Rose Fan: No, Yes?

   I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not a big fan of roses. But I can’t help myself. The garden is awash in golden yellow, crimson red, soft pink, apricot pink, and plain old pink blossoms. Almost all of this is thanks to David Austin, breeder of roses.
    My father was a big fan of roses, so I was exposed to them at an early age. Pre-dating Mr. Austin’s creations, my father’s roses were the ever popular — except with me — hybrid tea roses which everyone — except me — liked and likes for their pointy, formal blossoms, their bold colors, and their repeat bloom. Nobody mentions their gawky stature, general lack of strong or interesting fragrance, and attraction to pests.

L. D. Braithewaite rose, cold-hardy and just keeps blooming

L. D. Braithewaite rose, cold-hardy and just keeps blooming

    David Austin roses won me over with their softer colors, fuller blossoms borne on more full-bodied bushes, delicious fragrance, disease resistance, and repeat bloom. Not all have all of these qualities, of course.
    L. D. Braithewaite has been the most florific of my David Austin roses, even weathering two very cold winters unscathed. The crimson, red petals made their first appearance a few weeks ago, and are still going strong. They’re not my favorite color, though. Least successful of my roses has been Bibi Mazoon,  which is my favorite of the David Austin roses, in its blossoms, at least. Cup-shaped and apricot pink, the blossoms are admittedly few and far between, and can hardly be held up by the weak stalks. The rich yellow color of Golden Celebration is another of my favorites; this variety blooms fairly well and also pulled through winter unscathed.
    I grow a few pink David Austin roses, including Charlotte, Brother Cadfael, Sharifa Asma, and they’re all looking pretty and growing well.
    Of all the roses I grow, my favorite is . . .  well, I’m not one hundred percent sure of its name. It started life here many years ago as a cutting of Rose de Rescht, given to me by local herbalist Anne Solomon. Except that, reading descriptions of Rose de Rescht, I came to realize that mine wasn’t it. Whatever the name (after all, “a rose is a rose is a rose . . .”), the attractive crumpled, crêpe-paper blossoms fill the air with a delectable, heady fragrance, more than that of any of the roses I grow. The bush, robust, armed with prickles and clothed in leaves having having a bluish cast, has never been fazed by pests or cold.
    With the help of some rosarians (especially those at www.heirloomroses.com), Rose de Rescht was assigned its probable proper name: Ispahan. The alluring name, the blossoms, and the toughness of the plant more than offset the plant’s one deficiency, that of blossoming only in spring.

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, But It’s Not Xmas

    I can’t just stop and smell the roses all day long; there’s work to be done. Time to grab a hoe and hoe, hoe, hoe. How retro, you may think. What with all sorts of mulches and tillers and tilthers available, the hoe is an under appreciated and underused garden tool these days.

My favorite hoes: wire weeder and winged weeder

My favorite hoes: wire weeder and winged weeder

   But a hoe does good work — if you use the right hoe in the right manner. The best hoes, which include the scuffle hoe, the stirrup hoe, and the colinear hoe, have sharp blades that, in use, run parallel to the surface of the ground. Among these types of hoes, my personal preference has always been for the winged weeder, which looks like an airplane wing, sharpened fore and aft, attached at an angle to a long handle.
    I’ve recently taken up with another hoe, the wire weeder (from http://twobadcatsllc.com), whose head is a stiff wire cleverly bent to be easily worked amongst plants. Rotated 90 degrees puts its short edge to work, which is very useful for wending the head in amongst closely spaced plants. The lightweight aluminum handle doesn’t look  traditional but makes the tool very light and spry in use.
    Ideally, I’m out in the garden with my winged weeder or wire hoe on sunny mornings following rains. (I’m not sure which hoe I like better, so I alternate between them.) The goal is to loosen the soil, uprooting weed seedlings before they establish, and leaving a rough surface to welcome in the next bit of rain. The work, if it could be called that, is quick and easy if done before weeds grow large.
    Only when weeds get out of hand is it necessary to get out the tool that most people associate with the word “hoe,” the traditional garden hoe with the large blade at 90 degrees to the handle. This hoe is also the one Charles Dudley Warner was referencing when he stated (My Summer in a Garden, 1870), “what a [gardener] needs is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.” I reserve mine for mixing concrete.

