Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hedge History

When it comes to gardens – and I’ve written about hundreds of them – I’m a bit of a free-form, free-spirited sort of girl myself. I like a garden that is left to develop its own character in a loose, abandoned kind of way. I like a garden that isn’t too perfect – one with a weed or three poking up through the greenery, one with daisies in the lawn and creepers looping through the hedges. At the same time though, I do admire the commitment, the labour and the energy that goes into creating the perfect formal garden. I sometimes think the plants in these sorts of gardens are probably too terrified to twitch a leaf for fear of having it lopped off by a gardener with an obsession for order, but there is also a compelling beauty in this sort of rigid formality. I visited one of these large formal gardens just last week – on a cold, grey, drizzly day that heightened the vibrant greens and set my camera a-clicking.
What struck me most about this property, were the hedges – the DOZENS of huge, lush, perfectly manicured, cleverly-interlocking hedges. No surprises there for anyone who follows this blog. I’ve been rabbitting on about hedges for years. There isn’t a hedge I’ve seen and haven’t loved whether for its size, shape, colour, rigidity or rampant neglect. But this garden left me speechless – not for the size and beauty of it – but for the sheer bounty of its hedges. There were hundreds of metres of large macrocarpa hedges defining the precise garden beds; there were boundary hedges, little decorative hedges, espaliered hedges, hedges in numerous plant varieties and most spectacular of all, an intricate weaving of tiny buxus hedges that made up a series of unforgettable knot gardens. I could hardly contain myself and before I knew it I was spilling out a stream of unnecessary, clichéd superlatives like ‘marvellous’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘amazing’ until I was even boring myself. All this got me to thinking about hedges and their history – something you can’t really avoid when you start writing about the tradition of knot gardens and parterres that became fashionable in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Turns out the first hedges were created right back in the Neolithic Age, 4000-6000 years ago, when someone (probably very hairy) planted them to enclose cereal crops. Others have been recorded in the Bronze age, 2000-4000 years ago and a good number of hedges created during the medieval period are still alive and growing well in the United Kingdom - in Cornwall in particular, which is rich in historic hedges; three quarters of them several hundreds of years old. I take comfort from all of this. It lends weight to the fact that I am not alone in what some have called my “unnatural passion” for hedges.

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