Monday, April 18, 2011

Reviving the Hedgerow

When I lived in British Columbia I knew very little about hedgerows.  I had a notion what they were.  It seems to me that I've heard them mentioned in old Victorian novels, men in jaunty hats racing across fields on horseback, jumping hedgerows and chasing after foxes.  But I'd never really thought about what it was and why it was.  I certainly never thought I would own one.

The hedgerow in the fall
Running lengthwise from one end of our property to the other is a hedgerow.  It divides our property from the field beyond.  In summer this row is filled with wild raspberry canes and goldenrod discreetly hiding the garbage that has accumulated there over the years.  In winter the plants die to the ground and there is nothing to mark the property line or hide the garbage.  Last spring I began some of the clean up.  Trash bag in hand I hand picked wrappers and plastic pots, pieces of metal and assorted items.  Some things were too large for the garbage.  A pile of tires.  Several metal burning barrels.  An old window.  The biggest shock was finding the sink.

At one time the kitchen in this house must have been renovated.  A new stainless steel sink installed.  But what to do with the old cast iron sink?

Apparently it was too heavy to carry very far.  Can you believe there's not even a chip in it?  We have left it to sit in the garage while we deliberate our own kitchen renovation.  It is possible this sink will see new life again.

Wandering around in the hedgerow got me wondering what other purposes it might be used for.  Were there types of plants best suited to being planted here?  These questions led me to the MacPhail Woods Ecology Forestry Project.  This is a wonderful group that is working to restore natural forests on PEI through education and research.  Their website provides a cornucopia of information including the use and care of hedgerows.  Years ago hedgerows used to divide farmers fields, providing shelter to livestock grazing in those fields and providing wind protection for crops in the fields and homes.  However most hedgerows were torn out so that large farm machinery could manuevre into the fields or as in the case of our own hedgerow they were simply neglected and the trees and shrubs began to die off.  The loss of a hedgerow means that snow and dirt are easily swept up in winds and blown away.  It also means the loss of wildlife habitat.  Foxes, coyotes and rabbits use these small corridors to provide cover as they move across the land.  It also provides homes and food to rodents and birds.

Once I realized the usefulness of having a hedgerow I began looking at ours with a critical eye.  The perennials that thrive there in summer don't provide any wind break in winter.  There is some shelter for animals in summer but shrubs providing shelter and food all year round would be preferable.

Last week we have finally started work on revitalizing this piece of our land.  From the garage to our neighbours property line there are numerous dead and dying shrubs eeking out a meagre existence in the hedgerow.  I inspected them last spring and found this.

These black sooty balls are called, aptly, Black Knot disease.  It a fungus that attacks plants in the Prunus genus.  Prunus species include cherry, almond and plum trees.  It spreads by spores that catch a ride in the falling rain and on the wind.  This fungus will kill a tree if left for long enough.  That is what has happened here as fully 75% of the trees were dead and the others well on their way.  The only way to be rid of this disease is to burn the offending wood and not plant anything of the Prunus variety in the area.  Two weekends now we have spent clipping, chopping, sawing and then burning.

The row of plum trees to be cut down

Starting work cutting the trees down
Then we walked through hand picking pieces of broken branches off the ground and adding these to the fire.

Half the hedge cut and burning at this point
Next I will be raking the area and bagging the contents for garbage.  It's a large task but thus far it's going along quite well.

All the trees are down with one last pile to burn. 
The final step will be to visit the MacPhail Woods nursery which opens April 28, 2011.  I have plans to purchase various native trees and shrubs so we can get to work rebuilding this hedgerow.


  1. What a huge project to clean up and dispose of these diseased and dead things. But what a wonderful opportunity to plant a new hedgerow with new shrubs, new trees, and so much possibility! Good luck with all of this.

  2. Sure, try to leave a comment and get kicked out, lol.

    What I had said was ... MacPhail's is very close to us, and we keep meaning to visit. I never thought to check their website out, though.

    And I see you've still got snow on the ground?
    *tee hee*

  3. wow what a great much work, but the long term result will be wonderful.

    oh..and I had only heard og hedgerows in old books too!!!

