When I first took on my plot 11 years ago, I was worried about how exposed the site was, so my first priority was a to plant a windbreak around the boundaries to protect my growing crops. Rather than just planting the usual mix of native hedgerow plants, I thought – why not get something edible out of it too?
So, that next spring, I planted an edible hedge (ordered over the internet), made up of the commonplace – hazel, sloe, hawthorn and Rosa rugosa, mixed with the slightly unusual – sea buckthorn, myrobalan plum, amelanchier, bay laurel, cornelian cherry, gooseberry and blackcurrant!
Preparation and planting
My method of planting might seem somewhat unusual too: as the area was quite badly taken over by couch grass and bindweed, I first laid down a layer of cardboard, which I initially held down with big stones and bricks. I cut a spade’s width slit through the cardboard with scissors, then pushed the spade through to its full depth, rocking back and forth gently to create a suitable planting hole. After inserting the hedge plant ‘whip’, I then filled up the slit with soil, watered, then pushed back the cardboard around the whip – both to prevent further water loss and weeds smothering the growing plant. I continued the same technique, planting a foot apart, for the rest of the hedge.
Planting in front of the hedge
Two or three weeks later, I returned to the area, this time to plant more edibles in front of the hedge. Most of these consisted of pre-grown plants in 9cm pots – higher plants to the back, included mint, lemon balm, angelica, sage, rosemary and even rhubarb, while lower growing varieties, such as thyme, oregano, alpine strawberries and cowslips were planted at the front. This time, I cut an X in the cardboard in order to make my planting holes, again backfilling with soil, watering and pushing back the cardboard flaps when done.
The edibles planted in the front of the hedge quickly filled out their space, made a colourful addition to the plot and provided me with a ready supply of herbs and alpine strawberries. Obviously, the hedge itself took longer to ‘fill out’ and the odd whip failed to take so had to be replaced, but within five years I had a thick hedge which provided an excellent windbreak and which was also starting to bear fruit.
How the hedgerow changed over the decade
Although I’d created the windbreak I needed, the shade that the hedge inevitably created meant that some species, such as the rosemary and sage eventually died out. Despite my best efforts to keep the hedge under control, it had also grown quite tall and wide, so ten years on (2020) I took the radical decision of ‘laying’ the whole lot.
What next for the hedgerow?
Through hedgelaying, I’m hoping that the hedge will ‘bounce back’, growing even thicker to provide a great nesting habitat for birds, yet still providing me with the fruit and nuts I first planted it for. I intend to limit the height to around a metre high too, giving plants at its foot the opportunity to see more of the sun – and so return some of those species that were shaded out.
If you’ve been inspired to plant an edible hedgerow, I really recommend reading:
‘How to make a Forest Garden’, by Patrick Whitehead – an inspiring book that outlines the plants you can use to create a productive, multi-layered garden that mimics the natural environment.
(An adaption and update to an article originally written for the Brighton & Hove Organic Gardening Group newsletter)