You will have to believe that this is a post born of experience as the Non-Disclosure Agreement I signed back in November forbids from publishing any evidence. Without this legally binding agreement I might well have ended up sharing stories and details of my employers garden hedges on some obscure gardening blog where any impressionable internet weirdo could have copied them. A derivative hedge? I’d rather die.
So humour me, internet wierdos, with a little intellectual exercise – see if you can read this piece as written not by me, but by a hypothetical gardener, a construct who exists nowhere but in this post and who spent all last week planting hedges.
While I was planting these hypothetical hedges in North London, some miles to the South on a bank of the Thames, herds of high-vis horticultural navvies were assembling the annual Gardening Godhead at Chelsea. Last year I was one of those navvies, assigned to lug about Grevillea and heave Callistemon for some cork-hatted Aussie blokes. On the first day I broke three vital hand-bones cycling home and so spent two weeks sitting on a bucket snipping blades of grass into more exaggerated grass shapes – it’s why they won gold.
I left Chelsea 2011 shell-shocked: was this circus of contrivance really “the highlight of the gardening calendar”? Polystyrene walls faced with York stone? Spray painting the trees to cover their scars… surely not? My sympathies swung towards those dissenters who annually complain that “it’s just not proper horticulture” and that “anything so instant has nothing to with gardening”.
I’m sure the RHS will be relieved to hear that that I’ve changed my mind again. Last week’s hedging operation served as a personal and complete vindication of The Chelsea Flower Show. As I stood there in the garden, watching off road fork-lifts deposit yews taller than my head into a pre-dug trench, while internally debating how minutely kinked they should be to make the vibes more ‘ancient boundary’ and less ‘green garage wall’, I realised that Chelsea is entirely about gardening. Just not gardening for poor people.
Happy though I am to rediscover a meaning in Chelsea, I remain both in heart and in wallet a poor person and I know that not everyone can summon a team of JCB drivers and a specialist Italian nursery every time they fancy a hedge. So here follows a hedging tip that is the antithesis of the instant and artificial bankers boundary. This is an extract from Thomas Hill’s The Gardeners Labyrinth published in 1577, which Hill acknowledges lifting from Democritus’ On Farming written some 2432 years ago:
The most commendable inclosure for every garden plot is a quick-set hedge… Gather in a due season of the yeare, the seeds found in the red berries of the biggest and highest Briers [wild roses] then throw ripe seeds of the white Thorne, and to these both the ripe Berries of the Goose-Berry and Barberry trees…. mix and steepe for a time in [a] binding meale of Tares until the thickness of honey. The same mixture lay into old and untwisted ship ropes… in such order that the seeds bestowed or couched within the soft hairs of them of them may be protected from the cold unto the beginning of the spring. Digge in handsome manner, two small furrows into which lay your ropes with seeds, covering them workmanly with light earth. Water by sprinkling.
The seed soaked rope trope has not been entirely lost to horticulture; a few months ago I used coir rolls impregnated with Carex and other marginals to edge a pond (as ever, all details purely hypothetical). But there are other potential applications. I don’t know how Nigel Dunnet, Sarah Price and the rest of that meadow lot find it, but I think it’s almost impossible to spell colourful obscenities by scattering wild flower seed. The letters come out all squiffy and haphazard and you end up with a garden full of BUOKs and COMTs. Using rope coated in pictorial meadow mix would render wild flower curses and swears legible and might go some way towards tempting young people away from violent computer games and into the rewarding arms of horticulture.
Apologies if you are not satisfied with the amount you have learnt about hedges from this post. All complaints to be addressed in perfect floral calligraphy. I have Google earth.