One of the National Trusts' flagship properties in the south of England, Nymans near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, has switched to battery power to keep a characteristic feature looking its best, and now there's no turning back.
Last summer, the garden department at the hugely popular attraction bought four lithium battery-powered Pellenc Helion hedgecutters from South East Groundcare at East Sussex to take over the work of electric machines powered by a noisy petrol generator.
The 275-acre gardens at Nymans are maintained by nine full time gardeners with the assistance of up to 14 volunteers and hedge trimming is a major part of the work there. According to Philip Holmes, the Assistant Head Gardener who is in charge of hedging work, battery powered trimming is now the order of the day by popular consent and the Helion machines deal with everything from the tough cutting of hawthorn and beech to the finer topiary work on yew and box.
Hand vibration is considerably lower and gone are the hazard of cables and the distracting background noise of the generator. Philip Holmes says that hedging at Nymans is now conducted safely and less conspicuously as visitors enjoy the gardens.
Close to the property's now iconic ruined house destroyed by fire in 1947 is a series of box topiary mythical birds dating back over 100 years. Careful trimming of these is conducted once a year in July and in August the distinctive 80-year old yew turrets running alongside get their annual trim. Here, the lack of cabling is a distinct advantage. Both of these topiary features, like all of Nymans' gardens, were originally the creation of the Messel family, the former owners who were famed for their garden design ideas and horticultural endeavours. For this summer's topiary work Philip Holmes will have half-length Helion blades at his disposal to make delicate trimming even more accurate.
Other hedging tasks for which the Pellenc Helion units are now used include a ¼ mile stretch of laurel on both sides of a visitor path. Two sides and a top twice - that's a mile and half of trimming all told. The new hedge trimmers light battery backpack enables a full 8-hour working day, so major work like this is well within their compass.
'When I first worked at Nymans 40 years ago I was introduced to the hedge trimming using an electric machine," said Philip Holmes.
"It was heavy to operate, the job was noisy and actually quite a dangerous one. How times have changed? The battery trimmers we're using now make it much more manageable and far less tiring. The gardens here are these days open seven days a week so best of all because the trimmers are so quiet we don't feel we're inconveniencing visitors.
"When we bought the four machines a year ago Health and Safety and noise levels were the principal reasons, but we do pride ourselves here at Nymans on wanting to keep abreast of technical advances in equipment and pass on our experiences to other National Trust properties. This is definitely an advance as far as hedge work is concerned."
The machines were also used in March for trimming and shaping the garden's heathers.
Nymans is now looking into extending its usage of Pellenc battery-operated equipment. The Health and Safety and noise level benefits apply equally to brush cutting, which is an extensive part of the gardening team's workload. Philip Holmes says that they will also be investigating the use of the manufacturer's solar power panel battery kit to boost their environmental credentials still further.
The Pellenc Universal Helion hedge trimmers now used at Nymans weigh just over 3kg and are fitted with a 1200-watt motor with 4-speed selector to suit the type of trimming required. Features include interchangeable blades and a battery charge level indicator. They are fitted with a swivel handle which moves in 45 degree increments allowing comfortable trimming of sides and tops of shrubs and hedges.
The variable blade speed is changed with the press of a button and there are four speeds from 1600 to 1900 strokes per minute. Speeds can be set to the lower levels, on appropriate cutting material to conserve the battery. If the blades strike a thicker piece of wood that does not cut immediately the machine automatically engages a shunt mode where the blades reduce speed and pulsate to cut through the thicker material. This gives a cleaner cut than fast moving blades of conventional machines which chew through the thicker branches. If a blade becomes caught while cutting, an electronic device reverses the direction of rotation allowing it to automatically work loose easily and safely.
For further information, please contact Etesia UK on 01295 680 120 or visit www.etesia.com/uk