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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Grandad's Hedge

I grew up in the North East of Scotland and my grandparents, Fiona and Ian, lived in a village not too far from us, called Edzell. Edzell is a quaint little village with a population of about 900 people and it's where we used to go every Sunday, to visit Granny and Grandad, to go to Sunday School at the local church and to spend our pocket money on sweets in Bert's paper shop. Edzell had a lot of older people in it, during the time when we were growing up and something which was taken very seriously in the village, was gardening. The village hall, called the Inglis Memorial Hall, has a room with walls which are covered with hundreds of plaques and awards which the village and its inhabitants had won for their gardening prowess, including many Britain in Bloom awards

Granny and Grandad's house on Dunlappie Road, which used to be the Station House for the Edzell railway station until the station closed to passengers in the 1930s and then to goods in the 1960s, had a huge garden around the property which was beautifully maintained, with a large vegetable garden, a selection of fruit trees and plants, three perfectly manicured small lawns, a greenhouse filled with grapevines (the fruits of which, I'm told, were used to make some absolutely horrendous tasting wine, but I guess you can't be great at everything!) tens of varieties of rose bushes and many other beautiful flowering plants. The pièce de résistance of the garden, however, was its hedge.

This tall, rectangular hedge, which must have measured something like 30 metres long in total, along the front and side of the garden, was about a metre wide and probably two or more metres tall and it was immaculately kept. I do not recall a single time in my childhood and young adulthood where I saw that hedge looking anything other than pristine. What made this even more remarkable and what I only discovered later, was that for the majority of the years that Grandad maintained this hedge, he did it with a pair of shears! It was only when he was older that my parents bought him a Black & Decker electric hedge trimmer to do the work! If you've ever used a pair of manual shears, essentially a very large pair of scissors, you can begin to imagine the level of graft that would be required to keep a hedge of that size in order, particularly in the heat of the summer, using only those!

My Grandad passed away when I was a teenager and eventually my Granny followed when I was 18 and the house was sold on to a young family to start their lives, much like my grandparents young family who had moved in there in the 60s. I very much miss my grandparents and I miss seeing the garden in full bloom in the summer.

Fast forward to 2018, when my wife and daughter and I moved from a flat to our current house. We needed more space and were thinking about school catchment areas and we found the perfect place in a quiet village on the edge of Edinburgh. It doesn't have much in the way of a garden, only a large lawn at the back and a small one at the front of the house, but along the side of the back lawn, separating us from our neighbours, is, you've guessed it, a privet hedge! It was relatively newly planted when we moved in but over the five and a half years, I've worked to try and get it to thicken up and to get a nice height and shape, by feeding it and cutting it a few times a year. When we moved in, my parents gifted me Grandad's old electric hedge trimmer and I used this until an unfortunate incident involving the blades and the electric cord, before replacing it with a cordless version! What they also gifted me, however, was the old canvas sheet which Grandad used to lay down along the side of the hedge, to collect the clippings for easier tidying up. It may seem strange to have a strong attachment to a sheet, but that is the only thing which links me to my Grandad and it holds a very special place in my heart!

My challenge, however, with maintaining both the hedge and the lawn and trying to get them to look as pristine as Grandad's, was that I didn't really know what I was doing. That's one of my biggest regrets with the loss of my grandparents; that I didn't take the time to quiz them more when they were still here and soak up some of their knowledge and experience. Grandad's lawn and hedge care skills and Granny's soup and pork casserole recipes have been lost to time. But what I've largely done to this point has been to copy the things I remember.

The problem with this approach, is that I don't remember all that much and I only saw a fraction of the things that actually happened at the time, so my approach is a very partial record of what happened. This really came home to me this summer, so I decided to take a different approach and to seek out some other experts, to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and to challenge the things that I thought I knew. I have subsequently watched hours of YouTube videos, read a number of books and articles and reached out to professionals to get a better understanding of what needs to be done and, importantly, why it needs to be done. For example, in speaking to a hedge expert and explaining that I've been frustrated that it's not thickening up how I'd like, he took one look and told me I need to be cutting it more often! But it grows at a really slow rate - there's hardly anything to cut off. That's because you're not cutting it often enough - as soon as you see these spindly shoots, it's time to cut it! More frequent cutting, taking off less will encourage it to thicken. So now I know - and instead of just doing what I've always done and being frustrated with the results, I have acquired new knowledge to allow me to test and learn!

For the remainder of this year and going forward, I've made myself a plan to get the hedge and lawn in better order and it's rejuvinated my enthusiasm for the garden. I have added plans to plant spring flowering bulbs into the lawn over the next couple of months and that gives Harper and I a nice project too!

So how is the saga of two (very different quality) hedges relevant to all things leadership? Well one of the things that is very apparent in my field of work, is that an awful lot of leaders start off on their leadership journey, simply by emulating the things that they've seen leaders do (sometimes good and bad!) without much thought to why they did them or whether they're working. And, like me, they started this with an incomplete list of the things that leader did and probably an inaccurate memory of them. In essence, they don't think about the type of leader they want to be, nor do they consider whether those things are helping or hindering them in getting there and they simply stab in the dark with some things that might work. It's often said that doing what you always did will get you what you've always got, and the antidote to that is putting your foot on the ball, taking time to consider where you're heading vs where you'd like to be heading and then reaching out to the myriad resources available to us all, to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

What type of leader (in work, in your hobbies and in your family and friendship groups) would you like to be? What impact would you like to have on others? And which of the things you're doing now as a leader are moving you closer to those, vs. which are moving you further away. Like me and my hedge - are you spending enough time with your people or are you condensing your leadership into short intensive bursts that overwhelm and don't get the results you're looking for. Grab a cuppa, a notepad and a pen and give this one some thought!

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