So having established that I have the wildlife habitat equivalent of the Mona Lisa around my garden and if I so much as touch it I shall have the wrath of a thousand hairy-bearded environmentalists raging about my head, I have had to work out how it is possible to garden alongside my hedge.
I have been weighing up a few options:
1. Rip the whole thing out and replace it with a wall.
Social suicide. I could never lift my head in polite society, and certainly not in the village, ever again. People have been sent to the Tower for less.
2. Rip the whole thing out and replace it with another hedge.
There is a precedent for this in the village: someone down the road from us has clearly ripped out their hedgerow and replaced it with a sort of cotoneaster sort of thing. It looks horrible: the essence of suburbia dropped like an alien into a rural idyll.
I have a lovely memory of the beautiful beech hedge I planted around my old house: but again, such clipped refinement would sit oddly among the wildness, and besides, it took years to establish, during which time the cows who live next door would have a high old time skipping around among my cabbages.
3. Make it a bit smaller.
Ah: now you’re talking more sense. The main point of conflict between me and my hedge is that it’s taking up too much of the garden. This is especially the case in my very thin vegetable garden: when you’ve only got about 20ft to play with anyway, an 8ft hedge either side reduces the available growing space to a wide path.
When you look more closely at the actual structure of the hedge, it’s quite obvious that it’s escaped from its original boundaries. The hump of chalk bank which my hedges stand on is hidden behind a forest of suckers: mainly hazel, but an awful lot of bramble and some blackthorn, too. There’s a good few years’ growth there in fact, and I got to thinking if this were a shrub, I’d be pitying it for being so neglected and working out how to renovate it back to its original shape.
In fact if you start thinking like that, you remember (something I bang on about quite a lot) that hedges are still plants. They need feeding, watering and weeding just like your other garden plants: and in this case, they also require rejuvenating.
So that’s what I’ve been doing: it is a herculean task, involving a lot of heavy action with the loppers and pruning saw, and a pile of green waste which has just passed my head height across about two car’s lengths of garden.
But I am uncovering a better hedge: a well-behaved hedge, one which is a bit gappy at the moment (despite still being about 4ft across) but looks as if it will this season have enough light and room to regenerate with new wood and fresh growth.
I get four feet of extra space each side of the garden, and my grassy path of a veg plot is transformed into something that looks like you might be able to grow something in it.
I don’t think my Grade I listed hedges will ever be low-maintenance; but all the best things take care and love and attention to keep them at their best. And besides, I like to garden my hedges. The nice thing is that now I can garden in between them, too.