Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Monday, 8 December 2008


I have written and re-written this post so many times and still haven't got it right - so I'll take a run at it. If I don't, it'll never get done. It may come out a bit breathless. Apologies. So . . . there I was, out in a North East wind, looking at un-seasonal flowers . . . except I started looking down badger holes instead . . . when I realised a lot of growing is going on in December and I've not been taking proper notice of it because I've been too busy being surprised by surprises.

* * * * *
And this thought made me widen a project I've been mulling on - which was to select a few trees and follow their growth over the course of a year.
Now, I'll be choosing patches of wild ground too and monitoring them in the same way. (But not the bit in the picture; patches with more variety.)
* * * * *
Then, Nigel at SILVERTREEDAZE went into a rant about the flailing of hedgerows - which reminded me of my own fury when the local council flailed blackberries from their bushes in September - just as I was about to make jam and bottle fruit ready for Christmas. Our bushes and trees (see how posessive one becomes) still bear the scars left by mechanical flails - and an email from the council promises it'll do it again in May, July and September next year. (Or employ contractors to do it. Council officials emphasise this - it's not them that flail, it's their contractors.) Well, this set me off on another tack. I'd been looking for trees I could stand back from so I could see their developing shape. And I wanted to get close to them too, to photo their opening buds. With the revised plan, I'll be following particular branches; branches which bear the marks of the flails. The results will be less aesthetic - but interesting none the less.
* * * * *
There is litttle that rouses strong opinion as much as the flailing of hedgerows does. When it happens, I go home miserable because of the devastation (and I see others doing the same). There are branches hanging frayed and broken in the bushes and trees . . . undergrowth is missing . . . it's horrid. But, as the photo of the Alexanders testifies . . . it's hard to keep a good plant down . . . So . . . now it's time to start introducing branches. OAK

And a very pretty tree.
(Not as big as it looks in the photo.)
Perhaps someone can tell me what it is?
With its chosen branch.
And a large tree with catkins and red twigs. From a distance, the twigs look very red - like a red cloud.
(I don't know what this one is either. I wish I'd started before the leaves fell off!)
Remember these branches well!
There are other trees and bushes lined up . . . for other posts. And they'll have their own year books. (Elsewhere but with links.)
And we'll see what happens.
_ _ _ _ _


Far Side of Fifty said...

Sounds like a really cool project! I look forward to seeing the compiled work! :)

Lucy said...

Yes . . . work! I'm hoping I haven't bitten off more than I want to chew.

None the less, this latest flailing seems to have been more vicious than previous ones and some sets of bushes are becoming very narrow.


Aerie-el said...

Great photos. The structure of a tree's limbs against a blue sky can take one's breath away.
It will be tres interessant to see the changes you track during the year.

Plant Mad Nige said...

As ever, lovely pictures, even when showing wounded trees.

The tree with catkins is, I'm pretty sure, a birch, but your description - red twigs - suggests Alnus incana. The preceding tree is a bit hard to recognise, too, but I wonder whether it's an aspen?

easygardener said...

From the RSPB site (Conservation) it appears flailing is a cheap option best used on wood under 2cm thick - it also suggests more than once a year is not good for the hedge's health.Most hedges will exceed the 2cm limit fairly quickly I would have thought.
No doubt cheapness is all that matters to the local authority.

Gary said...

The project sounds great. With regard to flailing Network Rail have the train of death. They use it for clearing embankments it uses big flails to smash everything in it's path, awful thing.


wittenden said...

Lucy-much too big material for flailing: needs a skilled operator with a chainsaw or some kind of pruning saw. Doubtless the council are trying to save money/mitigate health and safety issues by not having to use skilled labour. Why on earth do they flial 2 to 3 times per year?
When the electricity board cuts over hanging branches from their wires, they use cherry pickers. Much better, but they too tend to leave unblanced trees over a course of several years-one of my bugbears!

Lucy said...


I notice, on your bloggers profile, that Etre et Avoir is one of your favourite films.

Close to the beginning, the camera holds trees swaying outside the classroom window in frame - it's incredible - they sort of suck you into their movement - I could happily watch them for even longer than the director allows.

