May 3rd, 2012


For the past several years now, I have become increasingly obscesed with hedges and living fences. As I continue to understand what is possible with the particulars of our landscape, I see some great potentials for hedges to be utilized in our integrated forestry/agriculture/pasture system.

This is a very old hedge in Cornwall, UK.

I often times become baffled at why hedges have all but gone extinct in this part of America. I see evidence of living fences in old homesteads in the area, but do not see them being utilized on modern farms and modern homestead. This is a pitty, and as part of my grand vision of how the world ought to be, hedges are everywhere. :)

another old hedge that probably kept sheep in the lower pasture.

Hedges provide a host of beneficial services, and are really integral to long-term sustainable integrated agriculture and forestry. Hedges or living fences can...

Pretty much, everything we are looking for in an integrated perennial agricultural-silvacultural-pastoral system of land management. I hope you are beginning to realize how great hedges are too.

The whole landscape is constructed of fields enclosed with living fences.

A 60 year old living fence of woven trees in Germany

There are many many different kinds of hedges, and a description of what designs I have been working with is warrants it's own article. The art and craft of hedgelaying requires a substantial amount of knowledge and skill. And this kind of skill is something that is learned overtime with a lot of practice.

I have been working from several angles to get a feel for how hedges in the style of cornish hedges could be accomplished with the particulars of our native stones and earth, as well as with both native and cultivated plants

Bellow is some pictures of the rock work I have been doing over the past year, with some descriptions of what I was working to figure out in the process.

This is an experimental 20 foot long rock faced bank/retaining wall I built along our southern boundary. I was getting a feel for the kinds of rock we have around, developing my dry masonry skills, and seeing how this kind of sloppily built wall holds up over time.

The above picture is about 1 year later. The wall has obviously settled alot, and now looks a lot more "slumpy" than it did originally. I planted some native oceanspray on the top in the hopes it will grow upwards and I can get a sense of how it all will evolve over time.

Overall this wall is far too short to hold in livestock. Generally the rock portion of a cornish hedge is about 4.5 feet tall, plus the height of the plants. This wall is about 3 feet tall.

This is the first of retaining walls built this spring in an orchard are we call the courtyard. It is about 40 feet long and 2.5 feet tall, with a good 6 inches underneath the soil. It is newly completed, so the soil all around it has not settled yet. I tried to use a good mixture of different sized rocks to come as close to the average random rock selection as possible. The sturdiness of the wall will be made apearant over time.

This is the beginnings of the second courtyard retaining wall (just up hill of the first terrace). I learned a lot on the first wall, and made some basic changes to my approach. This wall is much wider than the other one, and is a bit taller over all, and is the same length. Working with the ratio that the wall's base ought to be as width as it is tall appears to lend much more stability. I can stand and walk on the top of the wall without rocks shifting.

I used the largest rocks on the bottom front, and buttressed them with earth on the downhill side. The longest side of each rock is running to the inside of the wall, and is locked into place with many smaller rocks (generally fist size and smaller) that are placed to minimize movement. Ever 4 feet or so I laid a really big rock on the bottom, so that it's weight was leaning onto the whole rest of the wall, and locking everything in place with its mass.

I then build up the wall vertically, still placing the longest dimensions of the stones running to the inside of the wall. Also, trying to get the faces of the stones to lay flat so the wall have more of a smooth facade.

The majority of volume of the wall is made up of fist size stones and smaller. This is similar to the breakdown of rock sizes that we find on average. Making this style of wall more economical in terms of rock working with what we have available as opposed to having to hunt for substantially larger rocks.

a stone faced cornish hedge toped with shrubs. What a marvelous bit of technology.

As my knowledge and skill grows I will endeavor to work toward the day when I can try to create rock faced hedges tall enough and strong enough to serve as fencing. I will also continue to work with the plant component of the hedges, that I have not discussed here, toward systems of plantings that can provide all the benefits listed above.