quite pleased with the pleachers at this stage, but struggling a bit with the build, as the Spindle and Dogwood was tall and thin and with all the side growth at the top - poles with fluffy tops - and I couldn't seem to get the build right. At one point I glanced at my watch and thought it said one o'clock, panic set in as I still had four or five stems to lay and there was no way I would be able to finish laying and get the stakes and binding done in an hour. After a while I could still hear chainsaws so thought others must still be laying and so had a look down the line, and indeed the others looked to be be as behind as me - another look at the watch showed that I had apparently misread five-past twelve. Big sense of relief but I still felt under pressure as I had a lot to do in the remaining time. So no time to take any more photos till the end. To cope with the un-laid section to my left I had to cut off one of the laid-off stems and force what I could of the others into the standing hedge at the start of my cant, which was not ideal. Anyway, I did get it finished in the nick of time and this was the result.

The binders supplier were absolutely beautiful and made it easy to get a nice straight top. The cleft Chestnut stakes were also good but my line had a slight curve that I couldn't straighten because of the number of heavy stems in the hedge and no amount of pulling and pushing would resolve the problem and I had no time left to move the last stake, which may have made it look a bit better. 

I was pleased with some aspects of the finished job but felt that the build was uneven and in fact the back of the hedge, in my opinion, looked better than the front. I also felt that it was a rushed job with no time to stand back and look at what you were doing, but then that's competition laying for you.

But everything said, it was a great day as always and although I was well and truly knackered at the end I did enjoy myself and its wonderful to see the different styles and the top-notch work done by some of the competitors.

So what should it have looked like? Well here are three shots shots - the first is a rather poor photo of the SoE Intermediates;

and the next two are of the SoE Open.

And for something completely different - here is Gary's Derbyshire cant.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

First SoE Training Day

The first South of England training day was held yesterday in a wet and muddy field near Laughton. The day started grey and overcast with a little drizzle but as the morning wore on the showers came sharp and heavy and it being rather warm it was difficult to work in a waterproof coat, so most of us just got wet. However, the rain did not dampen the spirits of the trainers and trainees who had turned up in good numbers.

The hedge was a maiden of twelve to fifteen years that had been planted in two rows - somewhat too far apart in my opinion - and was mostly Hawthorn but with a good number of Field Maple, Spindle, Crab Apple and Cherry spread throughout. As noted in the past, the Field Maples had done well on this moderately heavy soil and had attained a height of fifteen to twenty feet with a base diameter of six to seven inches, out-competing, and somewhat overshadowing, the Hawthorns. Added 'interest' for the hedge layer was provided by the conifer plantation that backed onto the hedge that had caused the majority of the side growth to be on the field side, with many Hawthorn stems leaning at 40 degrees in that direction, providing some challenging hand-tool pleaching situations.

Forgot to take a 'before' shot of the hedge but this is one about two thirds the way into laying our cant and you can see the plantation behind and the fence in front. The decision was taken to lay to the right so that we could work from the plantation side as there was more room to work there than between the hedge and the wire fence. You can see from the photo the long spindly top-growth but not the lack of side growth on the plantation side.

Most of the work was done with hand tools, the exception being the taking out the top growth of the large Field Maples and removing altogether two that had suffered what looked like squirrel damage in the past and had large areas of dead wood around the area of the pleach hinge. 

My student, Charlie, is a trug maker and had a good understanding of how wood behaves in relation to application of hand tools and he had soon got to grips with the principles of pleaching and together we made a decent job of getting the hedge down and trimmed into shape.

Unfortunately the stakes and binders provided were rather less than ideal, and although we got a good straight stake-line, it was nigh on impossible to get a level and consistent appearance to the binding. Nonetheless we made a fist of it as this rather poor 'into the sun' shot shows.

The following shot shows a larger section of the hedge, with one cant being worked on, and finished ones overseen by Tony, myself and Roy.

We were working on a section of the hedge round the corner of the field from the main bit which is shown below. It's not all finished as I was wet through and getting cold and as my cant was finished I decided to make for home.

Its the Nationals this coming Saturday, so fingers crossed for some dry weather and a light, dense hedge, without brambles or other complications - fat chance.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Speynes Mere - visit 1

Yesterday SHG started on the Speynes Mere hedge. This was the first of three scheduled visits to this Surrey Wildlife reserve. It is a maiden hedge comprised almost entirely of Hawthorne and approximately 12 - 15 years old - although I am getting shy of giving the age of a hedge based on recent findings from samples taken at Leigh - see last weeks post.

 As you can see from the photo below there was a surprising variation in the thicknes of the stems. Most were manageable with hand tools but there were a number of heavy 5 to 6 inch diameter stems better handled with a chainsaw. On the other hand there was a lot of spindly growth, some of which may have been self-seeded.

 There were, I think, sixteen cutters on site and by lunch time we had got a good section of the hedge down, staked and bound. The only real problem was that the hedge was shaded on one side and had therefore concentrated its growth on the opposite side, causing an imbalance that needed correction by the removal of some side growth and secondary pleaching where necessary.

 On what turned out to be a very pleasant sunny day we produced a nice section of hedge allowing the public views of the lake from the footpath.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Allotment hedge at Leigh

On Saturday we (SHG) finished off the hedge a Leigh. I was there for the first session on the 7th September but missed the second one on the 21st. The hedge was on two sides of a Parish Council allotment and ran alongside a road on both sides giving the finished product maximum exposure to the general product. Although the stems were not more than four or five inches in diameter, from an analysis of two cut samples taken from the hedge it has been estimated that it was planted in the 1920s and has been trimmed almost every year since then, producing very tight growth rings.

The hedge had been allowed to grow on for a few years but in places had not gained much height or width, especially under some of the Oaks where spindly new stems had arisen from old, brittle and partly rotten old growth, requiring some root-laying.

Despite all the issues the SHG team made a splendid job of the hedge which received much praise from the general public and the Parish Council.