I’ve got yew under my skin

by Yule Heibel on May 14, 2004

Haven’t been answering my comments or writing about some things I wanted to, mostly because I’m so busy working on off-line things. Among many other things, in the past two days I attacked a yew hedge renovation, and tonight I’m bleeding from the fingertips to the elbows for my efforts. Imagine a hedge that was planted in 1938 or ’39 to help screen from view a then newly constructed house, which was still quite bare looking, that sits on a corner lot along a storied Victoria avenue leading to Government House where King and Queen went to stay when they visited the Commonwealth in ’39. Then imagine that this hedge, already partially taken down and demolished in 2000 because, due to neglect, it had overgrown the sidewalk to the point where renovation seemed impossible, imagine that this hedge was neglected for decades. Cut off a few centimetres and you hit deadwood. All the green bits are sitting at the ends of long, attenuated twigs. Imagine, too, that this hedge is the only thing between a small side yard and the aforementioned touristy street filled in summer with tour buses, scooters, and clippety-clop horse-drawn carriages on their way to Craigdarroch Castle, and that replacing it with new hedge is prohibitive. Hence my tenderly draconian ministrations, with pruning saw, electric hedge trimmer, ladder, bypass pruners, tined rake (for beating out copious amounts of leaf litter). In a past life, I was a sculptor, you know, so I enjoy this sort of thing, except that I don’t usually let my enjoyments draw blood. I’ve cut back (and down) a significant amount, and today I really tackled the deadwood. I’ve covered about 20 metres so far, and have about as much to go (this is an estimate); the hedge is easily 1.5 metres wide (and over 2 metres tall), and the deadwood is viciously spiky and hard. Each bit has to be inspected by hand and evaluated, however, since sometimes it looks like deadwood, but still has fresh leaves at the tips, while other times it is completely deadwood. If it has leaves left, you have to evaluate whether it’s a keeper or not, since you also want to prune out lots of “good” stuff to help get air and light into the hedge. The trimming, on the other hand, just requires muscles and earplugs (which I don’t have, and consequently I have trouble remembering things right now: my ears are ringing). Balancing on my ladder, electric hedge trimmer held overhead, I imagined Monty Pythonesque spoofs on Sam Peckinpah movies, with the blood spurting out in slow motion…. As it happened, I kept my balance, but I have bruises on my lower shins from leaning too heavily into the top step when I was trying to increase my leverage and reach. My hands and arms are in agony right now: I can’t tell whether the welts are just bloody or whether there are tiny bits of twig lodged in each. And, yes, I know I should have worn gloves, but I was too into it to go get them. I also worried that if I had gloves on, I’d lunge too enthusiastically into the bracken and really shear my arms open. When I continue, I will wear gloves, however, and I’ll wear heavy long sleeves, too. In case you’re wondering: unlike cedar, yew hedges will grow back from the trunk outward. You have to cut out a good chunk of existing branch material, though, along with all the deadwood, because you want to force the plant to make leaves on the trunk, not at the tips of those otherwise leafless branches because, since the hedge is already oversized, you’ll be cutting all that back over time and new growth there is wasted growth. You’ll be left with a hedge with holes, but it will grow back, slowly. The holes and thinning will help speed growth since light and air can now reach the trunk. It’s also important to fertilise yew hedges. They don’t thrive on nothing, especially if there are large boulevard trees growing within 5 metres which are sucking all the nutrients out of the ground. We also finally got the building permit to fix the falling-down garage I mentioned in an earlier post. It’s costing way too much money, which is why I’m doing all this yard work myself. I’m told that since last year, the price of copper (for electrical wiring) has gone up 40%, the price of steel 45%, and wood trim is up 25%. Canada exports the copper and steel in raw form to China, and they sell it back to us. (Hewers of wood and carriers of water, that’s us.) Because the City requires a California drain on this rebuilt garage’s driveway, we called the plumber to camera the perimeter drain and clean it. Like the hedge, it had never been done, apparently. Ka-ching, ka-ching — single handedly keeping the BC economy humming…. Meanwhile, the City insisted that the existing foundation pad in the garage needed an engineer’s assessment, and his recommended fix was underpinning it at the four corners as well as using a perimeter beam for the roof trusses, which added another couple of thousand to the bill. And while I was in the basement looking for a longer extension cord for my hedge trimmer yesterday, I noticed that my furnace was leaking water. It’s original to the house (1938), and the boiler is cracked. The burner is new(er), but it’s all one piece these days, and the upshot is that we need a new furnace, too. Hey, at least it didn’t happen in the middle of winter… When it rains, it pours. I think it’s time I got a (part-time) job. Any ideas for what a homeschooling parent who is an overeducated ex-academic thoroughly unfitted for the world of traditional work can do? And don’t suggest yardwork…

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