Whilst I’ve always liked Peter Gabriel’s hit song ‘Sledgehammer’ I’d never imagined I would one day be the owner of such a thing. Why would I? That would imply being involved in some fairly hard physical labour, in a life where lifting a heavy book down from a shelf is as hard as my labours ever get.
This last weekend I got my sledgehammer.
Recently Sarah and I have been doing some work together on Plot 44, the allotment on Greenbank Lane where she’s been gardening for the past twelve years. Some of our work has simply been summer clearing. It’s the time of the year when the carefully cultivated garden of springtime suddenly fills up, everything given added energy to grow by the light nights of the middle of the year.
And though Sarah has never been one for obsessively neat manicured gardening, this year’s growth spurt had actually swallowed a couple of paths, making the far end of the garden inaccessible. So I was sent for, to help.
And in hacking through the summer’s overgrowth, which you might have seen in Summertime, we decided that Plot 44 had a structural problem. Not enough paths in general and some paths not leading to other paths, therefore resulting in neglected and overgrown ‘cul-de-sac’ areas. You’d think we’d know better having helped run so many urban design courses years ago, but no.
Some of the worst congestion was being caused by something that was in all other respects a seriously good idea, a dead hedge. Sarah and Gemma had created this last year. Two rows of canes and in between filled up gradually with the sorts of garden waste that won’t easily compost, such as the prunings from the dogwood hedge and the tougher and taller grasses.
This was practically useful, looked attractive, and provided home and shelter for all sorts of tiny garden inhabitants.
But it was in the wrong place. Stretching across the middle of the allotment it was causing much of the chaos and congestion we were trying to deal with. So we decided to move it. ‘Hedges are for edges’ I exclaimed, contributing a new cliché to the language.
This Sunday then we were up early and arrived at the allotment at the new world record time, for us, of 8:30a.m. We knew we had some hard labour coming up and wanted to get as much of it as we could done while the glorious day was still relatively cool.
We’d decided the canes on the existing dead hedge hadn’t worked too well, too flimsy, so we’d bought more solid stakes this time (from Terry’s Timber down on the Dock Road). We’d come down on the Friday evening to start knocking these in, but the tools we’d had just weren’t up to the job. So Sarah had gone and got the sledgehammer and proudly presented it to lucky me!
But it was very hot. The temperature would eventually reach 37˚ (That’s nearly 100° in the Fahrenheit I still think in), so we took regular breaks for drinks in the shade and, as Hobbits will, we had two breakfasts.
During the day we had company.
First, in clearing some overgrowth for the new dead hedge I disturbed a wasp’s nest.
The day was so hot I think they were too drowsy to bother stinging me, and just got on with checking the queen and the eggs were ok, I think. (Anyway, for the rest of the day we left them well alone and hope they’ll now go and build themselves a new nest somewhere else. Otherwise we’ll have to face up to how exactly DO you move a wasp’s nest?)
Our other companions were a family of Robins. These have a nest in the dogwood on the other side of the allotment, and all day they were flying in and out of there to come and see what we were doing, and see if all of our digging and plant moving was turning up any food for them.
When we finished we decided the hedge could usefully be half as long again, and as I write Sarah’s back at Terry’s Timber picking up another 16 stakes for the sledgehammer to whack in.