In March, I attended a hedge class taught by Eaglesong Gardener at Jubilee Farm. Hostess Wendy, explained that she and her family were investing in living fences or hedges. King County Conservation District has given the farm a grant to install new hedges along desired field divides. After touring the farm and seeing hedges, both young and old, we were to lay some new hedge ourselves. This was a highlight, the opportunity to try out hand tools on an overgrown hazel line between some greenhouses and planting fields. The beautiful nut trees had been left to tend for themselves. Hazel thrive in a coppiced state, and should be thinned out regularly to avoid dampness and rot. Since these trees also happen to sit in an active flood plane, the opportunity for water is compounded.
To bring back the hedge, improve the health and productivity of the Hazel, and improve on an already impressive view of Snoqualmie Valley, a neighbor Mel and I offered to continue the hedge work after class, trying out our skills in hedging and helping another neighbor. In return, we learn, experiment, get some great firewood, and steward the land. We’ve also been invited to hunt geese in the fall.
As you see in the photo below, the trees are leafing out as spring awakens the soil and all that thrive on and in it. This side of the hedge is finished, and we must stop work laying until next winter, when the trees are dormant. Mel wove and trimmed the finished pleachers while I burned scrap branches to tidy the space. We got about two cords of good hardwood for our stoves next winter. Our hedge is advertising for hedge health in the valley. The more edge space on the landscape, the richer the diversity and habitat. In another generation, Eric and Wendy’s children will not have to move so many fences to keep the cows in. The hazel can attempt to fight off a blight it has suffered with the removal of much of the dead wood and coppicing to help thin and encourage new growth.
Mel is very good at pleachering, as well as sighting the row and keeping our steaks in line with the desired fence space. The branches are locked into one another as they lay, all in one direction to remain neat and fall easily into staked position. Any access wood is bucked and loaded into our trucks to keep the aisle on either side of the hedge open. It’s very important to clean up as you go in hedge work, or you’ll find yourself slipping and getting tangled up in the branches on the ground. When you’re working a chainsaw, that kind of instability is dangerous.
Because of all the dead wood, which needed to be removed, this hedge is somewhat thin in places. The coppiced bases of many of the larger trunks, too big to lay, will produce a rich supply of young suckers next spring to weave between our stakes to strengthen and thicken the hedge over time.
When we continue our work in the fall, the rest of the hazel, seen to the left above, will be pleachered and staked to finish the hedge. By then, we will have new growth in this hedge to shape and add to our living fence. Below you see what a new hedge looks like up close. There are large coppiced stumps, gaps, and enough stakes to close any larger holes, lending support to the newly formed hedge line. Cows would not go through this living fence easily; it’s about 4 feet high and solid.
More plantings should be added to encourage diversity in the hedge row and added menu to a great buffet for both domestic and wild animals. There will also be a very nice reflector wall for sun warmth on the southeast side of the fence, and a cooler afternoon hang out to the northwest. The hedge will also offer wind protection, and shelter from the elements as it thickens in time.
Another update of this hedge project will come later in the summer. Work begins again this winter, with a plan to steward this hazel hedge well into the future, cultivating and inspiring more land owners to tend hedges to improve fertility and abundance, especially near our rivers and streams.