Andrew Brown: A not so simple act of tree pruning

Pruning is a delicate business, as Andrew Brown explains.
Pruning is a delicate business, as Andrew Brown explains.
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There are two ways to prune trees: the right way, and my way.

The correct approach is to study hard the needs of the particular species you are dealing with and then cut carefully at the right time of year to precisely the most effective point to encourage the maximum amount of healthy new growth.

My approach is to leave the tree for far too long and then suddenly discover it is badly overgrown and out of shape, before making a few delicate and cautious cuts and quickly declaring that it will do.

I regard my method as creatively allowing the plant to acquire its own natural shape over the course of time with a bit of help from my artistic sensibilities. My wife thinks it is down to me being bone idle.

So it was not entirely a surprise when the forsythia got so far out of control that a major branch of it toppled over under the pressure of too much wind and rain. It was more of a surprise that I volunteered the theory that it now needed a radical pruning and that I was the man for the job.

It proved to be one of those jobs that you start out thinking will take a few minutes and be very simple and then find it never seems to end. I began by standing back and seeing where it needed to be cut. Then I carefully got the secateurs and firmly chopped back a couple of offending branches.

I stepped away to inspect my handiwork. It was evident that I had made things a lot worse. So I had another go.

After a bit of sweating I eventually managed to get all the parts I could reach into something resembling symmetry.

The only slight problem was that I now had a tree with a nice rounded shape for the first seven feet and complete chaos sprouting out above that level where I couldn’t reach, even with long handled secateurs. So I had to fetch the step ladder.

Being very conscious of health and safety I carefully cleared up the mess of leaves and branches I had created all around and plonked them into a brown bin ready for recycling.

Only then did I put up the stepladder on a clear flat surface and have a serious go at the problem before me. Branches fell away with a fury and I got closer and closer to the shape that I needed.

The only problem was, as is almost always the case with these things, there were three branches that I just simply could not reach whatever I did with the stepladder and whoever precariously I leaned.

There was, however, a quite convenient wall that I could stand on. Provided that I was prepared to put one foot on the stepladder, the other foot on the wall and then lean at a dangerous angle whilst I used all my strength to cut through some of the toughest branches at the core of the tree.

I became a little less conscious of health and safety and really went for it. Eventually after a lot of wobbling, and a couple of panic attacks that I was about to be on my way to Airedale General’s accident and emergency departement, there was a satisfying crack and the last of the tree’s overgrown central branches fell away.

All that remained to be done now was the simple task of clearing up the mess that I had created in the garden.

Unfortunately the amount of wood and leaves that I had created significantly exceeded the capacity of my recycling bin. That was already full to the top with the previous cuttings and now there was a large new pile and absolutely nowhere to put it.

I decided that the only thing to be done in these circumstances was to get up on the stepladder and then step over into the bin and jump about a bit on top of the branches I had already dumped in there in the hope that my weight would tramp them down nicely and make enough space for the remainder of the debris that littered the ground. So I duly began to dance about on top of a rubbish bin.

It was at this particular point in my garden exertions that the bus queue lined up opposite my house broke out into spontaneous ironic applause.

Apparently my efforts had not gone entirely unobserved and had provided my friends and neighbours with ample entertainment as they placed bets on whether I would fall while they waited for the rare event of a bus actually arriving.

It has to be said that there is a limit to the number of appropriate responses a man can take when provided with a round of applause for dancing in the middle of a village inside a rubbish bin.

I decided there was only one way to maintain my dignity. I gave a polite bow to all sides.

I have it on good authority that this very graceful gesture was appreciated, however the audience drew the line at my quick curtsey.