I always enjoy having a good chop at something: I shall resist the temptation to laugh in a "mwah haa haah!" manner at this point, in case you get the idea that I can't be trusted to neaten a shrub without being drastic with it: I can - be trusted, that is - but it's nice to have the chance to really get to work on something.
Most of my clients are - perfectly understandably - not able to be as drastic as the plant requires: unless you work with plants all year round, it can be quite scary to make a big change to a plant, in case you kill it.
With my many years of experience, I know that it's actually quite hard to kill plants, and that most of them are actually rejuvenated by having some major work done to them.
Exhibit A, today, is a very large freestanding Laurel bush, which I have chopped every couple of years in order to prevent it from taking over the entire corner of the garden. It hides a water butt, a pile of hardcore, and the bare lower trunk of a Prunus cerasifera which is really past its best... but we need to keep it within bounds, otherwise we can't walk round it.
Two years ago, the very old apple tree next to it died, and my client wanted to grow a climbing rose up the skeleton of the old tree: she persuaded the tree surgeon to remove all but the bigger branches, and to trim those to make a balanced frame. This has worked out quite well, rather better than I expected it to, but now the Laurel is encroaching on the apple, so I was given permission to cut it right back.
Usually I go in there with my big loppers and reduce the whole bush by five or six feet in all directions: if you were to look inside the canopy, you would clearly see where the last chop took place, as there are thick new stems sprouting from each lopped branch.
This year, however, my client wanted to keep the height, as a backdrop to the rose, and to hide the worsening Prunus. But she wanted me to clear the ground, and make it possible to see through the lower branches.
Here's what I started with:
As you can see, they are merging into one great mass.
The first job is to lop off the very lowest branches of the Laurel, right back to the main trunks.
This immediately clears the ground at ankle height, and can often be all that is required.
However, as we used to be able to walk around the back of the chair, I then trimmed with secateurs all the branches which were extending beyond an imaginary circle of about ten or twelve feet across, which would be clear of the chair, the apple, the peony bed and the water butt round the back.
Ooh, that's a bit better.
Suddenly there is daylight under the Laurel, the tree peony is no longer being squashed, and we can now walk once more behind the chair.
This is what the back used to look like - just the normal bushy growth of Laurel, as you would expect, with a lot of dead leaves under the centre of the shrub.
Can you see the chair? Nope, me neither.
And isn't that a bit more stylish?
My instructions were to leave the dead leaves in a neat circle around the trunk - well, we all know that won't last longer than five minutes or one windy day, but for today, it did look rather neat.
And I had the satisfaction of knowing that there is one job that is going to last for a couple of seasons.
Then, of course, it took me half an hour to chop up the branches I had removed, and drag them all out to the bonfire heap....