Hoe or Mulch

    Not that mulching doesn’t also have its place in the battle with weeds`. Mostly, though, you have to do one or the other — mulching or hoeing — thoroughly. It’s impossible to hoe even thinly mulched ground.

Vegetable garden, kept "weed-free" and fed by compost mulch

Vegetable garden, kept “weed-free” and fed by compost mulch

    Unless, that is, the mulch is compost. Given that mulch is anything that covers the ground, compost qualifies as mulch, except that you can plant right in, or hoe, a compost mulch just as if it was soil.
    Weeds occasionally poke up through or sprout within the inch of compost with which I blanket my vegetable garden beds each year. I pull large weeds individually. Periodically, or where small weeds are starting to show, I’m out in the garden, sliding the business end of either my winged weeder or wire hoe back and forth, or just pulling it along, just beneath the surface of the ground.


One Book = Years of Experience

    I’ve been gardening for over 30 years. Don’t be impressed. The number of years spent with hands in the dirt doesn’t necessarily confer any particular expertise in the field (pun intended). Some gardeners do the same foolish things year in and year out, or never sufficiently investigate other, perhaps better, ways of doing what they’ve been doing. Or not appreciate cause and effect. (Was it really the compost tea spray that led to bountiful yields last year, or was it reliable rainfall interspersed with bright, sunny days? The tendency is to hold the former responsible.) Or, the wizened, old gardener’s wealth of knowledge might not extend beyond what they’ve grown on their own “back forty,” severely limiting the benefit of any wisdom passed on to others with a shorter history of gardening.
    Reading is a efficient way to squeeze wisdom of others, reflecting decades of digging, pruning, and seed-sowing, into just a few years, for yourself — depending, of course, on the weight of the words. The fact that so many gardeners have always gotten by with little or no reading is testimonial to millions of years of evolution that makes every pea seed naturally want to grow and every apple tree naturally want to bear fruit.
    So, in the spirit of becoming better gardeners, especially this time of year with nothing to do in the garden, let’s thumb through the pages of three worthy books that recently found a place on my desk.

Good Tools are a Help

    Did you know that the hose was invented by Jan van der Heijden in the 17th century? Tarred canvass, linen, and hand-stitched lengths of leather pipe were all predecessors of the modern garden hose, all of which I learned from Bill Laws’ A History of the Garden in Fifty Tools. It wasn’t until near the end of the 19th century that technology and marketing brought hoses into more general use in gardens.
 History of Garden in Fifty Tools   Just imagine having to water your garden with repeated trips to the spigot with your watering can, another of Mr. Laws’ “Fifty Tools.” Not that the garden hose has displaced watering cans, which have been around in various incarnations for hundreds of years and may have reached their peak in functional and visual elegance with the work of John and Arthur Haws. Haws cans are still made; my 2 gallon, galvanized Haws watering cans have served me and my plants well for over 20 years.
    . . . Fifty Tools will not, admittedly, make anyone a better gardener. Instead, it’s a very interesting history of 50 gardening tools with — okay, this might be some help in the garden — sidebars, “Tools in Action,” telling of the best use of each tool.

Haws watering can

Haws watering can

Some listing are a stretch of the word “tool:” a radio, a scarecrow, separate entries for plant container, terracotta pot, and stoneware urn? I would have included the garden cart, pitchfork, and hori-hori knife as necessary garden accoutrements.

Inspiration from Paris

    In and Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delight by Zahid Sardar, with photographs by Marion Brenner is slightly more practical than A History of the Garden in Fifty Tools, even if I’m not planning to garden in Paris or like a king. The first section, eye candy, has the usual gardens of a literally majestic scale: Versailles, the Tuileries, Vaux-le-Vicomte, etc.
Paris Gardens    Sections on private gardens are more inspirational for us non-royalty. Most of the gardens, whether majestic or small, are typically French, with long views or symmetric arrangements. Not one of the gardens, though, the 1000 square foot Japanese garden near the Bastille, with carefully placed, but not seemingly so, boulders nestled into mosses, lichen bordering a koi pond. Walls shield the garden from the sight and sound of the surrounding city, the effect softened with clumps of bamboo and a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees.
    One of the most interesting gardens is the Experimental Parc Méry-sur-Oise, which started life as the historic Renaissance-era Chateau de Méry-sur-Oise. More recently, in 1999, the grounds were re-done, this time with water features, not Paris, Pervergne gardentraditional fountains, but misty, hot, cold, brackish, and mineralized water that rains down from above or tumbles over waterfalls. Long-term goals, the “Experimental” part of the garden, include observations of the effects of the various waters on plants and the ecosystem over time. Elsewhere are free-standing gabion walls planned for vertical gardens. That never happened. Money ran out and the gardens have been neglected since 2003 — a modern, neglected garden!
    In all honesty, I mostly just looked at the beautiful photographs of In and Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delight.

