A thorny subject

Outdoor Living

SMOOTH OPERATOR The beautiful, and mercifully thorn-free, Zéphirine Drouhin rose.

Margaret Sheehan

Having lost a section of my privet hedge in the 2010-11 winter, I decided (in my wisdom) to replant it using native hedging. I duly went out and bought briar roses, sometimes known as dog rose, hawthorn and blackthorn, and planted them alternatively along my boundary.
Well four years later, the hedge is now a mass of straggly stems, which reach out grab me whenever I go near. Time once again to don my Super Gardener outfit.
I bought work trousers from a discount supermarket a few years back, and I find them exceptionally useful, as they have knee pockets for pads. Having placed waterproof gardeners’ knee pads in them, I am protected from wet knees. Those of us of a certain age worry about getting our knees wet through fear of encouraging rheumatism.
So, donning my work trousers,  a thick sweatshirt with long sleeves, and my super strong working gloves, I once again set about tackling this thorny problem. Incidentally, I find it really difficult to get strong working gloves in a small size – I have tiny hands, and it’s difficult to find thorn-proof gloves, while retaining some dexterity. I have finally resigned myself to the fact that I need a variety of garden gloves depending on the task at hand.
Safety glasses and a hat may also be advised. I once had a run-in with a teasel plant, and let me tell you it takes some doing, getting a teasel head out of long hair.
Back to the hedge. I started by turning the longer thin shoots back into the main plant, threading it through other branches. I hope that this will serve to thicken to the hedge as I would prefer a dense, thinner hedge to a less-compact one that takes up more space. Then I cut off any really thick stems that can’t be persuaded to change direction, and finally trim the top level to encourage it to thicken off.  
It’s times like this, though, covered in scratches and punctures despite my clothing, that I wish I had replanted privet.
Another thorny feature of my garden are the gooseberry bushes. I have young plants, and they are not very happy in my garden it seems. I attempted to copy Drimbawn Garden in Tourmakeady, where they have an impressive display of red gooseberry, or some similar fruit variety, splayed along rose wires, similar to the way an espalier fruit tree can be trained. Not only does this look very attractive, it makes it much easier to harvest fruit, without the need to dress up as Super Gardener every time.
Unfortunately, my own plants didn’t like that idea, and have decided to sit and sulk rather than grow. I suspect this is due to a very alkaline soil, but I haven’t researched it yet.
After my day’s heroic efforts, I find a bench to drink tea and check my wounds. At least I have a save space, beneath my Zéphirine Drouhin rose. Just about to flower any day, it will supply beautiful cerise roses over the summer, without sporting a single thorn. Thank heavens there is one danger-free zone in the garden.  

Margaret Sheehan is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Tacú Resource Centre, Ballinrobe. The club is on a break for the summer, but meetings will resume in September.