Of edges and hedges

Edges are recognised as important habitats within permaculture.  This is because they represent a zone of change between two different habitats or environments and encapsulate some of the identity of each.  They therefore have the potential to provide for a wider range of biodiversity than either of the component parts.

In the Borderland garden I am using edges for practical reasons – mainly to provide a place to house plants I am bringing from the other garden (which, with its house is for sale) whilst the main body of the garden is under development.  It began with the ‘hedgetable patch’ last year and has progressed to using the outside (roadside) edge of that hedge this year.


The borderland garden is itself bordered by a mixed hedge.  To maintain and manage this there are a number of options.  One of these is to lay the hedge; which it appears was done to this one at some time in the past.  However all that remains of that are a number of horizontal dead branches and a few live ones growing sideways in the thick of the hedge.  Since then I believe it has been cut by a local farmer using the standard hedge trimming equipment that fits to tractors.  That could be done again, or we could use hedge trimmers on it or get someone (younger and stronger) to do this for us.

The original hedge comprised a mixture of hawthorn, hazel, blackthorn, sycamore, rose, elder, holly and damson.  To this I have added loganberry, tayberry, raspberry, blackberry, honeyberry, clematis, mallow, broom, gooseberry, flowering honeysuckle, blackcurrant, golden hop and jostaberry.  With so many edible fruits and flowers intermingled in the hedge (and plenty more to come) I wanted a more delicate approach than power tools ripping through the branches.

Last year I pruned and sawed a lot of surplus branches and trunks out.  In places the hazel had grown too many trunks too close together and they needed thinning out.  The hawthorn and blackthorn bushes had managed to twist and turn and grow sideways and downwards so I removed lots of tangly growth.  There was also a lot of dead wood that had simply fallen into the hedge from the mechanical cuttings.

As it is central to my gardening philosophy to keep all potential fertility on site and use it to enhance the garden I never remove any kind of garden ‘waste’.  Last year’s branches and tree trunks were used to edge the new polyculture patch and those that could not be accommodated there were simply laid down at the foot of the hedge to decompose in situ where it will in time form humus.

I have taken the same approach this year.  There is nowhere near as much to prune out of the hedge, which is a mercy as I found it hard work!  However this is the time of year when everything has a growth spurt and the hedge is no exception.  Using mechanical means to cut hawthorn tends to make it send out lots of shoots in all directions.  Over the years as this is repeated on a bush or section of hedge you an almost infinite number of shoots growing off shoots growing off shoots and so on.  It tends to end up as a tangle on the inside and too much growth (for my liking) on the outside.

Although we did use a hedge trimmer on the sides of the hedge last year I didn’t want to do this again.  Instead I have been using a pair of secateurs to clip back behind where the previous years’ cuts have been made to take it back to a lesser number of branches.  This has been very easy work and has tidied the hedge up quickly.  It will, of course, still sprout in several directions from the branches I have cut, but this will be much less ‘sprouty’ than if every single branch and twig were cut and thus invited to multiply fourfold.  The trimmings have just been laid at the foot of the hedge to decompose (see below).  I have taken the photo up close but unless you are close it does not really show much.  The blackthorn is getting similar treatment to the hawthorn and the other bushes such as hazel are being thinned by taking out the overcrowded and crossing branches.

DSCN6300 branches laid under the hedge

and edges

I am continuing to create a border beneath the hedge on the roadside to accommodate some more plants.  This will take some time I think!  The verge is very keen on growing cow parsley, hogweed and buttercup in profusion and it takes some work to remove them; true to my usual way of managing green ‘waste’ I am just piling this up beneath the hedge to decompose.  In time this border will be fertile and sunny and there will be plenty of candidates for planting.  This weekend I added witch hazel, lovage, angelica (because I really like the angelica plant in the other garden), daffodils and other bulbs from pots and two tiny hollies.

Last year I created an edge in the main part of the garden.  It is just a plain, narrow border alongside a straight path – pretty bog standard really, apart from what is in it.  At present it is home to chokeberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry, rosemary, Jerusalem artichoke, yacon, scorzonera, carrots (left to flower for their second year), foxglove, calendula, chives, Welsh onion, tree onion, nodding onion, bunching spring onion, wild rocket, land cress, fennel, garlic, penstemon and day lilies.  These plants are happily entwined with one another.  In part this is another holding bed, accommodating plants whilst the ‘main’ polyculture patch is developing (it had to be moved from original position so is in effect in its first year again).  This is certainly much more diverse than the strip of lawn and the path either side of it.

DSCN6312 garden edge

DSCN6313 garden edge

I can feel a buzz about the garden.  Not just the buzz of bees and hum of other insects, but the silent buzz of something gestating, brewing, gelling together; something becoming manifest.   I have confidence that this is happening because I have observed the other garden so closely for years and I know that observing what is here and applying what I have learned so far will help this garden towards a healthy, fertile and abundant future.

About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Hedgerow, Permaculture, Polycultures, Relationship with nature. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Of edges and hedges

  1. I am so glad I found your blog (via the Guardian article). I find your approach to growing very exciting and inspiring. After years of waiting I’ve recently acquired an allotment and would love to put some of your principles into practice there. Off to order your book!


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