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When gardening professionally, I found that two things garnered most of my customer’s respect. Firstly, using scientific names for the plants and secondly, a suicidal willingness to fling myself up ten foot ancestral rickety steps, to prune a high hedge. “Those ladders were good enough for my grandfather, they’re good enough for you.” Whether using hand held shears or power driven choppers, you need to take some basic precautions. Step ladders must be securely placed, wobble eradicated and tendency to collapse rectified completely. Children, pets and fussy relatives should be given pocket money and sent to the pictures. Check that your will is up to date and easily accessible. One responsible adult must stay within easy earshot. Ideally, that person will not be entitled to inherit anything other than a few knick knacks. They ought to be available to ring for an ambulance, should you lack fingers or consciousness to make the call. Stress to them the importance of staying on the premises and not wandering off to drink coffee, beer or brandy with a neighbour, unless your screams would be audible from their property.
Passiflora caerulea (blue passion flower)
Passiflora caerulea (blue passion flower)

If you are still determined to proceed, check that there are no bird’s nests in the bush that you intend to assault. It is illegal to disturb nests with eggs or chicks within, so take care until the end of August and the finish of the breeding season, or you risk arrest and poor Karma. Choose a dry day for the operation, since slippery footing is clearly dangerous. Moisture does not improve the performance of electrical equipment and puts you in peril of setting your hair on fire. Spread a sheet of some description on the ground, to collect trimmings. Don’t ignore this advice, as you are going to be too knackered to rake up the bits after the job is done.
Eupatorium purpureum (Joe Pye weed) Eupatorium purpureum (Joe Pye weed)

First trim the sides, making a wedge shape with the base wider than the top. This is known as the batter and helps sunlight to reach the leaves at the bottom. Work in smooth strokes, sweeping upwards and checking as you go, to ensure an even finish. Vigorously brush the hedge as you pass, to prevent the dead foliage getting stuck there until next year. After this is done to your satisfaction, you may make a guideline from bamboo canes and string if necessary, to keep the top straight and horizontal. Ensure that the line is slightly below the level where you want to cut, since constantly chopping and retying the string will lead to loss of temper. Sprinkle the roots with some fish, blood and bone fertilizer, to make up for your depredations.
Thalictrum delavayi 'Album' (white Chinese meadow rue)
Thalictrum delavayi ‘Album’ (white Chinese meadow rue)

Hedges are a job for a calm, considered hand. When I, as chief cook, bottle washer and laundry wrangler was otherwise engaged, I left the washing machine to the tender mercies of my spouse. In the interests of doing a thorough job, he turned the whites pink. Next week, he sent them all blue, except those which he had made rosy, which went purple. Thereafter, he put a duster in the pale wash, which meant that the household’s smalls ended up poop coloured. You can understand why he gives cause for concern when he picks up a pair of secateurs; my heart quails when he asks after the electric trimmers. I fear being left with a swath of smoking, knee high sticks. I don’t call him Attila the Gardener for nothing.

* Those who are about to die, salute you; in Latin, of course.

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