Grow Vegetables? Study this Book

    Even if you are a backyard gardener rather than a market gardener, The Market Gardener, by Jean-Martin Fortier, will have you harvesting more and better tomatoes, and with less effort. Two themes of this book, as I see it, are planning and record-keeping. The author is a successful market gardener in Quebec, grossing over $100,000 from a mere acre and a half of land.The Market Gardener
    The growing units on Jean-Martin’s farm are raised beds 100 feet long by 30 inches wide. Having all beds the same makes it easy for him to calculate the amount of compost needed and keep track of yields. The latter are spelled out in a handy chart showing days to maturity and yield of individual vegetables per 100 foot bed. I haven’t calculated yields from my 17 foot by 36 inch wide beds, but do know that I need to plant 4 beds at two week intervals to harvest our fill of sweet corn to enjoy during summer and, frozen, through winter.
    Another useful table spells out spacing of transplants, in flats and in beds, and another lists dollars reaped per bed from various vegetables. The only other gardening book that quantifies small-scale vegetable growing so well, in this case strictly backyard growing, is Burrage on Vegetables, from 1954, by Albert Burrage. How times have changed: Burrage is pictured in his garden in sport coat and bow tie; farmers in Jean-Martin’s book are pictured dressed as, well, farmers.

1950s vs the present: Different look but 2 good gardeners

1950s vs the present: Different look but 2 good gardeners

    The book also has the requisite listing of each vegetable along with growing information as well as useful chapters on soil care (generally good but with some misconceptions) and microclimate. One particularly simple, cheap yet innovative technique described for weed control after harvest, between plantings, is covering a bed for 2 weeks with a reusable 6mm thick, black silage tarp.
    Jean-Martin emphasizes that it is possible for farming and gardening to be, at the same time, productive and bucolic only with planning and organization to avoid wasting time. In so doing, he can be a farmer who can put in a workday from a reasonable 8 to 5. Charles Dudley Warner wrote in his 1870 classic My Summer in the Garden, “Blessed be agriculture! If one does not have too much of it.” I agree.

Talks in Pennsylvania & Vermont Coming Up

Some good conferences and lectures coming up. I’ll be in Pennsylvania and Vermont talking about espalier fruits, weedless(!) gardening, growing hardy kiwifruit, pawpaws, and blueberries, the efficacy of compost tea, and pruning fruits. For details, see my “Lectures” page.


Needed Now, A Hay Rake, Garden Line, & Bulb Planter

The small meadow that stretches south of my vegetable garden is more than just a meadow. It also provides mulch for my trees and shrubs, and food for my compost “pet.” All this necessitates moving the greenery — or brownery, when it’s old — from the field to the trees, shrubs, and compost bins. I cut the hay with a scythe, gather it together with a rake, scoop it up with a 4-tine pitchfork, then pile it high in the garden cart for transport.

The tools needed seem straightforward enough, except for the rake. An ordinary garden rake would not do. It’s too small for so large an area and its heavy, short, sharp teeth would too readily tangle up in the mown hay without reaching deeply enough too grab a sufficient amount with each pull. A leaf rake likewise would not do; the fine teeth would merely skim the surface layer of hay or break off.

Years ago, rather than purchase a bona fide hay rake, which may or may not have worked as expected, I thought I’d save some money and get just what I wanted by making one. A quickly made homemade rake would tide me over until I felt like purchasing one or made a new one, improved by my experience using the original. That was years and years ago! The old wooden rake, originally with dowel teeth, later upgraded to teeth of metal spikes, and handle made from a long tree branch, served me well. Eventually, sun, rain, and use tore it apart.

My homemade kay rake of aluminum, PVC plastic, and bamboo

My homemade kay rake of aluminum, PVC plastic, and bamboo

Recently, after looking over all the options — including an antique wooden hay rake, a “professional” rake, a “grading rake” — and not knowing which might work best, I decided, once again, to make one.

