Friday, May 29, 2009

Hello sunshine

What's wrong with this seemingly healthy, happy patch of Iceland poppy seedlings? Well, it's midday, and almost the whole patch is in shade. That's what's wrong. Last year, this central patch was my sunny vegie-growing plot, and it was bathed in sunshine all through summer and winter. Not this winter, though.

Unless these poppies get more sunshine every day they won't grow and flower like they did so well last year. And so the time for action is now!

Here's the cause of all the midday gloom – the olive tree (and the poppy patch is in the foreground). There's no way I'm going to climb trees and deal with half a tonne of leaves and lopped timber, so I decided to lash out and ask a qualified arborist to do the job properly, because I really do love my olive tree!

When you look at the precarious nature of their work, with chainsaws swinging off belts and just a couple of ropes to save them if a branch suddenly breaks, it's easy to understand why arborists need good insurance, and why their fees have to recoup that cost, as well as earn them a living. Pictured here is Damien, a very nice fellow from Auckland, NZ, who did the work last Tuesday. Delayed by a more-difficult-than-expected job earlier in the day, Damien and his helper arrived late-ish in the afternoon, and so this photo of him at work is bathed in the orangey light of the rapidly setting sun.

As I have two olive trees on site, I decided to get both of them cut back. Hopefully this will encourage both to start fruiting again. They used to fruit quite well, but in recent years olive production has been poor, so I'm hoping that radical pruning will bring them back into delicious business. (My home-grown, home-cured olives are still the nicest olives I've ever eaten.) Pictured above, Damien is working carefully with his chainsaw, planning and making the basic cuts.

A few minutes later, still standing in the same spot, the fateful trims are made and his helper carts away the fallen sections to the chipper in the street.

This huge chipper set up gobbles the silvery leaves in no time, turning them into mulch. Sorry about the blurry photo, but I think the camera's shutter speed in the low evening light was down to about an eighth of a second by then, and there was plenty of action happening around the chipper, so this is the blurry best I could manage.

It's impossible to trim the top half off two whole olive trees neatly, without branches, twigs and detritus falling to earth, so there's inevitably going to be some collateral damage. We did clear away every pot we could prior to work starting, and after the whole operation was over the damage was remarkably light. A couple of shallots are now ex-shallots, a few lettuce are still deciding whether life is worth living, and the rest of the garden is saying "hey, more sunshine, great!".

Here's the 'after' shot. An olive tree now half the size it was the day before. This shot was late in the afternoon, but around midday the next day the sun was belting into the poppy patch, so it has all been worth it.

And, as a pretty way of concluding this ugly little tale of amputation, lopped limbs and mechanical munchers, here's the reason for all the fuss. Last year's poppy patch gave Pam so much pleasure and filled our house with really cheerful colour. That was our first attempt at poppies, and we did a lot right but a few things wrong. So this year we're having another go (and yep, I'll be doing something on that little project, which is still in its early stages, very soon).

Of course the olive trees will grow back and shade the garden again in as little as two years from now. Optimistically, I'm planning to keep on top of the shade-maker's rate of growth from now on, using my snazzy new long-handled, extension pole pruner. The one major incentive to do so is of course the cost of hiring a good arborist. I don't begrudge them a cent of their fee (which left not a lot of change from $500). As well as doing the job well, with a real feeling for the trees' health and eventual shape once grown back to size, it's dangerous work.
(Finally, for Sydney readers looking for a good arborist, the company is called Canopy Tree, and they're in Summer Hill. I've used them a few times since I moved here many moons ago and they've always been good to deal with. And no, I don't get a discount for mentioning them, either!)


Kenneth Moore said...

Hm, I think I was at work when I read this and my boss came in, so I didn't comment. But that beautiful olive tree is the exact reason I bought some olives this morning online (in addition to a bunch of other stuff). I want my own tree! It won't get nearly as big as yours for quite some time, mostly because I plan on never living somewhere where it could grow outside. I hope it won't cause lighting problems in my apartment... At least, not for a few years.

Jamie said...

Good luck with the olive tree, Kenneth. One thing I know they like is alkaline soil (all that limestone country around the Mediterranean). So a touch of garden lime or dolomite to bring the soil pH up over 7 might make it happier.