Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a hedge laying course by my one of my neighbours. He is fortunate to have loads of neglected and over grown hedges all around his land and so we were a bit spoilt for choice really as to which hedge to do.
Our instructor for the day was John Savings of Oxford. John is one of the top hedge layers in the UK and competes and wins more often than not in the national championship – so we were in good hands from the start.
When I was a young lad, I used to help my granddad do this but even then tractor driven hedge cutters and flail cutters were just taking over and hedges were being dug out to make larger fields for more food production, so I never really took a great deal of interest in learning more about it.
Luckily, landowners and conservationists are slowing realising that open fields and barbed wire is making the countryside look terrible and that a properly layed hedge is a great wildlife habitat and an asset as it is virtually zero maintenance and lasts 50 years or so – this combined with a government grant makes hedge laying more attractive.
Anyway, we all met at Howard’s house (our host) for breakfast. Alan, a teacher and brother in law of Howard, Howard, a top London Barrister and Christopher, also a Barrister started the day with a hearty cooked “Fully Monty” before we set off to work.
The hedge chosen by John was in fact possibly the worst hedge on the estate. It was full of rubbish, dead trees, fallen barbed wire fences – you name it and it was there. John’s comments of “If you can lay this hedge you can lay any” filled us with some dread.
John proudly displayed to us the tools of the trade – a collection of ancient billhooks and slashers all sharpened to perfection (we soon changed that!) and of course the obligatory chainsaw. John started by attacking the hedge with the chainsaw, clearing out everything dead or not required, leaving us to drag out the debris to make a huge bonfire. It’s at this point I realised that Howard had managed to rope in several volunteers to sort out his hedge Free of Charge – no wonder he is a top Barrister!
Anyway, as the Sloe Gin appeared and the sun got hotter, we soon started to learn just how effective this form of hedge repair is and as our confidence grew, the pace picked up and by lunch we had layed a good 25 metres of hedge.
Lunch was a welcome break and we all had worked up an appetite by then. Conversation was pretty much geared to hedge laying and other anecdotes from John (who has hundreds!) as well as many funny comments from the rest of the group – Alan was particularly amusing and had us crying with laughter on several occasions!
Back to work and the worse was yet to come. This hedge had a number of Elm trees in it, some dead some almost dead and some smaller ones fully alive. We were all amazed that a tree approximately 8 inches round could be layed as easily as a small Hawthorn bush – John just took it all in his stride. He even managed to drop a tree on Howard – thankfully a small one which just bounced of without injury!
The icing on the cake was to finish off the hedge with woven hazel sticks, called binders, and hammer in the stakes and trim to size. This basically holds it all together and creates a very strong and attractive hedge. The before and after pictures really show what a difference we made to this pretty awful hedge and just how attractive and nice them finished item looks.
We are all keen to attack the rest of the hedge over the coming month or so and complete this project, so I will keep you informed as to progress.
I would like to say a big thank you to Howard and Catherine for the invite and lunch etc, Alan for just being really funny, Karen my other half for the pictures, Christopher for nicking all the wood before I had chance to and John for a most enjoyable day.
If any of you want quotes for hedge laying – just drop me a line….