And proud I am of my new rake, both in function and beauty. Four-inch lengths of aluminum dowels, rounded at their bottoms with a grinder, are evenly spaced and firmly anchored with small screws at their tops and the upper part of their sides to a 40 inch wide piece of aluminum angle stock to make up the head. A short piece of aluminum angle stock in the middle of the head provides an anchor for the handle, which starts out as an 18” length of 1” diameter PVC pipe. To complete the handle, I slid into the PVC pipe a 7 foot long, straight, strong piece of bamboo, home grown. The rake is a meeting of universes, two corners of the high tech, embodied by aluminum and plastic, with the natural, bamboo. They seem happy together.

Bad Home-Made

With all that’s available in stores and online, it may seem archaic to fashion one’s own tools. But doing so — as is the case with my new rake — can get you a custom-made implement, exactly to your particular specifications. I had the luxury and job of choosing the length and spacing of my rake’s teeth as well as the width of its head, even its weight, depending on the materials I chose. The finished product works well and everything, from lining up drilled holes as I seated the teeth into position to choosing a bamboo handle to fit securely into its PVC sleeve was very satisfying work.

Garden line, a design failure for me

Garden line, a design failure for me

Such is not always the case with homemade. Years ago I needed a garden line that could be wound up quickly and easily, and mounted on a spike that could be stuck in the ground. I made one. Not a very good one in form or function. It’s time to finally cannabalize it for its string which I’ll just wind up around a piece of wood — for now.

Good Bought or Borrowed

Okay, some gardening tools cannot be homemade so are better bought. Case in point: I’m hoping for a dramatic planting of ornamental alliums in part of the meadow. Dramatic, as in 125 bulbs, 100 of which (Purple Sensation) will make purple globes 4 inches across, and 25 of which (Ambassador) will have purple heads 7 inches across, all these heads sitting high atop 3 to 4 foot high stalks. The hope is that their leaves will be up, do their photosynthetic job, and be out of the way before the surrounding grasses and herbs pick up enough steam to choke them out. If so, allium flowers will brighten the meadow year after year.

Sammy the Dog inspects the powerful B&D drill and bulb auger.

Sammy the Dog inspects the powerful B&D drill and bulb auger.

Pushing a shovel through dirt and roots 125 times would be an arduous task indeed. So I borrowed an earth auger from my friend Bill and inserted it into the chuck of my Black & Decker 20 volt cordless drill. If it seems as if, by explicitly naming it, I’m promoting this Black & Decker product, I am. The tool has power, longlasting power, enough to muscle the auger 6 inches deep into the soil. (Full disclosure: No rocks here.) In one hour, all the bulbs were planted.

No, I’m not about to cobble together a cordless drill. Same goes for the earth auger. This particular one, borrowed, was an antique, cast from solid steel.

The humongous Ambassador alliums were too large for the auger holes so I did have to dig those 25 holes by hand.

Farmdening, Not Too Much

Earlier, I mentioned using a scythe to mow the vegetation. The scythe is an archaic yet very useful and enjoyable tool, but, as Charles Dudley Warner wrote in his 1871 classic My Summer in the Garden, “Blessed be agriculture! If one does not have too much of it.”

At one time I did mow the whole, one acre meadow with a scythe — 3 times each season so that the vegetation would not get too long to be mowed. No longer. That much scything got tedious, and I got tennis elbow. So now the scythe takes care of my mowing enough hay for my mulch and compost needs, and a Kubota tractor with a brush hog, once a year, takes care of the rest.

Farmden Health Club & Basil

Rei-King, an Ancient Exercise?

Among the many benefits of gardening is the opportunity it offers for enjoyable, productive exercise in the great outdoors. And now we can add an exercise called rei-king to boot camp, pilates, zumba, kick boxing, cardiofunk, and other ways modern humans build and maintain sleek, fit bodies. Or so I told my wife, Deb.

Deb rakes mown hay.

Rei-King by Deborah as Sammy looks on.

As with some of those other exercise routines, equipment is needed, simple equipment in the case of rei-king. Basically, the equipment is a pole, perpendicular to and at the end of which is a length of wood or metal, attached in its middle to the pole. From the lower side of the length of wood or metal are teeth, each a couple of inches apart and a couple of inches long.

