Saturday, 22 February 2014

Barriers in the garden

Reaping the Whirlwind
Parthenocissus enriching wall in Dunham Park, Cheshire
      And so ends a period of non-stop rain and hurricanes. I now know what 'defenceless' means. It means I no longer have de fence. This is thanks to what the far right bury-your-head-in-the-sand philosophers describe as 'perfectly normal cyclical weather patterns, so you can carry on raping the planet, as long as you're making money and buying more material things'. To my mind, the fact that every new weather event seems to be 'the most extreme since records began' curtails this line of thinking with a question mark. But hey, who am I to question these clever people? It's just that a bit of my fence is now in the pond and the rest of it has become excellent firewood.

      It's quite interesting to think about how the fish see this event. Think about it - one minute you're looking up at an admittedly dull sky, the next - it's as black as hell and you're bumping into each other, wondering how you're going to find the next worm. This must be similar to the situation faced by cavemen when an eclipse occurred, although they'd have the additional hazard of being trampled by disorientated dinosaurs trying to find their way home. Anyway, in the case of the fish, God (me) turned up and took the fence away to join the rest of the firewood. In the same way He (not me that time) moved the moon from in front of the sun so that the cavemen could look up wondrously before going away and inventing religion.

      Religion was wonderful, because it provided the answer to everything: if there was a tragedy, for example, God was angry about the way we'd been going about something or other, and was therefore making us pay (for more information, apply to Ukip). And this leads you to think about what southerners had done that was wrong enough to bring the floods down on them. Apart from supporting Chelsea and seeing the north (anywhere beyond Watford Gap) as a wasteland occupied by savages, that is. Maybe there are a lot of bankers living down there?

      Hearing about the floods in the south of England, where the rivers burst their banks and caused toilets to back up reminds me of childhood trips to Blackpool with my mum on a coach ('sharrers' we called them, which was short for 'charabanc'- something I didn't know at the time because we weren't posh).  Swimming in the sea not far from a damn big sewage pipe inevitably led to the odd occasion when you'd reach out to cling on a floating log before realising it wasn't a log. It was then that you concluded there must be some very big people in Blackpool. This was before the days of the M6 motorway and the journey there would take getting on for half a day. Harold McMillan (remember Harry?) opened it in 1958, to huge excitement as the curtains drew back to reveal the brave new era of sweating it out in 10 mile jams while the kids murdered each other in the back seat. We all thought this was great but, as usual, the Southerners had to go one better by creating the biggest carpark in the world and calling it The M25. Maybe that's why they've got floods. It reminds me of the time Crocodile Dundee flourishes a massive hunting knife under a mugger's nose and says 'now this is a knife, son'. That's what southerners say about traffic jams on the M25.

      Coming back to fences, it's worth looking at how wind works: a solid barrier offers a lot more resistance than does one which allows it to filter through (the Beagle would never have reached the Galapagos and we may still have been waiting for the theory of evolution if the sails had been full of holes). This is why professional nurseries use fencing materials which effectively diffuse the wind. If a solid barrier strong enough to withstand powerful gusts is used, the wind simply whips over the top and creates damaging turbulence on the other side. Brick walls have this disadvantage but balance it by absorbing heat from the sun and creating a warm microclimate by then releasing it slowly. Some of the old walled gardens had fireplaces built into thewalls and added to the natural heat of the sun by using a system of warming chimneys meandering through the structure. An example of this can be seen at Tatton Park, in Cheshire.

      A hedge is often resorted to, as it has the advantage of allowing wind to permeate through, while still offering protection to plants on the other side. Even hedges have their down side though, because their roots can often out-compete plants growing at their base. This can be dealt with by regularly adding well rotted compost to the area at the same time as liberally sprinkling blood, fish and bone. However it is an ongoing task and you have to remain aware of the problem. For a more in-depth look at hedges, go to this link.
Boring fence showing hard outlines
      A fence isn't usually a strongly aesthetic feature in the garden but it is often necessary and its harsh outlines can be disguised in various ways. The typical waney lap has a relatively short lifespan (manufacturers suggest ten years if dipped in preservative and fifteen if pressure treated), so to have valuable plants firmly established on the wood is to lose or at least damage them when this support falls apart.
Fence with outlines softened by training Clematis tangutica on plastic netting
      By hanging netting or trellis and training climbers onto this, the plant can be carefully lowered while fence panels are being replaced. In any case, plants which climb by twining stems, tendrils or modified leaf stems (honeysuckle (Lonicera), Wisteria, Clematis, nasturtium (Tropaeolum), passion flower (Passiflora) and various others) would be unable to find purchase on the flat surface of a fence. Other climbers, like ivy (Hedera spp)or Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), are able to cling onto hard surfaces and would be difficult to disengage from a fence which needs replacing. A close inspection of Virginia creeper discloses little suckers on the ends of tendrils, which enable it to stick. Maybe that's where Spiderman got the idea.

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