  4. I'm a big fan of hedgerows... I think they provide that sense of boundary that gives an outdoor area 'rooms.' I can imagine how much work your achin' back had to do to clean up the mess. I get the sense that 2 years from now when I'm checking this blog the property is going to be a wonderland!

  5. Very interesting information on hedgerows, and I can't believe all you found behind it! Looks like a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end. Congrats on reviving the hedgerow.

  6. A huge undertaking, I tip my hat off to you. Hedgerows are used a lot in North Carolina and are often filled with the smaller native tress like dogwood and redbud, blackberries canes and finally the pines will take over. If you want to keep your row as a good windbreak, you have to prohibit. the pines from taking over. Cedars can also work well.

    The wildlife program for years has been promoting this small natural areas for wildlife habitat.

  7. Excellent, that you've done this...the value of hedgerows cannot be denied. One only has to watch the bird activity through the year to realize how important they are. I am partial to wild rosa rugosa and any kind of wild fruiting shrubs. Hard work but worth it. Will look forward to seeing the results.

  8. Hedgerows are wonderful for wildlife and kudos to you for giving them a new and healthy home. A lot of work though, but I admire what you are doing.

  9. What a worthwhile project! Long term benefits beyond the beauty of the garden. Looks like a nice way to kick off the new season. :)

  10. Laurrie - I looked at this project last year and thought, umm, maybe later. So here we are, indeed a massive project. But we'll work just a portion of it at a time.

    Kim - their website is fantastic. All sorts of information on there. I wish I was closer to them, I'd spend a lot more time there. yup, still snow, and more tomorrow from the sounds of it.

    I Wasn't blogged - Definitely definitely long term thoughts on this project. We have a saying in our house and we've been using it a lot lately. How Do you Eat Elephants? One bite at a time.

    Jess - thank you for your faith in this garden! I'm not sure what it will look like in 2 years but hopefully in 10 we'll start to really see some changes!

  11. HolleyGarden - It really is unbelievable what is hiding in there. and shocking that some people would rather chuck their garbage in the weeds than bother disposing of it properly. although I'm glad to have the sink.

    Cheri - Interesting that pines will take over. I like that they grow quickly but I hear that their limbs break easily. I'd love to add cedar but will need to wait until some other plants are established as the cedar need a bit of shade and protection from the wind.

    Bren - roses are recommended for hedgerows and I'm considering transplanting some of ours to fill it in. It's such a shame I can't plant any cherry as chokecherry would also be nice. There are a number of viburnum though that have berries and that would be a good source for the birds. Lots to think about yet but we've got a good start.

    Donna, thank you. It wasn't my favourite task to take on but I can't just ignore it either so off we go. It'll be years before we really get it under control but no time like the present to start.

    Ms.S - It was a good way to get started. I looked at that dying bunch of trees all last year and wasn't happy about it. This year I feel good really cleaning the place up. small steps.

  12. ah now I know why you were interested in my Sussex hedgerow post last autumn, what a shame the cherry trees died they must have looked wonderful once, quite a task I wish you well with it the work will be worth it though in the years to come, although I'm veggie I do like your elephant saying, Frances

  13. Your posts are like gold to me! I am going to inspect our "hedgerows" this summer now that I know what to call them. We have a hedgerow on both sides of our long driveway. We love walking down to the road and back. It's like it's own ecosystem: birds fly back and forth from side to side, there are a couple of apple trees and many trees that have red berries - we love it!

  14. Hi Marguerite, Your hedgerow revitalization looks like it is off to a good start. I wonder what treasures you will find buried when you replant. If the sink it any indication, there may be other "finds".

  15. Frances, you caught me! That was exactly why your post caught my eye. I've been pondering this issue for some time. Our neighbour told us the trees were plums and produced wonderful fruit many years ago. A shame that we had to remove them.

    Jane - oh I'm jealous. Your driveway sounds divine. It sounds like the former owners of your home really took great care of their property.

    Jennifer - goodness I hadn't even thought what I might find in the dirt. So far there hasn't been too much else interesting on top of the ground. Some old fenceposts, broken windows but it could be a whole other story once we start to dig.

  16. What a wonderful project you're undertaking. Hedgerows are certainly a 'lost' landscape feature here in my part of CT but I've always loved the idea of them, especially the part about offering so much needed habitat to local wildlife. I hope you do end up using the old kitchen sink somewhere in your home, what a great story it will be.

