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Paisean Faisean: The Irish Hedge

Hedge n 1 a fence or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or shrubs

In equal measures, in my past, I did so passionately adore everything that is an Irish garden hedge and also entirely abhor the thoughts of even looking at one.

Maybe it was something yellow pack Quinnsworth type bland 1980’s Ireland. Something pre that log roll pandemic that swept the country. A time when grow your own was that patch to the right of the washing line and composting was a mere heap.

Outside of that and of one’s front garden existed a Cherry tree and summertime landscaping was a tray of blue and white allysum and lobelia, just to better show off that single monoecious Skimmia.

For the elder statesmen of the garden fraternity, there did however exist the garden shears. Sharpened by hand, never replaced and complete with that Cliff Richard type tang top, a Saturday in the garden just like the Sabbath following, had its rightful place.

Que, the low maintenance syndrome era through the noughties of bad planting and decking for which we are in too many cases yet to see the after effects of en mass planted Phyllostcahys aurea [as versus Fargesia]. There was a reason why that quote was cheaper you know. But errors, era’s, seasons and trends aside, what of the garden hedge.

Historically and like most things Irish and gardening it was an influence of the Olde English garden that brought it via influence to Ireland in its more formal state. Through the boom of the 1960’s and the evolution of the Horticultural Societies, it was not a comes as standard when you bought that new home. One had a choice and one chose to plant.

Just like the use of the circle, the hedge however dates back absolute centuries thousands of years and were first used as agricultural seperations and divides, nothing new there you might add. But with the rise in popularity of anything however comes the splinter groups ~ pardon my witty pun ~ and so agricultural reticent hedges may now be referred to as hedgerows, by the definition alone, hedges they still are; and garden hedges may now be referred to as formal and informal.

Love them or hate them there is something I miss about the Irish garden hedge. They still exist, semi surprisingly to a point considering how they suffered under rise in populartity of the concrete block wall alongside the microwave. Maybe to blame in part is the increase in the number of two [or more] cars per family, both parents working and the major edits in shopping and shops opening times – Reasons why maybe the Saturday garden chores became etched, delayed or ommited from the weekend roster. All encompassing, the design of the Irish front garden changed. Its use, need and reason to exist edited.

For me, hedges were more than just photosynthetic arrangements. They were talking points. Talking places. Reasons and venues to gossip and talk. In short they were the friendliest possible version of a wall. Yet they weren’t.

I remember as a nipper kicking a ball against a neighbours hedge, to the point that it almost bled to death, or at least after the telling off I got [note: fully deserved] it sure felt like I had made that happen, at the time. In reality, it was a few leaves. But it wasn’t that, this hedge was gold and green perfectly striped Privot [Ligustrum ovalifolium aurea variegata] for about 12 metres and it was pristine. The first cut, sweeping, collecting and disposing took a full half day on a Saturday pausing only for Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks on BBC Grandstand and a cup of tea. I might have been 6 or 7 years old at the time. I’m now 35.

Biodiversity, fashionista’s and this years latest Chlelsea flower show award winners aside. I like it old school. And like the lights than adorned the ceilings of The Galtymore dance hall in Cricklewood I miss the olden days. Eloquent, wonderful and all the while everything that is chivalrous and romantic, yet still gardening.

For me, gardening since I was five years old, the years in college and the at times tough slog to get to a place, one thing I know for sure is that my life in horticulture is most fondly remembered and primarily for the people I have met and the stories that were told ~ as versus the plants, who were in hindsight, simply the reason we had met there.

hedge planting

The Right Time To Get The Garden Done

It must be coming into your quiet time for the oul’ gardening now…..

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Just one of the many clichés I’m on the verge of hearing more regularly now that the temperatures start to drop slightly and the evenings start to get a little shorter. The answer is more the opposite in fact.

There is a point where there are certain things that cannot be done no matter what stage of the season one is talking from, but in general the wise owls, tend to, get the ‘garden done’ in what some would consider the off season.

The reality is that with the coming of October onwards and the drop in temperatures of the seasons comes the en mass planting of trees and shrubs. Don’t get me wrong summer is fine for gardening… but when one needs to plant en mass or is planning on a budget and has the patience to place into the ground what may appear as a twig – and wait – then planting when the specimen is dormant and the sky above is willing to act as your automatic watering system ie. you do not need to water every single plant to keep it alive during the pretty decent warm summer we have just had – then logic, in gardening terms is simply just that and has been applied extremely well.

Have you ever seen someone watering plants in November…?

The other advantage is that the new plant is not competing with weeds as it tries to settle into its new home, wherever that maybe. Because essentially, weeds are plants – they simply don’t know that we don’t want them to grow there – and –  like the plants we do want to grow, both are in their over-wintering state.

Generally speaking in this context, put into the summer months, the turning of the soil in order to plant [the plants] brings with it weed seeds flourishing to the surface. Come the rise in temperatures towards the end of spring it is hoped the developing canopies of foliage will assist in reducing this problem – and therefore the competition for nutrients. A mild nipping of the tips helps here.

The question then remains – when is the best time to get the garden done? And the answer is pretty simple – whenever you wish. The question back is what do you want from your garden [?]

If one for example wishes to have a ‘not always just green garden’ ie. one where the plants come and go in and out of flower throughout the seasons; like the forsythia below that flowers on bare stems in early and mid spring – if planted in summer – then there is a wait until the following season for it to come into its own and fullest glory.


Based on last year [2009] which was a complete wash out of a summer which followed straight into an iceberg…. there was a point where freakish summer climatic  conditions meant the gardener [yours truly] had to take time to let the clothes dry out, at some point, eventually.

But this year has been quite good. I’d easily gather bbq sales were up on last year and with that summer feeling has come a rise in requests for garden make-overs, tidy-ups and manicures [with mild additions to]. The other thing noticable is that clients and potential clients started calling in June to plan for the coming ‘off season’.

Tree and hedge planting season is what it may be called for some. But what are people calling Donegan landscaping asking for ?

The requests all have planting of some form involved, but generally speaking the reason to do it, as versus the type of planting, in the off season is the fact that the couple/ family or in the case of one residential complex – the client[s] do not wish to have to water or maintain the plants once planted. A smart move, when making the most out of ones budget, as versus reducing the budget in the main season and not getting the most from the project.

It also means the planting is not trying to flower, establish and settle itself throughout a period where transpiration and growth are also a trying to take place.

It may well be the weather for you to stay inside, but for the tree, the gardener and the plants, investing wisely now may just give you the same rewards for a lot less effort come next spring and summer.

And on top of that…. there’s some hedging and really, really nice trees to be planted 😉

How does your garden grow…?

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