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TJC Hedgerow Project: A Living Fence Booklet Teaser
by David Troxell, Ecology Action Communications Director

Years ago, we received a copy of the book Hedgerow as a gift from a friend. The lovely writing and beautiful illustrations struck a chord deep within us and inspired us to think about creating hedgerows in our own gardens. With the book as an inspiration, EA Communications Director David Troxell used his extensive experience in landscape and garden design to plan our hedge, which we hope to establish this fall and winter. The result of this work will be published this spring as EA's Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet 43: Growing a Living Fence. This is an excerpt for you to enjoy!

Called to Something Different

Something that has bothered us for a long time is the obligatory fence around the garden. The two concepts are completely opposed: a garden is a lush oasis, a gift for all who enter it, a sustaining landscape; a fence is a boundary, a limitation, an oppressing force. The problem, of course, is that as gardeners we hope to keep most of our hard-labored harvest to feed the soil and ourselves rather than losing it to wildlife. There is a real and valuable purpose served by a garden fence, in that the time and care put into the garden are all deliberate, performed by a specific person or group of persons, and therefore it is unfair if, in one night of moondrunken revelry, the entire crop is lost to marauding llamas.

But is a fence “fair” to the llamas? To the deer?

We are, after all, farming land that is not our own. For generations those deer have been grazing our hill. Forty years ago, we showed up, declared the place a garden, and threw up a fence.

Whether or not a fence is fair to wandering wildlife, a wall of wire surrounding an abundant garden is an unappealing contrast.

A garden is a productive and organized affair, but should always be aesthetically pleasing. We have seen many beautiful fences. Natural materials like wood and bamboo are beautiful options for a fence, but are expensive choices. On the other hand, posts with netting or wire are less expensive, and once installed last a very long time. There are still barbed wire fences in the western United States that have lasted for over a century. Of course, in an area with high humidity or salt, this would be a much shorter-lived material.

An excellent solution to the combined needs of beauty and functionality is a hedgerow, a living fence. If designed properly, we suppose the hedge could be aesthetically pleasing, blend in with the garden and surrounding space, keep deer, llamas, and neighbors away, and be productive at the same time: we could provide food for foraging animals on the outside of the hedge, and food for the gardeners on the inside, snacking while they work. Rather than requiring the importation of posts from somewhere else, this "fence" could actually provide coppicing wood over time.

The only negative aspect of a hedgerow is the amount of space it requires: the width of most fences is one to eight inches, while a living hedge fence can be many feet wide, depending on how thick and impenetrable you wish the barrier to be, and what material(s) you would like to incorporate for different purposes.

The world-famous British hedgerows, which are hundreds of years old, have over time created their own ecosystems, acting as the last natural places in cultivated farmlands. Oftentimes they serve as wildlife corridors, allowing larger species to move from one area to another without risking exposure in the plowed fields, and many species of birds and small mammals make permanent homes in hedgerows. These living fences seem to have provided a is a very “fair” affair indeed, for everyone involved: the landlords had their property boundaries marked and protected, the wildlife still had a space to build nests, forage for food, and live their lives, and even the peasants walking past a hedgerow growing along a common road were free to forage for the berries and fruits growing there as well.

An artist's rendering of the placement of trees and shrubs within a hedgerow

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