No, not your once-living garden hedge which is dying or has died! Dead hedge is a term for a (wo)man-made structure whose origins pre-date Domesday. There is some evidence for the presence of dead hedges in the early Bronze Age; their function would probably have been a barrier to protect livestock.
A dead hedge Photo: Christina Wakeford
Recently there has been renewed interest, as dead hedges greatly benefit the environment. A dead hedge makes an excellent habitat and corridor for wildlife - a hibernation place for hedgehogs and a nesting site or shelter for small creatures and birds. It can be a screen or windbreak. Mine hides my compost heaps and protects my wildlife corner from the north wind. Importantly, it is a carbon negative structure; it recycles biomass (prunings, discarded Christmas trees etc), so no need for endless bonfires (my original motivation for making mine), or for using energy to transport to landfill.
Here’s how to make one.....
Drive in suitable posts 2 or 3 feet apart in a double row. Make it any length - straight or curved; mine is about 3 feet wide and 5 feet high. Then begin to fill it with woody prunings, laying them horizontally and pushing them down as you go. The layers as they accumulate look most attractive in a rugged kind of way. For a neater look you could weave some pliable prunings (coloured dogwood or willow?) through the posts along the length. The woody material decays extremely slowly and may be continually topped up; I’m still adding to the one I started in 2010.
The best tribute, apart from the silent appreciation of the creatures in residence, came from a visitor who lives in France. On returning home he built his own dead hedge (bonfire laws are very strict there). He sent a photo to Amateur Gardening and won £40 for Letter of the Week! And now his neighbours have taken up the practice. The word is spreading.
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