Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Life as a Hedge

This weekend, during a rare sighting of the sun, I decided to get stuck into the hedge and do some work. We have about 600ft of hedge to maintain and it involves a lot of work over the course of the year.   It is as mixed as a hedge can be, with hawthorn, hornbeam, oak, holly, yew, privet and elder with a fair amount of bramble, ivy and bryony thrown in for good measure.   It forms a boundary around much of the property, but so much better than a wall or a fence. You can date a hedge (very roughly) by walking for thirty paces and counting the different, established species of shrub – each species accounts for a hundred years of hedge life. This makes the estimated age of our western hedge as being 500 years and that on the northern boundary 100 years.  Without doubt, part of it is older than our 140 year old house.

Hedgerows are perhaps the most diverse man-made environment you will find in Britain. Apart from the shrubs themselves, many smaller plants grow at the base of the hedge and many wild birds nest in its branches. Ours is a mainly dry hedge and provides housing for hedgehogs, toads and slow-worms  (as well as plenty of smaller creatures for them to eat); wetter hedges provide a home for bog plants, frogs and newts. Hedges last a long time due to the constant renewal of the shrubs themselves, but plants die or are damaged by weather, animals and careless humans.  Repairing a hedge calls for the skills of a ‘hedger‘ and a little hedgelaying - the art of weaving the living hedge into a lasting stock-proof barrier.

The exact pattern for hedgelaying varies around the country.  This design is popular in the Welsh Marches.  Remember this is a living hedge; after a few weeks it will be green with leaf and have a long lifespan.

Those who ‘do’ hedgelaying as a job are invariably weather-toughened men who have skin resembling the hides of elephants and the skill of a true artist. I have seen them working in freezing conditions without gloves, in amongst the brambles and thorns.  Carefully they turn an overgrown line of shrubs into a beautiful hedge.  For aesthetic reasons I have not included any pictures of my own attempts at hedgelaying, but it mainly involves finding a long branch of one shrub and weaving it through the stems of others. It works!

I wonder what those hedgelayers think about whilst creating their living length of knitting?  I think of Celtic knots – the comparison is obvious (well to me anyway) - the hedge is a Celtic knot! The Celts saw all things as being connected; in Celtic art this reveals itself as intricate patterns having neither starting nor end point - it all joins up.  Like the hedgelayers, the Celts realised that strength comes from interconnection.  Interconnection leads to strength through support – that’s important in hedges and important in almost anything else you can name.

In my youth I was very keen on compartmentalising my life. I had work, I had home.  I had what I studied, I had what I liked, I had this group of friends, I had this other group of friends.  Why I felt like this I cannot say, but I do remember how important it all seemed at the time? I also remember that it took a deal of organization, just in case some aspect of one ‘box’ should spill into another – this would result in personal disaster.  We change as we grow and for that I am thankful.  Nowadays, things are different; my life is messier but the interconnections are obvious and important.  Whether I am cooking, gardening, reading, talking, writing, cleaning, child caring or whatever, it’s part of the pattern.  Just like my hedge, it is hard to say what is supporting and what is being supported.

Today in my life I have no position, I have no morals, I have no ethics,  I have no point to make, I have no ‘axe to grind’, I have no politics, and I have no religion. I have instead a complex mesh of values and beliefs with long strands of simplicity, peace, equality and justice holding them together. In my life, politics and religion can no longer be separated from one another –they are just part of the pattern.  A long scarf, knitted from experience. Today  I have no family life, I have no social life, I have no work life, I have no other life - I just have my wonderful life, my Celtic knot, my living hedge – all is connected, all is interwoven, all is together.

(c) Ray Lovegrove

My hedge


For hedge lovers;
To date you hedge (go on just ask it!)


  1. Beautiful post. :) Made me smile. :) :) :)
    "Interconnection leads to strength through support..." How very true! :D Thank you.

  2. Thank you E. I'm glad that you liked it :^)

  3. beautiful
    Hedges are works of art. My husband was going to do a course in it until he realised the course was in November and he'd have to camp.
    I love the way you wove the article so well, and made it a lovely Celtic loveknot.

  4. Thank you Viv. Might I direct readers to your lovely blog ~ http://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/

  5. Fantastic article, Ray. Your compartmentalization phase is one I identified with readily. In fact, as self-protection in the church-related institution where I worked, I had to fight to keep my personal life separate from several people who were desperate to invade my space to gain an advantage over me. I had most of the symptoms of emotional abuse by the time they laid me off. It's taken a long time to repair my broken-down and burned-out hedges. But thanks to the influence of many people like you, and a growing reliance on God (not religion), I'm cultivating and integrating people of health, wisdom, and kindness in my hedges. You're one of them!

  6. Those are very generous and kind comments Christy ~ thank you so much ~ I value them. Good luck with your hedge cultivation.

    Visit Christy's blog at http://christykrobinson.blogspot.com/
    Or try her Mary Dyer Blog at