Hedges are quite possibly one of the most important elements in all our gardens and even the greater landscape around us. They are just more that something to be trimmed and forgotten about in most gardens. Who has not sought out the shelter of a hedge in a rain shower or picked berries from natures larder or admired sharply clipped wall like hedges. Here is how I see them through my eyes.
H is for Habitat. Hedges provide a wonderful home to so many birds, mammals and insects. This can often be the only refuge for many of these animals in an increasingly sterile urban and rural landscape. With only 11% of the country covered in forestry the hedgerows are an important corridor for animals and birds to live in and feed on. In the greater landscape they help link up separate habitat locations for animals. In urban areas all the little bits added together provide create larger habitats for these animals. By allowing you hedges become a little wider and taller where possible and even allowing the understory planting become established we have a wonderful resource on our hands and an important tool in preserving biodiversity.
H is also for Hide. By this of course I mean using a hedge to hide some feature or view. Possibly one thing we have all tried to do in our lives with different levels of success. With a little more thought these type hedges can be features in their own right and not just green blocks. Maybe cut in different shape or planted in a different pattern.
E is for Edible. Who has not rummaged amongst the thorns for a blackberry.
This is what we all think about firstly but it need not be the only time of the year we go searching for food. In larger native hedges you can have nuts and berries and other fruits from crab apples to rose hips. There will also be mushrooms, foliage and roots at different times of the year. This might not be as obvious but if we do not look after all our hedge, we have no chance of this. Too many of our older native hedges are cut too hard and damaged and new hedges are never allowed to develop to fruiting size...when did you last pick a hazel nut from the hedge? Even in a small garden you can have a mixed fruiting hedge instead of a single species dull green hedge. All currants make a good low hedge and mix in some autumn raspberries, hazel and maybe rosa rugosa for scented flowers and hips. What you don't eat the birds in particular will thank you.
D is for Division. From big to small every garden or field can benefit from being divided.
In a garden setting every garden is always better if there is different areas. Sometimes its for privacy, sometimes its for function and others its by design. In all cases hedges make up an important element in this. By dividing a garden up you make it feel more user friendly. It makes large spaces more scale able to human proportions and it helps create different zones. The hedge in this instance does not necessarily have to hide areas, it could be as simple as a low box hedge framing a border.
In the Irish landscape hedges were used to divide up lands. They were used for stock control and demarcation of land boundaries primarily. Also as essential access to wood as a raw material for so may uses. This provided us with a tapestry of hedges crossing the country. From strips of ancient woodland in medieval times to more laid out hedges from the 17th and 18th centuries. These were marked in early maps and have lead to many place names etc. From looking at these maps alone in the past 100 years there has been massive change and in the last 30 huge amounts of these have disappeared and those that remain are not all in good condition. In our push for progress bigger fields and machinery have lead to this mainly but for what gain. Our countryside is becoming barren and these hedges that act as nature corridors have broken the link in many food chains and habitats.
Even on a farming level it is proving to be a problem. Land is prone to flooding, fields have no shelter for cattle and growth is slower at the cooler times of the year. Our agricultural model is broken and yet we persist. We cannot support our own population with a range of foods and unless we all want to live on beef and dairy we will import a huge amount of the rest. What has this to do with hedges...well we removed them to make these mono pastures so we can export up to 90% of the dairy and beef we mainly produce. If you decided in the morning to change track and start growing some different crops and food it would struggle in these barren fields. No shelter, no pollinators, no micro flora and fauna that support other plants. Its time to start dividing up the counrtyside again and hedges are the way to go.
(Bit political this last paragraph but once I started to think about this its very frustrating and this has happened in my lifetime. Something has to change and in this global economy in which we operate it makes more sense to me to look after our needs first. If the economy changes we will be replaced by next in line....Beef crisis anyone!!!)
G is for Green. Might seem obvious but think of a beautiful border sitting in the garden. The plants look so much better when there is something behind them providing a backdrop. Its also useful way of adding texture like a sharply clipped green vertical hedge vs a lawn.
E is also for Employment. This is a personal one as hedges are an important part of my seasonal work. Trimming and planting are mainstays of my winter work. How much more employment could we have if we planted more hedges and managed the ones we have correctly..not just with chainsaws and tractors.
There are over 300,000 km of hedgerows in Ireland. Many need help and proper maintenance. They will always need this so it could become a profession again and with modern tools and resources much more could be done. Wood for fuel at a basic level and also more value added ways like art works and raw materials for skilled turners and woodworkers.
S is so many things...Shelter, Shade, Structure, Silhouette and Scent.
Shelter is something both you and your garden needs. How many times do I meet new clients in their new house in the middle of an agricultural field and the first thing they say to me is its very windy. Usually the nearest hedge is 100m plus away. Try starting a garden in those conditions. Hedges are great for providing shelter from the winds and than shade from the strong summer suns. So many different species and way of planting can be done that makes hedges such an interesting design tool.
All our lives benefit from structure and our gardens are no different. Hedges can line a path or border edge to draw the eye. They can provide the layout in which other elements fit into like a clipped hedge around your veg garden. They provide the vertical and horizontal lines within a design, helping to bring the eye from tall trees to short grass.
The silhouette of a hedge can tell so many different things. From a bushy old whitethorn hedge on the crest of a hill casting long black shadows to a crisp uniform box hedge gleaming in the setting sun. These spades evoke the feeling of that landscape by just their outline.
Scent is natures reward for getting out and about. Think of all the possibilities in a flowering hedge, there is too many to mention. But the scent from the the hedges reminds me of the season, from the May apple blossoms, to the summer roses, buddleia and more and the heavy musky autumn ivy today. Also have you ever clipped a lavender hedge or dare to dream a bay hedge in mid summer....
If you have read this far then thank you. As you can see there is a lot to such a simple feature within our gardens. If you would like some help with yours then give us a call.