Tag Archives: hedge

The Meikleour Hedge

For anyone who wants a barrier between themselves and their neighbours, the ultimate aspirational hedge must the one at Meikleour in Scotland. Running alongside the A93 between Perth and Blairgowrie, this is an extraordinary solid wall of beech trees. The hedge, for a long time officially the highest in the world*, is over 100 feet high at its tallest point and a third of a mile long.

It was planted in 1745 by Robert Murray Nairne. This was the year of the Jacobite Rising, and Nairne and many of the men who worked with him and helped to plant the hedge went on to fight for the Jacobites in the Battle of Culloden in the following year.

The battle and its aftermath were grim for the Jacobites, who were mostly Highland Scots supporting the House of Stuart’s claim to the throne. Alongside the French they were fighting against English and Scottish troops under the Duke of Cumberland, son of George II (the Hanover king).

The duke became known as “Butcher” Cumberland – he was the one who gave the orders to take “no quarter.” Hundreds of wounded soldiers were shot lying on the ground, while others were taken prisoner, then either burnt alive in pits of fire or shot in cold blood.

So one can hardly begin to fathom the deep sorrow of Nairne’s wife, Jean Mercer of Meikleour. She let the newly planted beech hedge grow up to heaven in memoriam of her lost husband and friends. And to this day it has remained there as a monument to her grief.

*Rather gallingly, the tallest hedge in Britain is now the double row of Leylandii at the National Pinetum in Bedgbury, Kent, which at the time of writing is 130 feet tall. But I’m tempted to say that since that is Leylandii it doesn’t really count.


Filed under Historical Hedges, Notable Hedges

A few iconic English hedgerow pictures

Poppies growing in the hedgerow margin, beside a wheatfield. Even in the years of heaviest pesticide use, poppies tended to survive and propser in the hedgerows.

A white horse, through the gap in the hedge. not sure why white horses seem so iconic, though I guess the chalk horses such as the Uffington horse may be part of the reason. Lots of pubs called the White Horse too. Is it something mythological, related to white stags and white hares, or is it just the fact that white animals are relatively rare in the wild, so seem special? This picture is from the May bank holiday weekend, when the may blossom was still on the hawthorn.

Finally, a hedgerow tree. I admire the fact that this one almost died, but new growth is coming back at the base of the trunk.

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Rural Britain

The Tallest Hedge in Britain

A couple of people have asked me to clarify what the tallest hedge in Britain is (since I previously included the tallest and largest yew hedges in Britain.)

It’s the hundred foot high Meikleour hedge to the north of Perth and south of Blairgowrie in Scotland, next to the A93, which was planted in 1745 by Robert Murray Nairne, shortly before the Battle of Culloden. When he died in that bloody, brutal battle, his grieving widow left the hedge to grow as a monument.

For the full story and a picture, see this link.


Edit. Correction to this post. The leylandii hedge at the pinetum at Bedgbury in Kent has now reached a ridiculous 130 ft tall, so is taller than the Meikleour beeches. I’m a bit miffed that the much-hated leylandii have claimed the record, but their ability to reach great heights is certainly impressive, even if it is also a cause of many problems between neighbours.

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Filed under Historical Hedges

When is a Row of Trees a Hedge?

Sometimes it’s interesting to see the internet searches that bring people to this blog. The above question was one of them yesterday. It’s a pretty hard question to answer precisely – I’ve got a whole chapter in the book called “What is a Hedge” and I still don’t claim to have the definitive answer, but here are a few quick thoughts.

Firstly, a hedge is traditionally a row of trees or woody shrubs that have been interlinked so as to form a boundary or barrier.

However this can’t be a precise definition. A hedgerow that has become gappy can still be called a hedge. And if I plant a row of trees on a bank or field boundary with the intention of laying them into a hedge, you could still call the row of trees a hedge, even though they are not interlinked.

My general theory is that a hedge is always the result of human intervention in the landscape – hedges can be grown (or early hedges were left on the edge of assarts, clearings in the wildwood), and managed as barriers, boundaries, screens or ornaments. The only kinds of hedge that aren’t intentionally created are fencerows, meaning the lines of vegetation that grow alongside barriers such as walls and fences because they are protected from the elements. But these are still caused by the creation of the original barrier.

