When I first moved to my place in West Cork eight years ago one of the first tasks was to secure the land from invading animals such as the neighbours’ cattle or sheep.
A Hawthorn hedge was the obvious choice for the road frontage, and I planted it with a view to laying the hedge once it was big enough. Eight years later and that day has now come and over the last few weeks with a few volunteers to help the hedge is now laid and looks great!
Laid hedges are not common in West Cork; nor have I seen many elsewhere in Ireland, though I hear there are good examples in Kilkenny. Many hedges are thin with many gaps, some ageing trees; hedges are commonly flayed from a machine every year or two, which often results in gaps developing underneath; then they are not so good as a stockproof barrier.
Hedge laying developed as a way of making a stockproof barrier out of readily available material, that is, living woodland plants. Until the invention of wire, hedges were the only practical and cost-effective way for a farmer to enclose his stock in areas where walling stone was not to hand. Hedge laying involves partially cutting through the living stems near ground level, and bending them over as ‘pleachers’. They should lie close, like plates in a rack. Depending on the style of laying, the pleachers are anchored by stakes and binding to form a type of living fence. This ‘fence’ has several purposes. * It forms an immediate barrier to stock or people. * Depending on the style, it provides protection from browsing animals for the young shoots, which grow up from the base. * It improves the micro-climate by slowing the wind and raising the air humidity, so helping the growth of the young shoots. * Even in the period immediately following laying, hedge laying retains sufficient of the pleachers to maintain some habitat for other organisms, including birds, small mammals and invertebrates. * Some new shoots also sprout along the pleachers, thickening the hedge for the first few years after laying, until most of the pleachers eventually die. By this time the new shoots from the base have grown up to form a thick hedge.
I have little experience myself, but attended a couple of courses a few years ago, as did Pete who came to give me a hand.
Pete takes the axe to a pleacher…
…and lays it over into the hedge
As the pleachers are laid in place hazel stakes are driven in approx every 2ft. These hold the hedge together and gives it strength while the new shoots grow into place.
Hazel weavers are woven on top of the hedge between the stakes to make a neat finish.
Many thanks to Pete, Martin, Raymond for their help and Goska for the photos!