He's A Lumberjack. So We're Okay? 

It's funny how an apparently ordinary, and restful, weekend can turn into quite the opposite. We've all had them. Those weekends where things just seem to be going along swimmingly. And then you realise that what seems to be too good to be true really is. On Saturday we'd had a lovely morning at a local open farm followed by a pub lunch. You can read more about that here. We'd come back expecting to spend the rest of the afternoon in front of the telly. We didn't take much notice of the car parked outside a neighbour's house, nor of the sound of banging as we opened a few windows to take advantage of some fresh early spring air.

But then we looked out of the window to see one of the trees that marked the boundary between our neighbour's place and the garden beyond shaking violently. Two men (not, I should say our truly wonderful neighbours, but presumably hired by them) were rocking the trunk of the old tree and trying to pull it up at the root. Now I don't claim to know a lot about tree surgery, but I'm pretty sure it shouldn't really involve tearing a tree out of the ground. Further round the garden several trees had already been removed, exposing the ancient and uneven boundary fence beyond and a rather surprisingly unevenly pruned hedge belonging to the very neighbourly family next-door-but-one.

Now, since I'm someone who mourns the loss of a tree, any tree, like an old friend, I have to admit I was a tad alarmed at the loss of yet another. There seems to have been an epidemic of tree chopping round our way of late. In the past couple of years we've lost a giant old oak tree, countless fruit trees, a huge magnolia, a young sycamore and, just last week, a gorgeous rowan tree. Add to that the harsh winter deaths of many of our more tender plants and bushes, and repeated high winds and the area's begun to look, well frankly, a little nude.

But I understand that not everyone has my tree-hugging tendencies and that, in their own gardens, they have every right to eradicate every single bit of green if they so choose. And this was only one tree. So we sighed and went back to keep an eye on the football scores. It must have been providence because something made us go back upstairs and take another look. By this time the two chaps had decided that they needed tools. So, armed with a small saw and a hatchet even the six-year-old George Washington would have spurned as he attacked his dad's favourite cherry tree, they were trying to chop it down. Well, I say 'they', but in fact just one of them was doing the work. The other was busy texting someone. I was beginning to understand why one of them looked like he'd not had a decent meal in a month, while his mate looked like the bloke who ate all the pies!

Despite the odds, and before long, he managed to remove the tree. Unfortunately, as he tried to pull it clear, a forsythia bush growing on the other side of the fence came to his attention. Over years of growth, part of it had become entangled in the branches of the tree he was trying to remove. At this point his 'assistant' sauntered over. After a quick conflab the pair decided on how to deal with the errant bush. They lopped it off. Not at the point at which it entangled with the unwanted tree, you understand. No, they decided to chop it off about six inches above the top of the fence. This was no mean feat – the bush grew a good yard above the fence – but now, bright yellow blossoms and all, it had come crashing down into our neighbour's garden. But this bush was growing in the garden beyond. I'm not quite certain that was their intention.  And I'm absolutely certain that the chap in the house there hadn't bargained on losing 30 percent of his prize bush. 

Because our garden borders four others (one either side and two at the bottom) we're pretty careful about pruning our trees and bushes. We know that the law allows us to trim back to our boundary line anything over hanging from another garden.We often don't choose to, but we can. What we can't do is to chop off anything on the other side of a fence or wall, just because we don't like the look of it, or it makes it easier to unentangle our unwanted trees. Unfortunately, while our neighbours are very, very careful about the rights and wrongs of being neighbourly (whose fence is which and that sort of thing), the blokes they'd left in charge of clearing their garden were not so well informed. And then it occurred to us, the usually very proper neighbour two doors down had not been responsible for the hacked at hedge … it had been the two 'gardeners' working next door. We decided he had probably allowed the pruning of the mutual boundary and were about to settle back down when it occurred to us that, if they had already hacked at the hedge to the side, and lopped off any bushes that dared to peek above the parapet that formed the back fence of the garden, then their next stop would be our boundary! Over which peeked our rather large and very beautiful holly and ash trees. We debated what to do, decided initially to keep an eye on them but the more we looked at the mess they had made. Trees lopped, branches torn off, and roots attacked with saws, we decided we had to do something before they damaged our trees beyond repair.