In all these cases the hedge exists because of human action. A line of trees is a hedge if it is functioning as a hedge, is intended to become a hedge, was once intended to be a hedge, or grew alongside something else that was intended to function as a barrier or screen.

So I’d suggest that a hedge is never an entirely natural element, and can always be explained in terms of its use or intended use as a barrier, boundary, ornament or screen.


Filed under Historical Hedges, The Hedge Philosopher, Trees

Random thoughts about trees

I mostly spent the long weekend gardening and walking in the woods (Trent Park, on the very edge of the green belt). So here’s a few random thoughts about trees.

Lilac: Our neighbour’s is in full bloom. Beautiful, but seems to be very bad for hay fever.

Yucca: They really, really hate snow. My little one just about survived last winter, but the snow in December seems to have been the last straw so I’ve had to dig it up (replaced with some potted bamboo). Always sad when a tree dies.

Holly: A tiny holly tree had rooted itself in the cracks in my paving, so I eased it out, hopefully with all the roots intact, and have repotted. Fingers crossed. (Also several strawberry plants had grown in the cracks, also repotted, which will please the snails that usually eat any resulting fruit).

Apple, Cherry: For some reason my (nine-year-old) daughter has developed a game in the back of the car where she shouts “Apple” or “Cherry” whenever she sees a tree in blossom. I’m not sure what she is counting as apple trees as I’m sure there are not as many as she shouts out. She spent yesterday afternoon wielding some shears and helping to prune my Russian Vine, which made me a bit nervous but happily no fingers were lost.

Box: My miniature box hedge (three box plants at the edge of the lawn) is actually starting to do quite well. If it gets a bit bigger I might get round to topiarising it, it’s now big enough to make a decent topiary pig, I reckon.

Oak, Hawthorn, Beech: These are the most common species in the bit of Trent Park I was in, all good sturdy British hedge species. There are also a few sycamores, birches and and hornbeams dotted about. All are currently bathed in beautiful fresh spring green – in general the plant world seems to be about a month ahead of what I’d expect for late April. The only worry is that we could really do with some rain soon, as the soil is starting to become very dusty.

Birch: I wish I’d had my camera as loads of the birches in Trent Park  have obviously been coppiced in the past, with new flexible growth coming from the stumps – I will go back sometime to take pictures. It’s all part of the old Middlesex Forest (which also would have covered the area I live in) so even though the woods are quite sanitised, there are some interesting historical remnants – Trent Park was part of Enfield Chase, a royal hunting ground, so forest law would have applied. It also contains a weird old moated isle, Camlet Moat, which seems to have been the home of Geoffrey de Mandeville in the time of the Norman Conquest, but its use probably dates back to Roman times at least.

Fig, Sweet Balsam Poplar, Winter Cherry: My other garden trees are all looking very cheerful so far this year – all are quite small, two to three years old, but finally getting established. They make a huge difference to my little garden as it would otherwise be a bit flat.

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Hedge, that divides the lovely

This is a sixteenth century poem by Torquato Tasso.

Hedge, that divides the lovely

Hedge, that divides the lovely
Garden, and myself from me,
Never in you so fair a rose I see
As she who is my lady,
Loving, sweet and holy:
Who as I stretch my hand to you
Presses it, so softly, too.

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How to date a hedge

“Hooper’s Law” gives us a way to estimate the age of a hedgerow (Max Hooper is a scientist who studied and wrote about hedgerows and biodiversity.)

The simplest method is to count the number of species of tree or shrub found in a 100 ft length of hedge. This number (averaged over three or more sample stretches) multiplied by 100 gives a rough estimate of the age of the hedge. So a hedge with an average of five woody species might be tentatively dated to the 16th century. (There are more complicated versions, but they give similar results).

However, it is important to bear in mind that Hooper’s Law is a rule of thumb and can only be used alongside other dating techniques such as local history, old maps, study of the field patterns, other flora in the hedge and so on.

An example of hedges where Hooper’s Law gives a misleading result comes from the area around the Stiperstones in Shropshire – squatters and free miners of the 18th and 19th century planted a lot of domestically useful trees in their smallholding hedges, including fruit trees, spindle, laburnum (for the wood) and gooseberries, so there are more woody species than one would expect.



Filed under Historical Hedges