A natural boundary to last for generations

A hedgelaying competition gets into full swing at Thisleyhaugh Farm, near Longhorsley. Picutre by Tom Pattinson.
A hedgelaying competition gets into full swing at Thisleyhaugh Farm, near Longhorsley. Picutre by Tom Pattinson.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), beloved of our country hedgerows, was a wonderful sight in May when covered in blossom, and it is eye-catching again, laden with berries as autumn deepens.

But perhaps its greatest asset is the ability to form a dense boundary hedge guaranteed to keep intruders out, livestock in.

Given a decent start in life and careful maintenance, it will serve generations, and I was fortunate to witness exactly how that can be achieved on a visit to Thisleyhaugh Farm, near Longhorsley.

Our garden hawthorns are trimmed in early June, giving nesting birds time to complete their task, then by late September it’s ready for the final tidy-up clip ahead of winter.

Around the same time, we see the tractor with flailing attachment offering a once-a-year trim to the hawthorn lining country roads.

Positive though this seasonal maintenance is, there comes a time when more drastic action is required to secure regeneration and longevity. That is when the laying process is applied to give a hawthorn hedge Methuselah status.

There are circa 30 regional variations of hedge-laying, the height and structure depending upon what the land is used for. Once the process has been completed it will hold good for decades.

Laying involves cutting half-way through the main stem of each mature plant at a point close to ground level. Everything is then bent at an angle or carefully lowered to the horizontal plane.

The canopy, which may have stood 3m high, is now fixed at the required level, i.e. near the ground for arable crops, a metre or so high for livestock. Posts are driven in along both sides to hold it in position and wooden binders woven along the top.

New growth emerges from the heel cuts and existing canopy, which continues to receive sustenance from the roots.

The National Hedge Laying Society is committed to conserving hedgerows through traditional skills. As its website www.hedgelaying.org.uk states: “Hedges are important for our wildlife, environmental heritage and scenic value.”

Encouraging regional competitions, organising a national event and offering skills workshops are part of its offering.

This is the ideal time to plant a boundary hedge. Saplings are sold in bundles at garden centres, and a double row set out in staggered formation, as bricks in a wall, will turn into an effective barrier and support a diversity of wildlife.

But hawthorn can also be a stand-alone ornamental tree in your garden.

Special cultivars with double flowers and fruits are Paul’s Scarlet, Plena (white) and Rosea Flore Pleno (pink).

Crataegus can also be the attractive bush/tree that allows a clematis or rose to wander up through its branches and share growing space. A thorny customer to deal with at times, but a pussy cat if you give it the respect it deserves.