Last year we took a critical look at our garden and agreed that the time had come to deal with one of our long boundaries. To one side of the property is a field, used only for an annual hay crop, and the old fence posts had rotted through and were held up with bent rusty wire. It was far from a thing of beauty.
We could have simply replaced the fencing but instead decided to plant a hedge of species which would create a source of food and nectar for insects, birds and small mammals and also function as a corridor above ground sheltered from predators.
We sourced most of our plants from Ashridge Nurseries down in Somerset. They sell a bird friendly pack of bare rooted hedge plants and donate 15% of the sales value to the RSPB. The downside is that one cannot specify the mix so we supplemented our order with two other species from the Hedge Nursery in Shropshire, who came in best on price. Both firms delivered strong plants with a healthy root system, carefully packaged and in good condition on arrival.
The plants we finally selected include
Blackthorn or Sloe (Prunus spinosus)
Common pear (Pyrus communis)
Cornel (Cornus Mas)
Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Dogwood (Cornus alba)
Field maple (Acer campestre)
Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Spindle (Euonymus europeus)
Wild cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera)
Wild crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
Wild damson (Prunus domestica)
We cleared the old fence away and dug out the couch grass, brambles and weeds to create a new bed for the hedge line. Then, as soon as the new plants arrived, we dipped them in a bucket of water mixed with Rootgrow gel to get them off to a good start, and planted them in a zigzag double line, one of us slicing the spade in and rocking it forward while the other pushed the young plant into the slot and firmed it in with a careful boot. Ashridge Nurseries has a number of excellent video clips on its website dealing with planting formal and informal hedges.
The nurseries recommend cutting a new hedge back by half after planting to make it bush out from lower down and this is probably the hardest part – they all look so young and fragile. However, I took all the top sections, stripped off the lower leaves and nipped out the growing point and planted them in rows to provide spares in case of fatalities. The spare plants rooted well and were added to spaces when they were sturdy enough. We were careful to water and weed the new hedge regularly over the year and lost very few as a result.
Last weekend we went along the line with secateurs and spade, and reduced the plants again by about half, trimming the cut sections and, this time, pushing them straight into the hedge line to see if they will root in situ. We were pleased to see some berries showing already, and the autumn colours are starting to look good. We also trimmed back side shoots to encourage bushy lateral growth. Next spring I plan to add some honeysuckles to the mix for added fragrance and berries.
With the disappearance of hedgerows all over the country any new hedge, no matter how short, is important to the survival of wildlife and, provided you can keep the boundary secure, is much more pleasant than a wooden panel fence. Perhaps you could agree with your neighbours to plant a new garden hedge, with a post and wire fence as a temporary measure until the hedge is strong enough to stand alone? Pig netting securely fixed along the bottom should keep dogs in and rabbits out. To encourage users not to cross the hedge and create gaps a small decorative gate adds an attractive focal point.
Ashridge Nurseries – www.ashridgetrees.co.uk
Hedge Nursery – www.hedgenursery.co.uk