From Fencing to Fancy: the Hedgerow in your House

What if I said there was a hedgerow in your house?  Okay, there’s not, but it’s likely that you are familiar with the aesthetics born of longstanding cultural interactions with hedgerows and coppice lots.  Hedgerows are not boxy rows of squared off shrubbery; those victims of suburban plant harassment are just plain ol’ hedges.

laying hedgerows

This newly laid hedgerow will be a scruffy abundance in a decade.

Hedgerows are a line (or two) of trees that have been cut not-quite through while young and then bent over, and woven into / tied to their neighbors, a process known as “laying”.  The trees re-sprout, forming a dense network of branches.

Laying a hedgerow is hardly speedy work.  The farmers would spend the winter working on stretches of their fenceline (hedgerow) but would never have gotten to even a 10th of the farm’s hedgerows in a single winter.  After 10-20 years, the hedgerow trees have fully recovered and the fence is quite tall and vigorous but perhaps not as tight as it used to be.  By now the farmer has worked their way around to the starting spot and down goes the hedgerow again.

This is part that garners the most attention, this living line.  It’s what’s cut off, though, that wound up in your kitchen.  Known as “small wood”, what comes off a hedgerow is typically long, thin, straight, and rarely more than a few inches in diameter.

hedgerow small wood craft

Chairs, banisters, balustrades, table legs and braces: all small wood crafts.

Think of all the spindle backed chairs, all the banisters and balusters, the tool handles, window mullions, wooden spoons, wicker furniture…  Actually, I’m not sure about the wicker, but you get the idea.  Hedgerows begat a whole economy and culture.

Why were the effects so pervasive?  Because the hedgerows themselves were so pervasive, and so very much not controlled by any large organized entity.  Small wood based craft houses formed a cottage industry, each acquiring from the farmers the lengths and diameters suited to their particular creations, from picket fences to chair backs to axe handles.  From these craft houses, the hedgerows filtered out and into our homes.

We’ve largely lost the thatched roofs and the technique of bundling very similar diameter sticks into “logs” to produce an even burning cooking fire suitable for baking bread.  Even so, a lot of what Western civilization considers “normal” is influenced by these hedgerows and their brethren, the coppice lots.

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2 responses to “From Fencing to Fancy: the Hedgerow in your House

  1. Thank you for this really interesting post : which I found while looking for advice on my (I now know) iron or nitrogen deficient ginseng plant. I knew about the winter activities of chair whittling, and hedge laying, but until now not their connection, creating no waste.

    • Yay! So glad. This topic is dear to me- the intersection of ecology and culture/ the arts and the basic human need to slow the heck down sometimes. I hope this continues to ricochet for you and light up new connections / ideas.

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