Now for the exercise. You lift the pole just enough to bring the head off the ground, reach forward, and pull it towards you. For balanced exercise, it’s advised to occasionally switch which arm is most forward.

Resistance is the way to build up muscle and endurance. That resistance comes in the form of friction from material lying on the ground. This time of year, that material might conveniently be mown long grass or hay.

And Sie-Thing

I sometimes practice rei-king; more often I choose another exercise that complements Deb’s rei-king. I practice sie-thing (pronounced “sigh-thing”).

Like rei-king, sie-thing entails using one piece of equipment, a sie. The sie also has a single pole, in this case with two handles attached, one at the upper end and one about halfway down. A metal weight is attached at the bottom of the sie. The metal is a couple of feet long, curved, and sharpened on its inside edge. Muscle tone and strength is created by putting the left hand on the upper handle, the right hand on the lower handle, flexing the spine to the right and then unwinding it to the left while trailing the metal weight just above ground level.

Scything the meadow.

Here I practice the ancient art of Sie-Thing.

Again, sei-thing can be made more rigorous, in this case by passing the sharp metal through tall grass or meadow plants. The taller the plants, the denser the plants, and the older plants, the more the resistance.

A side benefit of all this sie-thing is that grass or meadow plants get mown during the exercise. The fallen material drops right in place, providing an opportunity — for me or, more usually, Deb — to then practice rei-king.

By the way, either exercise is most enjoyable early in the morning. At that time, plants are turgid so the sharpened metal of the sie pops plant cells as it is drawn along. And the fallen plants, best for rei-king after lying on the ground a day or two to wilt, cling together nicely when  heavy with dew. The cool morning air is also conducive to exercise.

Basil for Winter?

Many years ago I grew the few varieties of basil that were available and then wrote about them. My conclusion, at the time, was that taste differences between the varieties were minor, so the choice of what to grow should perhaps be on the fun of saying their names, which put Genova Profumatissima, Syracusa, and Fino Verde Compatto at the top of the list. What fun to wave my arms and speak their names!

Or, a variety could be chosen for the size or color of its leaf, whether for decoration or culinary use. “Spicy Globe basil, planted close together, makes soft, green mounds resembling a miniature boxwood hedge,” I wrote. Now we have yet another decorative form: Bonsai Basil.Bonsai basil plants in pots.

To create a bonsai basil, a variety such as Spicy Globe — perfect, with its diminutive, closely spaced leaves — is grafted onto a special rootstock. That rootstock is another variety of basil, one chosen, in perfect world, to impart to the grafted plant vigor, disease resistance, and hardiness. Periodically shearing such a plant keeps up appearances even as it provides basil for flavoring. Over time, the trunk even turn woody.

Even better, carry on the fun and the flavor through winter. Basil is perennial in the tropics but generally does not fare well in the cool, dry air, and relatively dark conditions of a northern home in winter. All of which calls out for a vigorous, disease-resistant, hardy plant. A grafted basil. Grafted basil, even more than grafted tomatoes, are very much the new kid on the (grafted) block.

A few weeks ago I was given a couple of grafted bonsai basil plants and I’m planning to grow them as perennials. It turns out that my plants are on a rootstock called Nufar which is resistant to fusarium disease. My soil doesn’t harbor basil fusarium disease, so that rootstock is of no benefit in that department. Perhaps it will help get the plant through the long, dark winter indoors anyway.

New rootstocks that could impart vigor and hardiness to help get a bonsai basil through winter — indoors, of course, around here — are on the horizon.


Ah, fusarium. Reminds me of last week’s patting myself on my back about my conquest of pea fusarium, which has plagued me for years. Well, between last week and this week, fusarium has again reared its ugly head and the vines have yellowed. I did get a decent crop, however. Looks like management rather than conquest will be the key to annual harvests of peas.

Serendipity Strikes!! & Join Me in Seattle

Join me in Seattle on August 10, 2014 for a talk I’ll be giving on “Luscious Landscaping — With Fruiting Trees, Shrubs, and Vines!”. Luscious landscaping is the way to beautify your yard and, at the same time, to put (very) local, healthful, flavorful food on the table. Following the lecture, we will explore the gardens at Magnuson Park. For more information about this event, go to http://leereich.brownpapertickets.com.

