Nevertheless, we do try to keep up with the replacement requirements and the remedial work made necessary by the ravages of time and climate. And we have reached a point where, albeit reluctantly, we appreciate that the fascia boards and soffits have reached the end of their lives, having given more than 50 years of loyal service in all weathers. (For people without any idea what these are, the soffits are the horizontal bits of the roof overhang which you see when you stand at the foot of a wall and look directly upwards; and the fascias are the vertical components which cover and protect the lower ends of the rafters which support the roof.)
Accordingly, we invited our favourite specialist contractor to give us an estimate for the work which needed to be done; and we were grateful that their midwinter ‘sale’ is in progress, for we would have needed a mortgage to meet the ‘full’ price which was quoted to show just how much we were ‘saving’ by having the job done now. So much for the overground work: but now we must look at the underground work which we shall require a different specialist contractor to undertake, for the roofers will need to erect staging; and this will require the removal of some very mature shrubs which we simply cannot contemplate doing ourselves. So our preferred arboriculturist was asked to visit to assess the removal work which must be carried out … not forgetting the chipping and disposal of the resultant wood waste … and give us a price for this. How much? Ah yes, we appreciate that this does include a good deal of general tidying up of trees and shrubs throughout the garden … ‘when we’re on site, it’s as well just to do these jobs’ … and we do know and trust the company. And this is why, deo volente, the tree men will be here on Friday morning to prepare the ground. But there is one piece of good news; one shrub will only be reduced to ground level, leaving the roots in place.
The largest and most attractive of the shrubs which cannot stay as it is is an enormous and, in our opinion, very attractive Photinia, sometimes known as a ‘red robin’ but also widely accorded its botanical Sunday name and sold in garden centres as photinia. Photinia grows best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade, in a sheltered position, for the young shoots can become scorched by cold or drying winds and late frosts if grown in an exposed position. Ours is tucked in against a protective wall where the bitter north-east winds of winter cannot get at it and has just loved being there, for it must be a good 25 years since it was planted and in that time it has flourished, growing at an average rate of something around 30cm a year… say, a foot in old money … and having to be lightly pruned annually to keep it a little below the 4-metre height to which it aspires. An evergreen, it has, as expected, survived the very worst Scottish winters can throw at it: but we didn’t plant it, and we don’t value it, because of its size or its capacity to survive. We grow it for its foliage, for the large, shiny, dark green, mature leaves form an eye-catching curtain to screen the blank wall which it grows beside. And the plant has thrown some off-shoots which have effectively turned it into a hedge. Add the fact that it gets the name ‘red robin’ from the bright red tips which distinguish young leaves from their mature siblings and you have a recipe for a truly decorative ornamental shrub.
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And the piece of good news which I mentioned is that our arboriculturist assures us that, even cut back to ground level, there is every prospect that the plant will regenerate itself. Now that is good news, for we would be very sorry to lose our handsome photinia altogether!