Hedgerows are an important and interesting part of the British landscape. For centuries, the craft of hedgelaying has been a vital part of agriculture and taking care of the land, although sadly modern industrial farming methods have meant the loss of many old hedgerows. We hope to show at Horsenden that planting and tending hedges has many wonderful benefits, and we’re excited to have begun planting on the farm and hill!
Traditionally, hedgerows have been used to mark property lines and field boundaries, delineating between arable fields for growing crops and meadows and pastures for grazing animals. So long as they are maintained, they function as fencing to keep the grazing animals in or out, and to provide security and privacy.
Their benefits are also ecological: hedgerows provide shelter to many different animals; birds can nest in the safety of the interior of the hedge, and in autumn the fallen leaves provide cover and shelter for small mammals (where hedgehogs got their name). They are windbreak and insulation, giving their inhabitants protection against the elements. Hedgerows can be considered their own ecosystem, such is the amazing variety of insects, animals and plants that they provide home. The flower blossoms, berries and fruit provide food sources for countless animals and insects, as well as an excellent foraging source for jams, jellies, syrups and vinegars.
At Horsenden, under the direction of ranger Jon Staples and with some generous donations of trees, our volunteers have been busy planting tree saplings to create several new hedgerows. The planting season is October – March; any earlier or later risks the plants succumbing to the summer dryness before they’ve had a chance to put their roots down. We hope to plant almost 1/2 km of new hedgerow by spring 2023.
We’re planting a mixture of fruiting/edible trees and traditional hedgerow trees, along with other trees that aren’t traditionally associated with hedgerows but will provide biodiversity and interest. The quintessential hedging plant is hawthorn (also called quickthorn); it grows very quickly, so a new hedgerow can establish itself quickly. Blackthorn is another very traditional hedging plant, and there are many ancient blackthorn hedges in Horsenden West.
In December 2020 – March 2021 we’ve been planting a mixture of hawthorn, hazel, crab apple, dog rose, field rose, wild pear, wild plum, wild cherry, guelder rose (not an actual rose!), sea buckthorn, raspberries, and a small number of varieties such as elm, spindle, oak, dogwood. We’ve tried to space the structure providing trees with the gap-stitching climbers, placing the hawthorn and hazel with pollarding and laying in mind. In several years when it’s time to lay the hedge, there should be a good mixture of branches that are suitable for laying with branches to close up the gaps, and species to provide structure with species to provide wild forage.
We also seeded the areas behind the farm with wild grasses and flowers. Grasses with strong roots to restore the soil structure after a wet winter with pigs, and wild flowers for insect forage (and beauty!). The pictures below show one of the larger hedging saplings already in blossom, and some of the seeds germinating, which is a very heartening sight!
Future posts will talk about hedgelaying with Clive Leeke, foraging and the autumnal and winter hedgerow produce, updates on future plantings, and the progression and growth of Horsenden’s hedges.