Ice Cream for Poppies

I first learned the word “serendipity” when I was in junior high school; it was the clever name of an ice cream shop that my parents had come upon in New York City. I’ve been on the lookout for it ever since: the word, not the shop. And I find it, occasionally, in the garden.

Like yesterday, for instance. Last March I sprinkled corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) seeds on a flower bed that’s also home to espaliered Asian pears and a plum tree. Looking down at the dust-like seeds in the palm of my hand, it would have been hard to imagine that they could ever amount to anything. Especially since I did nothing more than sprinkle them on top of the ground, the whole packet.

But the seeds did amount to something, to more than just something, to oodles and oodles of two-foot-long stems capped by orangish red blossoms. The color is similar to that of Oriental poppies (P. orientale), but corn poppy flowers are smaller and more delicate, “all silk and flame,” to quote John Ruskin. Not exactly a serendipitous planting because I did, after all, sow the seeds. But I could hardly have predicted the exuberant response.

Fenced in red poppies in front of espaliered pears

In amongst other plants, the flowers are held high. At the front edge of the bed, though, the dainty heads flop down on the lawn. Which would be okay, except that it would be a shame to mow those silky blossoms when mowing the lawn at the bed’s edge.  Likewise, it would be a shame to let the grass grow unfettered up around and hiding the blossoms. Too messy.

So yesterday I propped the floppy plants up with a fence. Nothing fancy or permanent, just five short bamboo canes pushed into the ground about eight feet apart as posts. The crosspieces, four long bamboo canes each slid along the lawn beneath the flowers, were then lifted and lashed to the short canes a foot above the ground.

Serendipity. Not only are the flowers up off the ground but the bamboo “fence,” simple as it is, greatly improved the appearance of the bed, visually defining it to better highlight the plants.

Tea Crabs into a Tea Hedge, with a Doorway

My most serendipitous planting was many, many years ago, of tea crabapples (Malus hupehensis). I was using these plants for research when I was working for Cornell University. I needed clones, and tea crabapple has the quirk of apomixis, which means that its seeds do not reflect the sexual union of pollen with egg cells; the seeds are formed only from mother tissue so grow into clones of each other and the mother plant.

Privet hedge melding into tea crabapple hedge

Privet hedge melding into tea crabapple hedge

Starting many tea crabapples from seed left me with extra plants, so I took eight home and planted them in a tight row, with only a couple of feet between plants, along and about five feet from the back edge of my garage/barn. What was I thinking? Tea crabapple can grow 40 feet high and wide!

As the plants grew, I sheared them into a hedge 10 feet high and 4 feet wide. After a few years, I put a rear, sliding door on the back of the garage/barn. Rather than walk out that door into a tree, I cut out one of the crabapples, and sheared a living doorway through the row of remaining trees.

I subsequently planted a privet hedge that runs perpendicular to the north edge of the crabapple hedge. Because the privet hedge is only about 3-feet-high, I decided to meld it with the crabapple hedge by letting it swoop upwards at their meeting. Access was needed through the privet hedge also, so another arch was created, this one higher and wider to let my tractor pass through.

It’s all very playful and, to me, pretty. And it all started with a mindless planting of extra tea crabapples.

Shearing Easily

The height and length of these hedges present maintenance challenges. Years ago, scissoring hedge shears made the work pleasant but very slow. The top of the crab hedge demanded my climbing a ladder and swinging a shearing knife — a dangerous proposition.

Shearing my tall hedge with Black & Decker pole pruner

Black & Decker pole pruner makes me taller

Technology has come to the rescue. Nowadays both hedges are kept trim and neat with two tools, both powered by 20 volt lithium batteries. What I can reach gets clipped with a Black & Decker battery powered hedge trimmer. Thanks to my Black & Decker battery powered pole hedge trimmer, the 10-foot-high hedge no longer demands a ladder. The trimmer’s articulating head makes it easy to give the upper sides a 45 degree cut and then, after repositioning the blades at 90 degrees, to make a flat cut along the top of the hedge.

The pole trimmer is especially important for making it convenient to cut high up on a hedge, the part most likely to be neglected especially on tall hedges. Hormones within every plant favor most vigorous growth highest up in the plant. So the top of the hedge, left to its own devices, would naturally overgrow the lower portions, leading to shading and bare branches lower down. Keeping the upper part of the hedge narrower than the bottom counteracts this tendency.