We have been doing some hedge laying here at Chartwell recently along the boundaries of our Parkland areas, part of the finished result of which can be seen above. Laying a hedge is just one way in which hedgerows can be managed, along with coppicing and trimming. If left unmanaged, the plants within a hedge will continue to grow upwards and outwards, gradually just becoming a thick line of trees. A well-managed hedge will be bushy and healthy, acting as not only a boundary but also an important habitat for wildlife.
The section of hedge that we have been laying contains the likes of Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). The process is usually carried out between Autumn and early Spring to avoid disturbing nesting birds or trampling delicate hedgerow plants beneath. The way in which a hedge is laid can vary greatly depending on which part of the country it is carried out in. Each area has their own local methods. Here at Chartwell, under the instructions of Steve and Max, our two woodland specialists, we have done it as follows:
1. To reduce the thickness of the upright stems of the trees in the hedge we cut through the wood on one side of each stem at the height that we wanted the hedge to become. Each cut stem is called a ‘pleacher’. Care should be taken not to cut through the stem too much or the plant may not survive. A section of bark and some of the sapwood (ie the younger outer wood that conducts water throughout the tree via the vascular system of xylem vessels) must be left on each pleacher. New upward growth will form from the cut wounds on each pleacher, and it is these new shoots that can be laid in future years if necessary.
2. Each pleacher stem was then laid down, again with care taken not to split the remaining bark and wood. The angle of the lay should not be horizontal, but instead should have a slight upward gradient to encourage the sap to continue to rise through the tree.
3. Side shoots and smaller stems on the pleachers that are not big enough to be laid themselves are known as ‘brush’ or ‘brash’ and these were removed or woven into the hedge to bulk out the thickness.
4. Stakes were then inserted into the new hedge system to provide strength and support. They were woven into the hedge with some of the brush offcuts.
Some of the hard work that was carried out by our team of gardeners and volunteers can be seen in the pictures below:
Once a hedge has been laid in this manner, regular annual trimming should keep it in good order for up to 50 years when it may be appropriate to lay the hedge again, or perhaps coppice it. As we begin to open up our woodland areas at Chartwell, there will be plenty of opportunities for visitors to come and see our team carry out similar work all over the wider estate. We hope to see you here soon…