The new fashion for planting hedgerows is reversing a trend which has been witnessed over the last few decades.
Hedgerows are ancient structures originating in the Bronze Age. The Romans planted hedgerows to create enclosures for stock and the practice continued to some degree through the centuries that followed.
During the century between 1750 and 1850, The Enclosures Act triggered frenzied hedge planting to mark property boundaries. The character of the English countryside was totally changed. But many of these hedges were lost during the Napoleonic Wars and later in World War II as Britain strived to become as self-sufficient in food production as possible.
The mass removal of hedges from the landscape has had an adverse affect on wildlife. Hedgerows play an important role in feeding, protecting and housing animals, birds and insects. They create much-needed resources to support a rural ecosystem.
But city and suburban gardens too can offer a huge opportunity to create a network of havens. Hedgerows that support wildlife do not have to be exclusively rural; gardeners can play an enormously important role in providing similar habitats.
The planting of hedgerows will create wildlife corridors. These act to link habitats and enable migration. Animals and insects will travel, meet and breed. The wildlife that lives as a satellite population cannot be self-sustaining over the long term.
Bees will in a day, typically travel up to two miles or more away from the hive to feed. But when the food supply is difficult to find, more energy has to be expended in order to collect the pollen and nectar they need to remain well-fed and, therefore, healthy. These insects play an enormously important role in pollinating our food crops.
Most of our ancient woodlands have regrettably disappeared and a lot of the animals that inhabited them now use hedgerows as their last refuge. Hedges accommodate a huge percentage of our birds and small mammals. These in turn can be beneficial to gardeners as they eat pests like greenfly and slugs.
Not everyone has the space to plant a hedge. But planting any plant that supports wildlife is enormously important; creating a service station that will become part of a wildlife corridor facilitating wildlife movement. These wildlife service stations in gardens can be large or small, mainly native trees or bushes and shrubs. They can also be ponds for frogs or banks of nectar-rich flowers like lavender. Plants such as hawthorn or blackthorn provide flowers for insects and berries for birds. These three mentioned plants can be used to create garden hedges.
Lavender is a good choice for a short, uniform hedge and escallonia for a tall one; they can both live for many years and are loved by bees.
Hedges provide permeable barriers that can diffuse airflow but still offer total privacy. They are preferable to solid walls which can draw winds down onto flowerbeds to cause damage. In some exposed places creating a garden without hedge boundaries would not even be possible.
What you ultimately choose to plant will depend on the space you have to fill, the amount of light available, your microclimate and soil type. All have to be considered to give any new hedge, tree or flower garden the best chance of thriving. It is also important to remember that most newly-planted trees and hedges need extra watering in their first season.
Other good plants to choose for wildlife would be: buddleia, cotoneaster, crab apple, dogwood, holly, honeysuckle, hornbeam, ivy, old man’s beard, bryony, wild rose and spindle.
In order to create the wildlife corridors needed to sustain a healthy ecosystem, lots of people making small additions to their gardens would make a huge difference.
And if a homeowner is looking for extra security for their boundaries, then a berberis hedge is so full of sharp thorns no intruder would be able to scale it.
The investment of a hedge can pay dividends in many different ways.