And your current header is stunning.

You must be a tree person!


Lucy said...

Plant Mad Nige - The books I have for identifying trees are very inconsitant. They provide photos for bark for some and not for others . . .

I looked at the trees you suggested and the catkins didn't seem right - but (like fungi!) they change as the season progresses . . .

In some ways, not knowing will add to the interest of the exercise - eventually finding out what I am looking at when the leaves appear. (I hope.) And then they will turn out to be embarassingly ordinary.

About the photos. Thanks. I'm glad you like them.

I was presented with a dilemma here, though. How interesting or beautiful should one allow photos of bad things to be? I solve this, in part by having two blogs - but it is a problem.


Lucy said...

Easy Gardener - About the 2cm thick recommendation . . .

One of the things that makes this particular stretch of hedgerow interesting is that it runs along the top of a bank. This means that, while some bushes really are bushes, others are the middles and tops of fully grown trees which have their roots and trunks below the eye-line. This is why there are proper branches mixed in with the thinner growth.

Of course, the council does have to take cost into account . . . and, of course . . . everyone has their own favourite hedgerow. (Well, perhaps not everybody.) However, I would have hoped the sheer variety in the stretch I am showing here would have made it special to the council too.

(Ho! One wishes!)


Lucy said...

Gary - the Train of Death does sound awful.

A note of sympathy with British Rail . . . in that it does have to cope with a lot of buddleia. One of my posts soon will be about buddleia - which does have extraordinary regenerative properties. And train drivers do have to see where they are going! (I would guess they are also worried about brickwork beside tracks and in bridges).
But flails are indiscriminate and one wonders what happens to the trees and bushes mixed in with it.


Lucy said...

Wittenden - I have no idea why the council wants these hedges to be flailed three times a year. It's very odd.

After Christmas, I'll ask.

But the result does seem to be that, rather than maintaining an edge, they are cutting deeper and deeper into the hedge each time the machines come by - gradually shaving it away!

Presumably that's why the branches I show in this post escaped earlier flails.


(I do hope I'm not exagerating how bad all this is. To the very-lay-person, it's hard not to get onto an emotional high horse - which is why I want to watch what happens over the year. Then I'll know how much I should worry . . . and how much it's just me not liking the 'look' of the place after a flail.)

The Garden Faerie said...

Wait, what? I only know the word flail as in thrashing ones arms about... so I'll assume flailing hedgerows means cutting them willy nilly by city officials who are neither gardeners nor plant afficionados? And that the shrubs or trees get hurt in this type of trimming? Boo!!! And berries are good, dagnabbit!
~ Monica

Lucy said...

Hello Monica - Flailing your arms about - it is a bit like that I suppose - but large scale.

Imagine spinning whips - like sideways lawn-strimmers (do you have them?) wizzing round, cutting off the twigs and branches.

Farmers tow them behind their tractors but contractors (like the one which did this damage) have huge machines - big lorries, to do it.

When these hedgerows were being flailed, I happened to be walking along with someone who got so angry about what was happening that he wanted to tackle the workers who were doing it so he could (in a not terribly friendly way) persuade them to stop.

After we'd discussed it for a bit (in a rather animated way) reluctantly he agreed it wasn't their fault, they were just doing what they were paid to do - it's the council which issues the contract which bears the responsibility. He let the workers be and I promised to go to the council - which I did.

But it gets you like that. The process can seem so violent it's easy to feel violent too when you see it being done.

Clearly, many people think it's an ok way to trim back the hedges along public rights of way so there must be good things, acceptable things about it.

But it's indiscriminate . . .


Lucy said...

Monica - I answered too quickly so my description isn't quite right - and the tractors have arms sticking out which are like massive hedge trimmers or electric carving knives . . . .

But you'll get the right idea from what I said . . .

Can anyone explain better how they work rather than just what the result is?


Philip Bewley said...

I have enjoyed your photographs. As always, I am surprised by surprises!

Lucy said...

Monica - I've decided I need to know more about flails.

When I next see them at work - I'll go and look properly at the machines and do a post.


Lucy said...

Thanks Philip.