9 November 2010

autumnal bloodletting and the demise of the fig

Since being murdered (by me) a few years ago the dead stems of the Virginia Creeper have hung over the churchyard wall in an increasing state of dishevelment.  I have all too easily managed to look the other way knowing blackbirds had nested twice in the mess of twigs and wrens aplenty were busy in there too.  Not to say that I'd been totally ignoring this area, I had been tying in the climbing stems of Rosa 'Mermaid' as if the dead creeper stems were some secure trellis but now, in a noisy flutter, the chickens have come home to roost so to speak and a strong gust brought the whole lot down like a giant, dirty, twiggy - and well armed - duvet.  More fool me.  
Mermaid is a great climbing rose, vigorously growing to 30ft and opening a long season of soft yellow single flowers throughout the summer.  This was planted three years ago and has grown rather well despite the competition of a greedy fig and droughty poor soil, though the affects of these have combined to cease the floral show prematurely each year.  It climbs using viciously hooked prickles and is as happy to hook onto a branch to scramble up a tree as it is to sink them to the hilt in my plump pink cheek - it means business but the stems are incredibly brittle and any rough treatment breaks of great lengths of stem.  Patience and a high pain threshold are needed to deal with this brittle-boned beast.   Extricating the mass of dead stems from it's clutches while keeping the bulk of the plant intact took a few concentration filled days, stop-start ladder acrobatics and up to date tetanus jabs.   
Wires have now been attached to the wall and with the rose stems tied into these it should now be able to get on with it's business well out of reach. 

Below the rose the fig had been losing an ongoing battle with me.  When I first came here the fig grew as a dense, all-concealing tree and was soon reduced to a stand of coppiced stems.  These had been tormented and tied-in over the past couple of years to form a low enfolding hedge around the green bench.  It fruited poorly as a tree and after pruning and training did no better, it had severely compromised the growth of surrounding and more desirable plants and with the green bench gone had lost it's latter-day purpose.    
Finally, after realising the burnt and blistered patches on my arms this summer were a reaction to its poisonous latex sap (this rather sealed it's fate) it was a pleasure to let Garard loose to wreak havoc on its roots.  Get it out!
Removed, roots and all, it is clear how it has shaded out the native berry hedge running past it and what a large space even the reduced fig had taken up - those big figgy leaves take a lot of light.  With the competition removed the shrubs should grow away strongly come spring.  In the meantime the hedge shrubs to the right of the fig have grown long vigorous stems ideal for filling in the gaps.
The long stems all along the hedge have been pulled down into place and tied in.  This both fills in the gaps until the weaker plants grow away but also help the hedge to thicken up to provide dense thorny cover for nesting birds and breeding insects.
In front of the hedge the lawn will be extended to run along the curve of the hedge - the wide bed as it is gets far too many footballs dropping into it and football retriever's must trample right in to get them.  A narrow wildflower strip should make this less of a problem.   

[Please note: if you are an angry, shouty, outraged fig person angered by it's removal and planning to come a-shouting my way be aware there is still a good fruiting fig growing at the back of the garden - note too if you get very shouty I may just run and chop that one down too]


  1. I have fond memories of this little haven, from when I was living in Holborn for so many years. thank you!

  2. Hi Chris, I follow this blog as I used to work in Long Acre some years ago when this area was crap! It's great to see this garden coming out of that (Phoenix - as on tin, etc)! Looked at all the pictures but not one of you I think. Come on, get your visage posted, it would be nice to see face of the person behind this garden vision. I seldom get to London now but I'll certainly drop in when I do. Thank you!