Living Fences for Fruit, Nuts, Building Materials, Bird and Beneficial Insect Habitat, Plus Animal Protection!
“Hedgerows” is an old English term that refers to narrow planting strips of trees or shrubs that grow along field borders, fence lines and waterways. These borders serve as effective windbreaks and improve conditions for the nearby crops, forming an “edge habitat” that supports ecological diversity. Hedges have been used around the world since the stone age, and hedgerows are first mentioned “officially” in Europe in the 12th century. Through time these living fences – some hundreds of years old! – became an integral part of many farming regions, until recently, when they became unpopular because they “waste” space in the field. However, in England, when the farmers removed hedgerows to have more land to grow crops on for higher production, not only did they lose a beautiful and bio-diverse part of their farm, their yields decreased immediately! Still, the damage was done, and by 1996, Britain had lost over 80K miles of hedges. Now, people are starting to look again at these sustainable, affordable, long-lasting fencing alternatives, and some are replanting hedgerows for wildlife and pollinators they shelter, and the benefits they provide to the crops.
I am intrigued by these living fences, and hope to begin building one in the next few years, using plants appropriate for my region. If you can find it, the book Hedgerow by Eric Thomas and John T. White was published by Morrow in wonderful full color throughout 1980s and is an excellent and very inspirational book. It shows hedgerows through all four seasons. Just think of it: a luxuriant fence producing berries, filbert nuts, food and habitat for birds, a home for predatory insects and pollinators and a means for repelling deer—all at the same time. What’s more, the materials for tools (such as wooden bow rakes among many others) can be grown as part of the living fences. It is fascinating that the bow rake needs a different kind of wood for its handle, crosspiece and tines – and that the materials for all these parts can be part of your fence!
The book is out of print, but you can usually find used copies at Amazon and Powell’s or your favorite online book-seller at a reasonable price. Otherwise, you can arrange to use it through the Interlibrary Loan program at the local library. Enjoy!