It’s better to be safe than sorry so take care

Phormium is invasive so it has to go. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Phormium is invasive so it has to go. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

All the recent rain and relative warmth has led to burgeoning growth everywhere, some plant stems collapsing where supports have not been adequate, and the need for judicious pruning in several areas.

It’s difficult to avoid feeling that the garden is getting slightly out of hand, a veritable jungle, but we’ve been here before and the best way to react is by taking tools to hand.

But never lose sight of the safety angle. Wet conditions underfoot only add to the risk of an accident.

The hedges are suddenly looking neglected and overgrown, but there’s a reason for that. In recent years it has been necessary to wait until June has passed before trimming because certain garden birds insist on having a second brood, and it’s rightly against the law to disturb them. Recently-fledged dunnock, blackbird and song-thrushes shadowing parents around the early July garden bear this out.

So now we can proceed with the first of two cuts for privet and hawthorn, the second coming in September.

But before any action takes place there’s the pause for thought, with self-preservation in mind. Is the cutting device safe? Are you suitably dressed? Are there any hidden hazards in or around the hedge?

Any device with moving blades poses risk, but when electrically-driven there’s the extra concern of trailing cable and electrocution. At the very least you should plug into a circuit-breaking device. I don wellingtons, eye-shields, strong gloves, headgear, and ensure the cable is always behind me. The final preparation is walking the length of hedgerow, disturbing top, sides and base with the back of a lawn rake. This avoids any nasty surprises from angry wasps or hornets.

Heavy-duty gloves and the sharpest spade in our tool collection will be required when I tackle a New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax Variegatum), which has outstayed its welcome in a border. An important fibre plant used in Maori textiles, rope and sail-making, it has become an invasive species in the Pacific islands, parts of Australia and, now, my garden.

It’s a pity it has to go because the long strap-like leaves are beautifully variegated and have seduced us into accepting a thuggish presence for years. In autumn and winter winds they act like whips, cutting into perennials. The edges can lacerate hands, thus the use of strong gloves. The plant currently has spectacular flowering spikes over 2m long, which are earning it a temporary stay of execution.

There is no simple solution for the removal of such stately plants so it will begin with the removal of all leaves with a sharp knife, allowing closer access to the main stem. This can then be used as a lever in conjunction with digging at the roots.

I will be keeping a small offshoot and seeds. You can’t have a plant for so long without forming some affection.