Hedges & fences

Once you settled down, and had a cow or two and some sheep, then you would draw a line on the earth. This side is mine, that side is yours. This side is private, that side is common. And in the olden times, you’d have to figure a way out so that your cow would not go over to the other side. Cows can be obstinate and free ranging, but not as bad as bison with regards to just pushing things over and going wherever they wanted to go. When you weigh a ton, and number about 30 million, that is what you do…

This is how the idea of a hedge, a hedgerow of intertwined vegetation forming a barrier and boundary came to be. A nice tangle of hardwoods like ash and oak, mingling with the blackberry bramble. Rabbits and songbirds darting in and out all along it. Took a while to grow up into a mature row though. For a whiles in the 1800’s in America, nurseries sold a whole lot of osage orange for this purpose. Awful poky, difficult to work with plant; good for making archery bows though. Tough and flexible wood. Like all things in nature, a hedgerow requires maintenance. Parts may die and have to be replanted. Some sections need cutting back. You would retwine and braid branches back into the hedge to keep it tight and still serve its function.

If you had the time and labor, building a stonewall could serve the same purpose. As could a long line of a ditch and dike. Serve double duty as boundary and irrigation. Fences, thats another good concept. In the winter time, before all the spring chores would pile on thick – that was the time to ‘mend the fences’ with your neighbors. Make sure it was intact and doing its job. Fill in those holes dug by fox and coyote and badger. Take out the rotten parts, rebuild.

In another part of the world, you’d be wise to fence out the lions, and protect your herd of cattle. You might do this with a long row of aloes, perhaps the large robust Aloe arborescens, that lines much of the 19th Avenue median strip in San Francisco. Stick it in the ground, let it grow into a thicket. That way you are not startled at night by the bellows of a heifer. That way you do not wake up being dragged along the dirt, with your head clamped inside of a lion’s jaws.

More recently, the amazon natives have stopped moving around and taken to staying in one place. Now they hold titles and land rights to the territories they have inhabited for thousands of years. To demarcate the land, some have planted rows of spiny palms along the boundary line. Otherwise, how else would you show that some outsiders snuck in and logged your forest? Or poached all of your peccaries? Or eroded your river banks looking for gold? GPS is another useful tool they’ve been using to acknowledge where limits and boundaries lie.

While hedge rows have persisted in some places, in most areas it has been replaced with more and more simple styles of fencing. Fencing that went up easier and took less maintenance than a living thing. Fencing that clearly marked private and public land. A hundred fifty years ago, you could ride your horse from Texas to Wyoming, it being wide open country. Nowadays every inch of soil has been accounted for. Its all owned and taxed and belongs to somebody.

In towns, with people in tight quarters, hedges and fences still serve a function. As a screen for privacy, as a wind block, as an ornamental feature. And us, as gardeners, keep it in check so that the hedge does not totally cover the window, block the view, or look straggly and unkempt. Or, as a landscape contractor, we mix concrete for the posts, and line up all the boards for nailing or screwing. That’s the job.

Some common questions related to hedges are:

What are good hedge plants?
How closely do you plant to make a hedge?
What size plants do you buy? (one gallon, five gallon, fifteen gallon…)
What do you do if part of the hedge dies and the nursery does not have one big enough to replace it?
Can you cut it back to bare wood?
How often can I shear it?
My boxwood’s green leaves are turning red, is that normal?
Can the roots of the hedge invade my foundation?
Is bamboo a good hedge plant?

Some questions that pertain to fences are:

What is a good wood for outdoor fencing?
What kind of screws should I use for pressure treated lumber?
How tall can I make it? What is legal?
What is the spacing between fence posts?
How deep should the fence post holes be dug?
How do I keep deer and skunks and raccoons out of my yard?
and so on…