On a Chalk Hillside November 2021

Published: November 5, 2021


Posted on 05.11.2021 |
Added in Sheila May's Blog

Update on our native hedge

The second article I ever wrote on this blog was to tell you about planting our mixed native hedge along the 40 meter long orchard boundary in December 2014, and this article is to tell you about its growth in the subsequent years, and its current status.   A local tree and hedge supplier provided a native mix for our locale as bare-root whips about 60-90 cm tall.  As you can see from the photo below, they looked VERY small, considering there were 210 tree whips there!  Our native mix contains Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Field Maple (Acer campestre), Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), and Guelder Rose ().  This is designed to provide blossom in spring, berries and leaf colour in autumn.  

October 16, when I wrote the first article I was about to give the hedge its first serious prune.  My main aim with this prune was to encourage the plants to become bushy from the base.  As I said according to my RHS Guide to pruning hedges I needed to reduce the Hawthorn and Blackthorn to about 15cm from the ground, and to take the leading shoot out of the rest of the species, and reduce side shoots by a third.   Suddenly, from having bushes/trees up to a meter high, I had patches of boundary with 15cm stumps.  It looked drastic!  However everything grew back and by August 17 the Hawthorn growth looked like this – definitely more bushy:-

However, the other shrubs in the hedge were still quite open, looking like shrubs rather than a hedge as you can see from this arty shot of autumn light through the Himalayan Honeysuckle () with the Guelder Rose behind it in October 17:- 

So every year ALL the hedge gets a more severe prune, to try and make it bush out from the base, and thicken up – as you can see later that month from the same spot:-

Some years we get better growth than others depending on the weather – drought, and heatwaves especially affect the hedges growth, as it doesn't get watered at all.  Our soil in the orchard is unimproved chalk hillside, and most of these plants have their roots in almost pure chalk.  I did try and keep the weeds/grass away from their bases to allow them to develop without too much competition.  You may recall the summer of 2018?  For you, it was probably the year of the drought/heatwave that started before the end of June and was relentless.  For us AS WELL as that, it was the year of the deer, and having to construct a deer fence behind the hedge in a heatwave/drought.  It was just as well we DO have poor soil and very slow growing plants, as we had to reach round behind them from our side to get the posts/fencing in against the boundary line behind the hedge.   Here  the deer fence (2 meters high) is behind the hedge at the beginning of July – as you can see, another feature of our hedge is that different plants in the hedge are growing at different rates so we have some taller bits and lots of shorter bits:-

2019 was the year we had the spring drought, when East Anglia had floods in June, and the summer was cold.  This was all the growth the hedge had made that year – here in October:-

At this point the hedge has been in since Dec 14, and himself is talking about digging bits out and replanting with other things.  I am saying, slowly slowly, I halve the plants growth each year, to make them bushy, of course they are taking a while to grow.   You could say COVID saved the hedge, as by the spring of 2020 we had many more things to worry about than a slow-growing hedge.  The weather in the first lockdown in March was warm and dry, and I thought the hedge would not grow any better than the previous year, but the summer was more warm and a bit wetter so the hedge grew.  Here it is looking bushy (thank goodness), and TALLER at the end of June 2020:-

I could still see over it to talk to neighbours (in places), but it was certainly high enough to start talking about what eventual height we wanted it to be.  We originally wanted the hedge to reach about 1.4 m or 1.6m high.  I have been trying to shape it so that the base is wider than the top to ensure that sunlight reaches all levels of the hedge to keep it from getting bare at the base.  However, we have new neighbours and they love the hedge and the colour, and don't want to prune the bits that poke through into their garden (I have offered to go round and prune it when I do this side, but they like the “wild look”.  As that side is south facing, it gets more sun more of the year than our side, so I am not sure if our side will thrive as well in years to come if their side is much taller than our pruned side and shades it out.  Time will tell.  
By the end of September 2020 I took a shot as I was pruning to show how it was knitted together at the base better now:-

Here it is mid-prune to show you the height I was lowering it to to keep it bushy:-

Unprompted, this year himself suddenly said in early summer that the hedge was doing what it should and looked like a real hedge/barrier for privacy!  
Look!  It looks like a hedge, not a series of separate bushes!  Here after a nice damp spring, on 15 June 21:-

To show girth as well as height I asked my husband to take a photo from the top of the ladder when we were picking plums at the beginning of September – here the bit of hedge by the Himalayan Honeysuckle, (Leycesteria Formosa,) to show its now the same height, and is wide enough to almost meet it:-

Perhaps the most graphic shot I currently have is from 27.9.21 showing the hedge doing its job as a privacy screen is the following shot across the orchard towards the hedge boundary – no deer fence in view, and in fact almost merging with trees in neighbours gardens three gardens along the road:-

I know I have shown you through the years the autumn colour in the hedge particularly from the Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulis) and Field Maple (Acer campestre) (bright red and deep golden respectively), and the red berries on the Guelder Rose that can be evident from August onwards til November.  Many of the photos above show the bright red leaves of the Guelder Rose in its autumn pomp.  Here the Acer campestre beginning to colour up in Mid October this year:-

It took several years for the Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn) to be mature enough to produce blossom and fruit – here is this year's blossom at the top end of the hedge on 23 March 21:-

And here are the sloe fruits from another patch in the hedge on 27 September 21:-

(There were lots in the top patch, but as it's the first bit you get to, my husband has eaten them all already!)
Both the Wayfaring tree, (Viburnum lantana) and the Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulis) have white blossom – here Viburnum lantana in full flower May 23rd 2021:-

The Guelder rose flowers slightly later here on 30 May 21:-

The Wayfaring tree's blossom turns into black berries sometimes, not every year, and certainly not every blossom.  I have managed to retrieve some seed this year for the HPS seedswap.  The photo is from September 20:-

This sudden spurt of good growth in the hedge has been mirrored by the yew in the front garden these past two years, and so next month I shall talk about the topiary in the front garden.  From one set of shaped and pruned trees/shrubs to another.  

Sheila May

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