  17. You found a sink? How funny! I love that you are replanting a healthy headgerow. The local wildlife will love you forever!!

  18. I love this project! We've lost so many of our hedgerows in the UK to the "needs" of intensive farming, and this has in turn led to the loss/decline of so many birds, other wildlife and wildflowers. Planting native hedging is one of the best things you could do to encourage biodiversity in your area, so three cheers for Project Hedge! And congrats on the sink - I guess the tyres could be useful as planters too?

  19. An enormous project, but you've found the key to getting it done.

    If the sink doesn't work out for the kitchen, it might make a great feature for a potting bench, plumbed with a hose attachment to the faucet instead of pipe so that winterizing isn't a problem.

  20. I bet you had no idea what you were inheriting there! A sink? A window? All kinds of goodies! :)

  21. Debbie - I really hadn't realized what a benefit these rows were to wildlife until I read about it. Now I want to make sure there's plenty of cover and berries for everyone to enjoy.

    TS - a sink, I couldn't believe my eyes. Huge too, with a draining board on one side. It took two of us to lift it.

    Janet - I actually plan on taking the tires in for recycling but first the metal rims must be removed. Rather an annoying and expensive task but I hate having them piled up.

    NellJean - We are actually planning a major renovation in the kitchen and I have my fingers crossed we are able to clean up the sink and use it. Those sinks are very expensive to purchase now. Hard to believe we just found it in the dirt.

    Hanni - The window unfortunately is well rotted but the glass is quite beautiful and could potentially be used for a future project. I have to be careful or I'll end up stuffing the garage full of items for 'future use'!

  22. A wonderful post Marguerite! Although not a jaunty victorian, I did grow up in England, and I remember the hedgerows there were ubiquitous and important features, bordering most open land, and serving as critical habitat for local wildlife. Expanding farms and fields were threatening their very existence then, and there was much uproar about preserving them. I don't think much about hedgerows here, although there does seem to be a movement afoot to encourage farmers to have native/wild borders along their fields, at least for the sake of pollinators.

    I love that you've cleared this area with the intent of planting a hedgerow with native plants. I had to laugh at the cast iron sink -- what a find! So much better than the buried bed frames and ancient monster satellite dishes we found buried here! I'm looking forward to seeing your new, sink-free, hedgerow evolve!

  23. Clare - you found a satellite dish? I find it really amazing the things that people throw away and just toss into the 'woods'. I've been looking at various pictures of English hedgerows as they seem to still have a lot of healthy hedgerows there. Often here I see borders of just white spruce and nothing else so I'm trying to envision what a proper mixed border would look like.

  24. I read an article or watched a show about hedgerows, it was really interesting. Some, in England I believe, are centuries old and quite large.
    Good for you to have taken the task of cleaning yours out. What a big job.

  25. Janet, I find it surprising that hedgerows here are in decline. They are essentially a strip of forest which you would think would survive on its own but I suppose the fact that we continue to plow on either side of them and make them narrower and narrower certainly doesn't help. I'll bet those large English hedgerows do well partly due to their size.

  26. Hedgerows are very important to the wildlife around us.
    We have attended a few seminars that Gary from MacPhail Woods have put on in Trout River and find them very informative. The last one was a walk around the Devil's Punch bowl where they showed us all kinds of native plants and trees which we had no idea even existed on P.E.I.
    We have since planted more Bayberry around our hedgerow and it is just beautiful.I really love the scent it leaves on your hands when you touch it.
    I love your kitchen sink fine. It does look to be in very good shape.

  27. The Wind and the Wellies is planting a willow hedge. And I think hazeltree has written about hedgerows.

    Longing to see your project grow up!

  28. The Witch - Glad to hear the MacPhail seminars are good. They have several coming up over the summer that I'm hoping to attend. I've read about bayberry and it's on my list of possibilities for the hedgerow. Does yours spread much? I'd really like to include sumac but it spreads quite rapidly and I thought maybe have two spreading plants might be a bit much.

    Thanks Diana! I will check out their hedge. The downside of gardening - it takes so long to see the results of planting. I'm longing for a full hedgerow but know it will be years before it really takes shape.