A quick bit of negotiation with the neighbours and we'd been assured that our trees were safe. They didn't intend to touch them, and strict instructions had been given the the 'gardeners' not to go anywhere near them. Not long after, the pair were sent home and we settled down for the night, congratulating ourselves for a mini-crisis averted.

So imagine our horror come Sunday morning when the pair re-appeared, this time equipped with a large axe (think Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'), a borrowed spade and a pick-axe. After a little further investigation we learned that while the trees on our side of the wall were, indeed, quite safe, the four damson trees in our neighbour's garden, which stood beside our wall, were, so to speak, for the chop. We'd miss the trees, of course (although not, perhaps, the sticky patches of damson juice they used to deposit on our patio) but our primary concern now had nothing to do with Mother Nature, tree-hugging, or eco-awareness. It had to do with the rather brutal tactics of the axe-man and the text nerd working next door and its potential effect on our beautiful, newly re-pointed, one-hundred-year-old wall, which was sure to be undergrown by the roots of the four trees. Would the removal of the trees cause the wall to collapse?

Time for another intervention. Of course, were were assured that they'd instruct the men to be careful of our wall. Nothing would go wrong. But we weren't entirely sure the blokes doing the chopping had any idea about the way a wall was constructed, or cared very much about what they hit in the process. They weren't exactly what you'd call expert lumberjacks. They'd certainly  never watched a single episode of Gardeners' World never mind attended agricultural college. Leaving the fate of our precious, fabulous and ancient wall in their hands was easier said than done. So we retreated inside, but kept watch first from the kitchen window, then from two floors higher, so we could see over the wall and be better prepared for action. The first two trees, each some 18 inches from the wall, came down quite easily. Well, perhaps not easily and certainly not without fallout, since dozens of shards of shattered timber showered the gardens on either side as the axeman did his worst.

To his mate's credit, he didn't get involved for most of this, just sat on a bench swigging from a bottle. So far so good. So we reduced our vigilance to regular patrols every fifteen minutes. If the wall showed no sign of collapse, crack or vibration, it passed inspection. But  none of us could relax, expecting, any minute, a rumbling sound as our lovely wall crumbled into a heap, burying the patio and crushing any frogs that had mistakenly taken refuge in the pond. We could hear the sound of the axe as it hit the tree trunks with frightening regularity. But even more scary were the pauses in between. At least when we heard the axe hit the tree, we knew there was still something left standing to hit. Eventually we made our way outside. A personal inspection of the wall's structural integrity was the only thing that would calm us. A careful but firm shove suggested all was well, so we moved to a tactical observation point near the summerhouse. It was close enough to spring into action if necessary, while far enough away not to risk being buried by falling bricks. 

We watched anxiously as work began on the two trees that stood right next to our wall. With increasing concern as the chopping began. And with downright panic when we realised one of the men was standing on our wall in order to get more purchase to heft a tree from the ground while his mate continued to wield his axe with even greater enthusiasm. Sooner or later, we were certain, someone was going to chop off a limb, or fall to their deaths. Shards of timber flew everywhere, birds scattered and even next-door's cat took evasive action. A couple of times there was an odd sound, as the axe missed its wooden target and hit something else, something scarily brickwall-sounding, so we had to venture closer to check for damage. Remarkably, despite the sound of the pounding of the axe resonating right around the garden, shaking buds, and even windchimes on the far side of the garden, the wall didn't even quiver. It seems that those Edwardians really knew how to build a good strong wall. The trees resisted for ages, as if they were determined to remain in place. But eventually, having been hacked to pieces they gave way and ended up with the rest of the broken timber in the middle of the lawn.

The panic was over … at least for the moment. After all, there's still those roots to come out …