Tag Archives: rural hedges

More Alice Thomas Ellis hedge quotes

Sorry for the repetition, but this is mostly what I’m reading this week and there are loads of interesting hedge moments in her novels. Fairy Tale is her darkest book, not as much comedy as usual and some really quite unsettling stuff about the pagan countryside and the Tylwyth Teg needing a changeling. I’m very fond of it, but maybe not the best place to start if you’ve not read her others.

Anyhow, here the hedge becomes rather malevolent, reflecting the hostile magical environment surrounding the main characters:

‘Simon,’ said Miriam, ‘what are these scratches on your arms?’

‘They’re nothing much,’ said Simon indifferently, glancing at them. ‘The hedge needs cutting back. It’s almost closed the lane. I had to fight through the brambles.’

‘It was all right yesterday,’ said Miriam.

‘Things grow quickly here,’ said Simon. ‘They grow out of control.’

Then in this bit, the hedge  becomes symbolic of the boundary between our space and the chaos that lies beyond:

Flowers throve on death relying on dissolution for their nourishment. She could smell decay on the summer air… She shook her head, scowling at the prettiness that fringed the great shadow, the horror of chaos that lay just beyond the garlanded hedge and the limits of her comprehension…

A bit morbid, admittedly, but I particularly like this, as it’s one of the themes that often crops up in British mythology and thinking – assart hedges were originally carved out of the wildwood, then hedges were planted to surround the cleared fields. What lies within the hedge (in gardens and countryside) is what we control – what lies beyond is “the other”, wild nature, territory that we can’t control. The hedge is the boundary in between.

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Filed under Hedge Mythology, Literary Hedges, Rural Britain

Cornish hedges

In Cornwall, a “hedge” is a stone-faced earth bank, with or without vegetation. It is the bank itself that is referred to as the hedge rather than the plants, although many do have a low, dense row of shrubs, which may or may not be laid.

The base of the banks was sometimes formed from debris excavated from local tin mines. Making and repairing a Cornish hedge is a very particular craft, akin to building a dry stone wall, as it involves the assembling of the stones into a stable form.

The Cornish Hedges website has a huge amount of information on these hedges, their history and how to care for them:


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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Hedgelaying, Historical Hedges

Hedge- as a prefix

From the sixteenth century onwards, when prefixed to any word, “hedge” referred to something vile, or of the lowest class – from the contemptuous usage of “plying one’s trade under a hedge”. So there were hedge-doctors, hedge-lawyers, and even hedge-wenches.In Ireland, the Gaelic language and catholic culture were preserved in the period of the Penal Laws by hedge-schools, at which hedge-priests taught their pupils in secrecy behind the cover of the hedgerows.

This use of “hedge-” is nicely caught in a quote from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

“…beneath Cornwall, beyond and beneath this whole realm of England, beneath the sodden marches of Wales and the rough territory of the Sots border, there is another landscape… Who will swear the hobs and boggarts who live in the hedges and in hollow trees and the wild men who hide in the woods?”

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Filed under Hedge Politics, Historical Hedges, The Hedge Philosopher

OMSCo’s Hedgerow Safari programme

This is a nice initiative, helping to teach children about the variety of flora and fauna that can be found in our hedgerows.


(OMSCo is the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative).

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Jerome K. Jerome on the rural scene

One golden morning of a sunny day, I leant against the low stone wall that guarded a little village church, and I smoked, and drank in deep, calm gladness from the sweet, restful scene – the grey old church with its clustering ivy and its quaint carved wooden porch, the white lane winding down the hill between tall rows of elms, the thatched-roof cottages peeping above their trim-kept hedges, the silver river in the hollow, the wooded hills beyond!

Jerome K. Jerome

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The May Tree in Blossom

I’ve been up north in Lancashire for a few days – nice to see that the may blossom is out pretty much everywhere on the hawthorn hedges and trees, not just in the south.

Hawthorn is derived from the Old English haga-thorn, meaning hedge-thorn, which shows how long it has been in use as a hedging plant. A lot of magical qualities are ascribed to it, including being a home for the fairies.

It is also known as the May Tree, because the blossom traditionally appeared in late April/early May (spring has been coming a little earlier lately). The blossom was collected for the May Day or Beltane festivals, for decoration, to celebrate new life, and for rituals such as the May Queen and Green May.

The government is currently trying to scrap the May Day bank holiday. It’s worth bearing in mind that this holiday goes back much further than its recent role as a workers’ day(which is presumably why it riles the Tories) to ancient times when it was a celebration of spring in all its glory. If they do take the bank holiday away I think we should respond with a mass skive on future May Days.

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Hedgerows and pollinators

There’s an interesting article here http://tinyurl.com/6ay4c3o on experiments in America with flowering hedgerows, which are designed to encourage pollinating insects.

In this case the hedgerows are areas left to grow a little wild, with flowers for the insects – rather different to a typical British hedgerow, which is made up of trees and woody shrubs. However British hedges play a similar role – insects are encouraged both by the trees and the plant species and flowers that grow in the base of the hedge and along the hedge margins.

To encourage populations of bees in particular and insects in general it is a good idea for farmers to leave a fairly wide hedge margin rather than ploughing right up to the hedge. This also encourages birds and other small mammals as it gives them a habitat in which to feed or live. And finally predators such as hawks and bats are also thus encouraged, so the positive effect of hedges goes all the way back up the food chain.

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