Monthly Archives: November 2011

What is a hedge? The legal definition (or not).

In a comment on an earlier post, someone asked me about the legal definition of a hedge. I thought it was worth putting my reply into a post.

It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, one that takes up a whole chapter of my book without a single definitive answer. Hedgeline ( is a good source of information on the legalities of hedges – it was founded by Michael Jones ( following the case Stanton v Jones, in which the judge defined a hedge as:

“A number of woody plants, whether capable of growing into trees or not, which are so planted as to be in line and which, when mature, to be so integrated together as to form both a screen and a barrier”.

He also made the point that a hedge need not represent or constitute the precise line of a boundary because hedges might be planted away from a boundary.

To complicate matters, a recent DEFRA Hedgerow Survey Handbook gives an even more pedantic (and mildly conflicting) definition: “A hedgerow is defined as any boundary line of trees or shrubs over 20m long and less than 5m wide at the base, provided that at one time the trees or shrubs were more or less continuous. It includes an earth bank or wall only where such a feature occurs in association with a line of trees or shrubs. This includes ‘classic’ shrubby hedgerows, lines of trees, shrubby hedgerows with trees and very gappy hedgerows (where each shrubby section may be less than 20m long, but the gaps are less than 20m).”

So maybe we have to accept that there is no perfect definition…

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Gardening Thoughts

Nietzsche’s thoughts on gardening for future generations

I wouldn’t usually go to Nietzsche expecting gardening advice. But rereading a bit of Human, All Too Human,  I came across this quote, which chimes in unexpectedly closely with something I’ve been trying to say in the book:

An essential disadvantage which the cessation of the metaphysical outlook brings with it lies in the fact that the attention of the individual is too firmly fixed on his own brief span of life and receives no stronger impulse to work at the construction of enduring institutions intended to last for centuries; he wants to pluck the fruit himself from the tree he plants and he is therefore no longer interested in planting those trees which demand constant tending for a century and are intended to provide shade for long successions of generations.
The point I wanted to make is how impressed I have been by the people I have met while writing the book, who are planting and tending trees, hedges and gardens that will be at their prime many decades in the future. We do seem to live in a bit of a short-termist society, but luckily there are still people who take a longer view and are willing to create something that will live on beyond them. When I see something like the amazing topiaries of Levens Hall, the yew tunnels that are being recreated in one of the country house gardens I visited, or a beautiful hedge that has been continually tended for generations, I am increasingly aware of the debt I owe to people who are now long gone.
Of course there is a Chinese proverb that makes this point rather more succinctly than either me or Nietzsche:

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.
The second best time, is today.

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Filed under Garden History, The Hedge Philosopher

Coppice, Lay or Mow?

There’s an interesting online vote at MyFarm about how to manage a hedgerow on the Wimpole Estate, and in particular whether to coppice it, lay it or mow it – there’s also a video of Simon, the Wimpole Forester, talking through each option.

As a traditionalist I’d hope they lay it and remember to leave in some hedgerow trees – but there are good arguments for coppicing also, while mowing is often necessitated by cost considerations, but can do the most damage, especially if it is done carelessly.

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Hedgelaying, Hedges and Biodiversity, Rural Britain

More Autumn Leaf Patterns

My mum sent me this picture of some leaves which she had taken in the garden after doing a bit of artful arranging…

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Filed under Gardening Thoughts, Trees, Woodland

Autumn Leaf Patterns

It’s rather lovely in the woods on my cycle into work at the minute. A lot of the leaves have fallen and while they are a bit damp they are still mostly intact so you get a rather lovely Klimt-like mosaic effect on the floor of the woods. Also a lot of the roads have weird leaf patterns imprinted on them where leaves have fallen and almost but not quite disintegrated.

This is the time of year when evergreen hedges make a big difference in the gardens I cycle past. While the hawthorn and forsythia hedges start to look gnarled and desolate, the box and cypress ones stay in pretty good shape, while beech and hornbeam at least hang on to their leaves, even if they have turned an autumnal shade of brown.

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Filed under Cycling, Woodland