Monday, February 18, 2013

Hedge, Hedgerow, Hedge Grow!

Why do people move to the country?  Some reasons might include to have more space, to enjoy fresh air and nature, to obtain privacy and solitude, and certainly a combination would be common.  As for my husband and me, all of these reasons apply.

In our rural subdivision, properties are no less than two acres and many are more.  Our home is situated in the middle of our four acre plot; the neighbors to our south have at least six acres.  Despite this, the side of their house is not more than twenty-five feet from the edge of our driveway.  We don't know our neighbors well, but they seem to be nice people.  They haven't owned the house long and while they don't spend a lot of time outdoors as we do, they are outside more than their predecessors.  It's not their fault that the houses are so close.  Moreover, my husband and I obviously knew the house was there when we bought ours.  We love our house and land, but from the first day we agreed that a privacy hedge would be important.  When we were raising our sons in the suburbs, seeing our neighbors out in their front yards and chatting at the curb was part of the charm.  But out here, where all fences and spaces are open, it is disconcerting that we and our neighbors must see almost everything going on in each other's yards, both front and back.  I should add here that our back patios are completely private due to the design of the homes and how they are situated. 

But it's not just a matter of privacy.  Not all of the views are to our liking, especially from our driveway.  To be fair, from certain back portions of their property, they can see our work area, compost pile and all, but not everyone who visits them has to see it.  Eventually, a hedge down the entire length would be nice for everyone, but for now we shall focus on what's most important to us.  In a way, I suppose this aspect does concern privacy for all, the privacy to utilize one's own space as desired without bothering or offending someone else.

In the above photo, the parking area of our driveway is to the right. The roof of our neighbor's home is in the top left corner of the picture.  Below is a cropped photo of one of my primary objections.

We can view this utility area and more of it from our driveway.  It involves a partial, dilapidated fence, lots of pipes, air conditioners, and possibly a generator.  I realize that many people have worse views from their doorsteps, but all the same, it detracts from our garden.

We could talk with our neighbors or complain to the homeowners' association, but it might not help and, as we would like more privacy, anyway, we don't see it as necessary, at least not right now.  I daresay that me standing in my bathrobe on the driveway might not be any better a view for them.   

All things considered, when it came to choosing between a rose arbor and flower bed or a privacy hedge for our first project, I, the plantoholic, chose the roses without hesitation.  After that, it was one landscaping adventure after another.  It's only recently that we've revisited the hedge situation and decided to use native plants rather than ligustrum or some other hardy import.  Ever since that momentous decision was reached, I've been fantasizing about hedgerows.

Hedgerows have been used in Great Britain to delineate property lines and restrict livestock since ancient times.  They are useful as windbreaks, too, and can prevent soil erosion.  Hedgerows, as opposed to a single, formal row of evergreen shrubs, are several feet deep and are deliberately informal. They are filled with both evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees as well as native grasses, flowers, and vines. Ideally, some of the trees and shrubs provide nuts or berries for wildlife, some are thorny for added protection against predators, and they are planted densely enough to provide shelter. Vines afford additional cover and sometimes food, but I personally shall forgo them as they would render the hedgerow a little too informal, considering the fence is wrought iron.  Traditional hedgerows can be enormous, but there are practical guidelines for even small, urban spaces. 

In England, many hedgerows were destroyed during the past century and now there is a movement to restore and protect them as part cultural heritage and part wildlife protection.  Lots of small mammals and birds make their homes in hedgerows.
That's why I like them!  My fascination with hedgerows probably could be traced to my childhood, when I read books with such phrases as "the little animals of the hedgerow".  Rabbits, hedgehogs, mice and many a talking bird filled my imagination.  They still do, to some extent, and I would love to entertain more of these creatures in my own backyard. 

I do realize that hedgerows or even a single row of hedges can also harbor snakes and that bunnies, raccons, and other small animals could at times disturb the peace in our garden.  However, most of our ornamental beds are on the north side of our house, while the hedgerow will be on the south.   Rabbits, for example, might venture past the house and across the property, but we know they are out there already and so far they haven't been a problem for our flower beds. 

We need a lot of plants to densely screen an area of fence over a hundred and twenty feet long.  It could prove to be costly, especially since we have other landscaping projects, even more hedges, in mind.  But we're gardeners.  Surely, if we are resourceful and willing to be patient, we don't need to purchase all of the plants we want.  After all, there are already some yaupon hollies and wax myrtles on our property and these large shrubs/small trees sucker.  We had already transplanted a few bird-sown wax myrtles from our flower beds and they grew surprisingly fast.

I opened my copy of the American Horticulture Society's book Plant Propagation, editor-in-chief Alan Toogood, and studied the section on propagation by division.  Best attempted in early spring, an underground stem with suckers is lifted and cut close to the parent plant, trimmed back to its fibrous roots and the top growth trimmed back to about half, and replanted. 

That's just what we did.  More clearly, that's just what my husband did while I held back branches, handed him things, took care of the cuttings, and generally tried to help without injuring him.  I didn't always succeed; every once in a while a branch would escape me or I held the wrong one and thwack!  But we both survived and so far, so have most of our little transplants.  For our hedgerow, we want first a row of evergreens and shall build out from there with a mix of evergreens and deciduous shrubs.  It has occurred to me that our neighbors might not be thrilled to have a wildlife habitat planted along the fence -- all the more reason for the evergreens.  The first row shall consist entirely of wax myrtles and yaupons.  We don't yet have enough for the sections of fence we want to cover first and we can only hope that our tiny sticks survive and thrive quickly. 

It's a far cry, a long journey, towards a wildlife habitat or privacy screen of any sort.  However, this weekend we moved several large, dormant, shrubs that should become quite large and floriferous by midsummer and stay that way until the first frost.  Right now, a riding mower fits between the two rows; eventually, we will stagger more evergreens and probably some grasses between the two and mowing will finally become both impossible and unnecessary.

I have a lot to say about moving giant plants.  It's not easy to redo large flower beds.  But that's for another post.  

For more information on hedgerows, wonderful hedgerows, here are a couple of articles I enjoyed:

We will evaluate how many plants we might have to purchase or not purchase as spring moves sweetly towards summer.  In the meantime, we can watch and hope that our infant hedgerow grows!


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