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Dead Useful Like...

By Jane Gleeson
Head Gardener, Schumacher College

Recently the apprentices have been cordoning off two newly created and shaped beds to keep our Indian runners from eating the newly planted sweetcorn and brassicas – the Indian runners seem to have developed a very fashionable appetite for kale and other greens. Whilst I am prepared to sacrifice some of our mature kale plants to these nibblers I want to keep the young veg intact.

So we are constructing two more dead hedges in the garden by Craft Education – this will bring us to a grand total of four dead hedges in the one space.

What is a dead hedge? –  it is a fence like structure made of non-living wood usually twigs and branches – prunings etc.

So the joy is you get a free hedge; save on shredding or chipping; ‘dispose’ of ‘waste’ and create a perch/hiding place for birds, shelter for small mammals and a wonderful insect hotel – all for not a great deal of effort. The wood then just slowly decays and in doing so is usually colonised by those wonderful slug predators the ground beetles.

Ours are a subject of comment from passers-by – usually saying how nice it looks (and it is pleasing on the eye) or enquiring as to its purpose. The wood slowly degrades thanks to the fungi – but that is easily solved by topping it up. That and the occasional replacement of the uprights is really all the maintenance required.

Dead hedges are an ancient practice – often used to fence in livestock or denote field boundaries – they were seen to be a good use of old wood.  

What I want to do next is plant some of spare sweet peas on the sunnier side to give the dead hedge bit of colour and fragrance.

I grew up in Liverpool using the word dead to denote ………………well, substitute ‘terribly’ or ‘frightfully’ from Home Counties lexicon with ‘dead’ and you are there.

This week saw two pleasant surprises – the blooming of an orchid on the front lawn and the baby slow worm found near our perennial weed compost windrows. So all I need to see is a resident hedge hog and I would be dead chuffed!