The old man and the tree

Yes, the literate amongst you (and this means all of you) will have seen that I have cleverly paraphrased Ernest Hemingway’s book title “The Old Man and the Sea” to convey the titanic battle that takes place annually between me and a large Bay tree at pruning time. Whilst the old man in Hemingway’s book is engaged in a struggle with a large Marlin at sea which comes to symbolise man’s struggle against the forces of nature. So, similarly I have been engaged in my annual struggle with a particularly large and vicious tree; but not at sea. Unfortunately Hemingway’s “old man” dies in the struggle, but I am pleased to say that I have survived this year.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t like to give you the impression that my survival is a foregone conclusion. This annual battle started weeks ago right at the start of the big annual cutback. As I walked around the garden the tree knew, and I knew, what was coming. We were like two boxers before a big fight eyeing each other up. I insult the tree and shout rude things at it, sometimes accompanied by a kick to its trunk. The tree for its part drops leaves and branches on me and encourages the birds in its branches to do their worst. So that is how we ended up with the stage set for yet another return fight. Right here we go: as the referee always says at the start of every fight “…protect yourself at all times” ding, ding.

17th January: Things I have been doing lately

✂️ Pruning trees. The last job you have to do to complete the annual cutback in Spain is prune back any trees that have become overgrown, unshapely or are cutting out light. I do not include fruit trees as they are not cutback at this stage. In my garden there are only two big trees that I include in the annual cutback.

🌼 Mimosa. The first tree is a Mimosa (Acacia) which is used to provide shade for our dog’s kennel and run. The Mimosa is not a long lived tree (10-20 years) but its beautiful yellow flowers make up for this. Mimosa is a Spring flowerer so you have to be quick pruning it or you could end up pruning the whole year’s blooms out. The only job I have to do with the Mimosa is to raise its canopy as it has the tendency to droop and cause more shade than we want to an adjacent lawn and on occasion when I am not looking it will creep into the house roof guttering. The photo below shows the Mimosa before pruning.

You can see that it is heading for the guttering, and also appears to be attacking our washing line.

To prune a Mimosa you need to work on a bi-annual pruning cycle (this is not a mode of transport). In the first year, prune back branches with lopers and/or chainsaw. In the second year you should just need to use a long handled electric hedge trimmer and a ladder to raise the canopy. The photo below shows the Mimosa brought back under control.

Who’s a prett boy?

🌳 Trimming the big Bay tree. Bay trees are everywhere in Spain as they love the climate. However, the majority of Bays that you see are overgrown unshapely lumps. To overcome the Bay’s untidiness the Spanish came up with the idea of cutting out the centre of the tree to leave an open donut of light at its centre. This fantastic innovation makes the tree shapely, lets in light to any underplanting and makes for a fascinating conversation piece. I did this some 10 years ago to this Bay tree and it has never forgiven me, hence the grudge.

The first photo below shows you just how unshapely the tree becomes over a year. From this photo you can see the challenge that I faced – which I believe would have daunted a lesser gardener. The second photo below shows me ready to begin the annual battle equipped with all the necessary armaments. (Click on each photo for an enlarged view).

Cruella (my wife) documented the battle in photographs; it was a bit disconcerting as she wore a complete camouflage outfit and kept asking me to call her “Kate Aidie”. At the time she told me it was a photo-shoot and that she was working for an agency seeking “mature” models; she said I had the potential to be a male model. It was only later that she confessed I wouldn’t be getting a lucrative contract and there was no Agency. It turns out that all she really wanted was some interesting photos for my memorial service if I died by falling out of the tree, or at least some shots for “you’ve been framed”. If you have a Bay tree and you wish to shape it in this way, then this is the process:

  • cut out the central trunk down to where it joins with the network of lower branches.
  • trim around the open space left by the trunk to make a clear round open space at the centre of the tree.
  • trim the sides, top and bottom of the tree to form flat sides
  • repeat the trimming process every year in January. Don’t worry you will never have to cut the trunk again

The tools you will need include:

  • chain saw
  • long blade electric hedge trimmer
  • long handled lopers
  • ladders and if possible platform

You may decide that it is better just to get in a professional tree surgeon as it can be both dangerous and tiring. If you decide to use a professional then make sure you get someone who is fully trained and accredited as they will have all the necessary skills and insurance.

Finally, God willing the Bay tree and I will fight it out next year in the annual return match. In the meantime here are some of the photos of me and the tree that Cruella (my wife) took for my forthcoming modelling career. (Click on each photo for an enlarged view).

🌾 Cutting back grasses. Sorry I misled you when I said that trees were the last part of the big annual cut back. As I wandered around the garden recovering from the battle with the Bay tree I discovered that I had missed cutting back my ornamental grass. Lots of you have ornamental grasses such as my Fountain Grass. These need to be cut back quite severely now. If you don’t do this now, then the grass will not flourish as it will become congested and also unsightly. Using a hedge trimmer just cut it back to a small mound. It will soon recover its former glory. The photos below show my Fountain Grass before and after its trim. (Click on each photo for an enlarged view).

Author: spanishgarden

I live in both Spain and the UK and am a very keen gardener. I garden every day and enjoy sharing all the secrets that God allows us to discover in our gardens.