Diary of a gardener: Rohanna Heyes

A week in the life of a gardener at RHS Garden Wisley.

Rohanna Heyes is in her second year of the two-year Wisley Diploma of Practical Horticulture. Her week at Wisley included giving an over-grown hedge a trim and preparing a bed for the sweet pea trial ... in the snow.


The yew hedge before trimmingWhat a great start to the week! After the long Easter break we finally had some proper heart-warming sunshine. And in that glorious sunshine, we began the much anticipated renovation of the yew (Taxus baccata) hedge that grows around the pavilion at the bottom of the Trials field. For some time it has been left, neglected into thinking it was an informal shabby-chic hedge, and today it got told otherwise.

First of all we assessed the hedge, deciding that we wanted to follow the line of the windows of the pavilion building, which will allow more light to enter the building. Then we put up a string line, set up from the point of reference, the pavilion window. From this guide we cut the top of the hedge, first cutting out all the thicker pieces using loppers, followed by a shave with a battery-powered hedge trimmer, and finally, finishing snips with secateurs. We used the same process for cutting the sides, using straight bamboo canes as vertical guides.


The yew hedge after trimmingWe continued the yew hedge renovation today. Besides it being enormous fun snipping away (think Edward scissor-hand topiary, minus the cuts), I also learnt some really interesting things about yew.

A small limb of yew weighs much more than you would expect for its size. That’s due to the heartwood, which when you cut across a limb, is the clearly seen as a dark, rose tea-coloured inner, consisting of resin-rich dense grain. This heartwood is surrounded by a much lighter coloured sapwood, which is highly elastic due to the properties of spring like spiral thickenings, known as tracheids.

The hedge looks a little sorry for itself with its new ‘short, back and sides’. It will soon pick up, however, as yew is one of the few conifers which responds well to hard pruning, and we weren’t even that mean. To give it a little encouragement, we will give it a feed, water and mulch. From here on in, future cuts should be easier. In the next cut a slight taper from the top to the bottom will be introduced, to ensure the hedge gets even light throughout, encouraging even growth.


Here comes the snowHat, coat, scarf and gloves off, and a quick cuppa as the Trials Team gather for the quick morning meeting. Someone mentions the word 'snow'. The day’s jobs are briefly discussed, then it’s back on with the winter layers and out the door into the frosty air to gather tools for the day ahead. Today we are working in a small group, preparing the bed for growing the sweet pea trial. We banged posts, laid irrigation, tucked in landscape fabric and put up fences. All in a day’s work for us Wisley gardeners ... and that snow did arrive after all.


Making a new edge around the hedgeYay it’s Friday, which means not only is tomorrow Saturday, but tomorrow I will be in Nice, as in the south of France. I’m going on an RHS Bursary trip visiting gardens in Nice and northern Italy; and though rain is forecast it’s likely to be about 10C warmer than it is here. This calls for a celebration so I have sugar coated biscuits and coffee for breakfast, ‘how very continental’, I tell myself.

Today I revisited the yew hedge. The grass around needs a new edge to match the new sharp looking hedge. Once we finish, we’ll mulch and feed the hedge. By then it will closer to Saturday, closer to Nice, and hopefully closer to spring.

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