Awkward

Some days and some jobs are just awkward. Some days some jobs are awkward and the next day they feel straightforward. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s me, perhaps it’s the job; maybe it’s a combination of both. All I can say is that I have already had my fill of awkward for this week.

The Beau travelled up from Cornwall on Friday to help me rescue the toppled Santa Cruz ironwood tree (Lyonothamnus floribundus subsp. aspleniifolius). On the plus-side it fell away from the house, down the line of a boundary fence, but it took with it a fig and a Chatham Island lancewood (Pseudopanax chathamica), whilst also pushing the fence slightly out of line. I guess the ironwood tree must have measured in excess of 30ft, carrying a significant bulk of Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ in its canopy. The spectacle when the rose flowered was something special to look forward to every April.

The Jungle Garden in April 2017, when the ironwood was in its prime.

My initial reaction was to chastise myself for allowing the rampaging rose free reign, thereby turning the fast-growing tree into a massive spinnaker when the wind blew from the south, west or north. A mass of twiggy branches with long whips projecting wildly from the canopy certainly didn’t increase the tree’s chances of surviving gale-force winds, but they attracted a host of wildlife to the garden, including a delightful quarrel of sparrows. However, in trying to right the tree (more on which later) we discovered that the rose, with its brandy-coloured, peeling branches, was probably the only thing tethering the tree to the ground on the house side. All the roots had grown out in the opposite direction, understandably so, meaning the tree was not at all well anchored. It was a small miracle it had stayed upright for so long. Note to all – don’t plant very tall trees in narrow raised beds.

A tangled mass of trees, toppled like dominos

Although the ironwood had fallen as neatly as it could, causing no structural damage, at least half of it was left hanging over neighbouring gardens. There is no prospect of righting a tree that size and even less likelihood of it remaining upright, so the top had to come off. Depending on where one stood, the job looked more or less possible. From below, with half the tree out of sight, it felt like we might be in with a chance. From above, with the majority of the canopy far out of reach, the task seemed well beyond the capability of amateurs.

We learned very quickly that the only way to tackle this awkward job was to approach it calmly and methodically, rather like unpicking knitting. Rushed at, we quickly became tired as the whips and branches entangled themselves. There was also the very real danger of causing injury to ourselves and damage to other people’s property. Fortunately, at the end of the day on Sunday only two thin twigs had fallen into neighbouring gardens and we were left with a gargantuan pile of debris to deal with. That task continues. Despite feeling physically exhausted, The Beau and I got away with nothing more than a few scratches.

The Beau pulls 20ft-long rose stems out from the canopy. Thankfully they are thornless.

If one can call this part of the challenge successful, righting the pollarded trunk was not. Despite digging out around the roots (at which stage we discovered how few of them there were) the very sorry-looking stump could not be eased more than than 60º from the ground, although it was happy to stay there. The choice is now whether to a) give up and remove the tree altogether; b) make further attempts to right it; or c) leave it as a quirky garden feature. The correct thing to do is, of course, to take it out and start again, but it may take me some time for me to reconcile myself with that heartbreaking conclusion. From beneath the beautifully netted bark we can already see new shoots starting to form, the tree’s genetic reaction to the threat of death. Half of me is interested to see what happens next, whilst the other half is avoiding the fact that it’s probably a lost cause.

I’ve got clearing up to do …..

Meanwhile neither of the trees squashed beneath the ironwood seems keen to resume a vertical position, leaving me with a row of trees resembling slowly toppling dominos. If the Leaning Tower of Pisa can become a famous landmark, so too might the Leaning Lyonothamnus of Broadstairs …. or perhaps not. It’s an awkward decision that I am more than happy to delay. TFG.

….. and until it’s done I’m focussing my attention elsewhere.