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Hedge laying lessons

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Hopefully you have noticed our lovely laid hedge down the side of the woods, near the estate. We were lucky enough to receive some funding from CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) and we had the pleasure of a master hedge layer Robert Cole come and teach us how to lay the hedge. There are different techniques and we have used the South of England technique to create what is known as a “wildlife” hedge. This means the hedge was laid using material sourced from the woods and has been lain in such a way as to make new habitat for wildlife. This biodiversity-increasing technique seemed to work instantly as a robin came and sang us a song from the top of the hedge straight away!

The hedge laying course took place over 6 days and was open to the general public. We had 36 people attend from all over London with varying degrees of knowledge. We even had some gardeners from The Hurlingham Club come for a day! Most people who attended had never been to DKH Wood before so it was a brilliant way to introduce them to the area.

The hedge plants are initially thinned of excess bulk so that when laid they allow light to their base. They must be laid uphill as sap rises. The base of the hedge plant is “pleached” which means it is cut at a 60 degree angle to the upright, with a saw whilst gently tugging on the main stem. Once you hear a satisfying “crack” you know to stop. Generally speaking you cut almost all the way but not quite and a sliver (bark and a bit) is left so the plant is not killed. Now you can waggle your billhook or axe into the cut you just made and force the stem to split downwards. It must split downwards and not upwards. You split the stem all the way to the soil and then gently bend the hedging plant over so it is lying on the plant next to it. You then cut away the heel of the plant and trim away any excess branches.

Problems arise when the stem is knotted or rough as the fibres in the stem won’t want to split nicely and bend. In these instances it’s necessary to consider your options such as starting the pleach cut much higher up.

Every metre or so you gently bang in a stake. These are not banged in completely until much later. You then bind the stakes to each other using a plaiting technique. Only once the plaits are in and the stakes look to be in the right position do you bang them firmly into the ground.

The final stage is to push all the hedge plants down into the line of binders with a piece of wood and ensure they look neat and tidy. You can then chop the tops of your stakes at an angle to make them all the same height and to look nice.

You can lay almost anything: oak, silver birch, hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, hazel to name a few. All of these will sprout from the pleach and have new shoots. Evergreen conifers cannot be pleached as they do not sprout in the same way.

It was a fantastic opportunity and we are very grateful to Robert Cole, his assistant Ruby and the CPRE. We look forward to seeing the hedge develop over time.

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