Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Holly.... a prickly problem

I used to love holly... ah, Christmas, berries, glossy dark green leaves...... until I had to work with it on a daily basis.

When people think of "evergreens" they think "how nice, it doesn't drop leaves in autumn."

No, it drops leaves all year round, in a steady continuous stream, un-noticed: so that no matter what time of year you work around a holly tree, bush or hedge, there are ALWAYS dead leaves lying around to stab you through your gloves.

As you can probably tell, I've rather gone off holly in recent years.

But I still have to deal with it on a weekly basis, so here today is my tip for the disposal of holly cuttings.

Firstly, don't even think about composting them: they don't rot down, they just get harder and even more prickly.

Burning them is the best option, if you have a bonfire pile: if not, they have to go in the Brown Bin for garden recycling, or down the dump in bags for mass green waste recycling.

But the problem is how to deal with a mass of cuttings: they are so bulky for their weight, not to mention the savage prickly edges.

I have a particular problem with the holly of one of my clients: it's a solid holly hedge immediately outside her kitchen window. The path to the front door runs alongside it, so I have to keep it clipped back for the benefit of the delivery men. And as my client is pretty much housebound now, I have to keep it clipped below the height of the windowsill, so that she can see out.

Sometimes it seems that I am forever clipping this darn thing! I use ordinary garden shears, a couple of times a year, but every few years it starts to get over-large, and the shears won't go through thick branches, so I have to step back and have a real chop at it, and reduce it by a foot or two in all dimensions. This leaves it looking a bit bare and leggy, but it leafs up in no time at all.

Well, this week it was time to have a major chop again - but the problem is the disposal of the bits.

In previous years, my client has burned the bits in the back garden, but unfortunately is no longer able to do so, meaning that now I have to cram them all in the brown bin. To my horror, the brown bin filled up in about ten minutes, with the hedge barely touched: holly forms a matrix which is full of air, ie wasted space, and it's very resistant to being squashed - especially as the height of a wheelie bin makes it awkward to get at the contents.

At this point I should mention that another of my clients, a lady well into her eighties, tells me that she climbs into her brown bin and jumps up and down to compress the contents so she can get more in...I admire her sense of balance, but I'm not quite prepared to do that myself! However, it was a good idea - perhaps I could get more holly in the bin if I could squash it a bit?

So I came up with a compromise: like most senior folk, my client still has her old black plastic dustbin.

I take this with me, start work on the hedge with secateurs, cutting out branches to reduce it by at least a foot.

As I go, I fill it with the holly cuttings: as you can see, it doesn't take that many cuttings to fill it to the top.

Then I apply the "compression unit" ie I put one leg inside the dustbin and squash it all down with my boot, going over and over it until it gives in.

A little like treading the grapes, but rather more carefully.

I have found that a dustbin apparently full (above) will compress down to a layer about 3" thick.

This means I can add more cuttings, compress again, and repeat until I can't get my leg inside the dustbin any more.

At that point I can tip the whole compressed mass into the wheelie bin. Much better! I still managed to fill the wheelie bin,  and there was another compressed dustbins-worth, but this can sit safely in the dustbin until the wheelie bin has been emptied, next week.

And yes, after a whole summer in shorts, my legs really are still that pale and pasty. When I remove my socks, you can see a sort of tan line, but it's nothing like the tan I've had in previous years.

Summer? What summer?

Anyway, there you have it, when faced with monstrous amounts of holly to dispose of, use an old dustbin and just trample it down in instalments. 


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