I've just spent an enjoyable morning cutting off heads. Nothing more bloodthirsty than seed heads, but I still have a slight feeling I enjoyed the decapitations too much. I blame the whipper snipper.
It's been four years since I've been able to whipper snip (long story) but I am finally back with the beast in my hands, zapping through four years of accumulated weeds and undergrowth, and finding the problem is far less than I thought.
Long annual weeds die back, but the dead stems are still sturdy enough to support scramblers and ramblers like vetch, which clamber up them and over them in a dense curtain. Once the whipper snipper blade cuts through the lower seed stems the whole edifice collapses. A few more passes with the whipper snipper and it's all chopped into small pieces and the areas can be regularly mowed again.
"Chopping back" should always be tried before you resort to herbicide. Once an area can be regularly mown you may find that even perennial weeds like blackberry and paddy's lucerne exhaust their root systems and die within a couple of seasons, with no poison needling to be applied. Where mowing isn't feasible, a preliminary slashing with get rid of the dead overgrowth so that the herbicide can make the most effective contact with the plants it needs to kill.
Whipper snipping is a simple skill. The shoulder harness takes the machine's weight. You only need to swing gently back and forth, instead of pushing like mowing.
In the last three days I've also trimmed the weedy bases of the vegetable garden fences, as well as cut back some of the hedges of perennial blue salvias that need chopping to ground level each winter so that new growth and flowers can emerge in spring. (The new growth will still emerge if you don't chop old stems down, but will look messy among last year's dead stems).
The agapanthus seed heads have been cut back too. Theoretically the ones in our garden are the new varieties of agapanthus whose seed won't be viable. NEVER TRUST AN AGAPANTHUS. They go wild far too easily. I've been wary of claims that new varieties are sterile ever since a "sterile" bridal broom decided to set seed in both my garden and friend's garden in the same year, 21 years after the bushes had been planted. New varieties aren't tested for viability for 21 years.
Those two bridal brooms were quickly disposed of before they could spread, so possibly they may have given another 21 years of non-viable seed. But even one seed shedding could have been enough to spread them over acres.
The naked lady (belladonna) seed heads have just been decapitated too. Naked ladies reproduce as easily as agapanthus, though the bulbs usually need to reach full size before the seed is viable. I sometimes have visions of our naked ladies colonising the southern tablelands if they're not tended each autumn when the seeds ripen. A whipper snipper removes their heads nicely. Like agapanthus seed heads, naked lady seeds are held well above the leaves.
Used with delicacy and the softest twine type cutter instead of the sharp metal one, whipper snippers can also remove weeds from your paving or rock wall. I have even used them to prune rambling roses, though only do this once you are very skilled with the whipper snipper, and the rose is well established and extremely vigorous, and you are wearing the boots, thick trousers, longs sleeved shirt and goggles you should wear whenever you whipper snip, as sharp bits of stem can leap up into your face.
There is one major drawback with whipper snipping. It's too easy, and slightly addictive, with so much chopped in so little time. One sweep, and then another, and another, and suddenly I have spent two hours snipping instead of working or putting dinner on. Ten minutes of weeding is easy. It is very difficult to do only 10 minutes of whipper snipping.
The real danger in whipper snipping - apart from damaging the blades on rocks or paving - is getting too close to the trunks of trees or shrubs. This is extremely easy, as weeds tend to grow around trunks, so you edge closer and closer, and suddenly there is a great slash on the trunk, which possibly will soon heal over.
Or not. Whipper snipper injuries are an excellent way for rots to enter both trunk and roots. You may not notice the damage till years later, as the rot spreads, and by then all signs of the original damage may be gone.
This is the reason I planted all the agapanthus and naked ladies mentioned earlier. Two rows of leaves around tree and shrub trunks stop mowers and whipper snippers getting too close. To be honest, the aggies did lose a few outer leaves this morning, but the camellias and fruit trees remained unscathed.
And I did have a wonderful time.
This week I am:
- Planting winter and spring lettuce, broad bean seeds, early onions, broccolini and Chinese cabbage
- Waiting for the daffodil, jonquil and freesia bulbs to arrive in the post and choosing spots to plant them
- Watching the crab apples get more deeply and richly coloured. We have six varieties of crab apple , all with different fruit. One unnamed kind is as large as a small apple and quite tasty; one had rich flesh but dull skin. There are also tiny yellow ones another glowing like an artist's vison of a medieval banquet, and one that produced tiny shrivelled seeds but becomes a glory of flowers in the spring.
- Wondering in the medlars will 'blett' - soften after frost for they become edible- if I send a box to a friend while they are still firm enough to post, so she can leave them out on her frosty Canberra balcony
- Trying to remember the remove the moss on the paving before someone slips on it. A quick scrape with a spade does the trick.
- Discovering fifty or so limes have ripened and fallen. I didn't notice till a clear the bracken around them. It is time to make cordial. (Lime cordial is also delicious made with hot water for winter, with just a hint of ginger)