THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Hedge laying is something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time, a type of pruning that can bring huge benefits to wildlife as well as looking amazing.
So last year I went down to Dorset/the edge of Devon, to spend a day learning to lay a hedge.
Hedge laying is a way of building a stock proof fence. It does take time, and some practical and physical skill, but once you get the hang of it I would think developing your instinct about what to prune and where to lay the branches is where the true proficiency arises…
That will come with experience of course (and is similar to any pruning and topiary – developing your eye for the shapes you wish to make needs you to give it a go!) but I recommend booking yourself on a course, spending the day outside, working with plants, to get yourself into the swing of things – it is pretty easy to socially distance and the only real danger is cutting off a thumb (if you are an idiot with an axe).
Plus, wherever you are in the country, you get a different style of hedge laying. This is because of plant material being different, as well as need – a bigger, stronger laid hedge would be needed in areas of the country that kept cattle, for example, while the style I learnt had two ‘combs’ with an earth bank on the inside.
Looking at the old laid hedges as we drove around and seeing the earth bank filled with an array of flowers and plants, that loved the dry slope it grew on, was a real treat – tiny eco-systems that bring forth these wonderful tapestries of plants that can cope with conditions, almost like a banked meadow – the last time I saw something like this was the wide variety of flowers growing on the old limestone graves in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. These unusual circumstances, man-made, create perfect conditions for a wider group of plants.
What is hedge laying for? Stock control and cerating boundaries
The best plants to use? Blackthorn… and holly.
Preparation for hedge laying? Billhook, axe, saw.
Anything else important to know? Prune when plants are dormant (October to March?)Always lay uphill. Lay towards the sun, where possible.
How do you do it? Remove unwanted material first (like brambles). Trim growth back to the hedgeline (from the facade of the hedge.) Choose the strongest, youngest material as this is most suitable for laying.
Then what do I do with the stem I am going to lay? Cut low down, near the ground, about 3/4 of the way through the limb at a 45 degree angle. Lay it as flat as possible. Trim the heel. Weave the next one in.
Now, that may all sound like gobbledegook to you, but it will make sense if you work a day with someone who knows what they are doing. I really enjoyed it and will be going again, perhaps to learn a new style.
I hope you will think about the laying of hedges – or even the planting of hedges, if you don’t have any! They are wonderful for wildlife, providing cover, habitat and food. And you can always grow a tree out of them too, to make them even better carbon stores!
Brought By Bike is an excellent website I found last month, where businesses offer their services by (of course) bicycle. Modern Mint and my topiary work is now live on the site offering my topiary services, via bike, to the following two postcodes – CM1 CM2 Now I can imagine I will need to borrow a ladder should anyone have a larger shrub, but most town gardens in the Chelmsford area have a need not just for privacy but to let light into the house… so a balance must be struck when shaping hedges and shrubs to cover both needs. …
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …