Weekend Gardener Journal
Our property was once part of a field and the property line is what was the edge of the field. I've made a mental inventory of the plants that grow along this edge. Here's what you'd find: white pine, hemlock, American ash, sugar maple, northern red oak, black cherry, chokecherry, Juneberry (serviceberry), raspberry, interrupted fern and a variety of wildflowers. Sounds like 10 acres, doesn't it? Yet this vegetation covers an area of about 10 feet wide and 250 feet long.
Our house is 15 feet from the hedge. When I look out the window among the trees and shrubs I see wild turkey, grouse, a pair of Cooper's hawks, thrushes, wrens, bluejays and many other birds, woodchucks, opossum, raccoons, deer, foxes, red and gray squirrels, weasels, chipmunks, mice and voles. Not all at the same time, of course, but they appear either regularly or irregularly depending on how they use the hedge.
Occasionally the animals venture out into the yard, but usually they prefer the protection and shade of the hedgerow. This area is important to them because it provides them with a place to eat, a place to hide and a place to live. I'm sure that without the hedgerow I wouldn't see as many animals as I do, and some of these creatures wouldn't live in the area at all.
The concept of the hedgerow dates historically to Saxon England where hawthorn trees were cut and bent to create boundaries. The haga, as it was called, marked the village limits. Creating these hawthorn hedges was an art practiced by the hedger who used special tools such as a hand-rake, billhook and mallet to create these barriers. Herbs--yarrow, comfrey, ajuga, herb robert and the like--grew up along the hedge.
Maintaining these hedgerows was a lot of work. When individual farmers began owning their land instead of renting it from a nobleman, hedgerows went untended. Bird- and animal-seeded plants such as blackberry, crab apple and burdock began to spring up among the hawthorns. Here the animals flourished....