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Hedges And Their Uses: Edible, Medicinal and Other Uses.

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We moved to Cornwall at the end of 1989, onto a 36 acre open and windswept field with no internal hedges. Although this is one of the mildest areas in Britain, capable of growing a very wide range of plants, the effect of strong winds (we have had gusts of almost 90mph) can drastically reduce growth and greatly affects the numbers of plants that we can grow successfully. One of our major tasks, therefore, has been to plant lots of hedges and windbreaks in order to give us more shelter and because of our interest in the various uses of plants, we have mainly used plants that can provide us with more than just shelter. It is hoped that this leaflet will give you a few ideas on planting useful hedges.

Of course, it isn't only wind shelter that hedges can give us. They can be planted to provide privacy or screen out unwanted views, some thorny species are ideal for keeping out unwanted guests, properly sited hedges can provide us with suitable micro-climates for growing a wider range of plants, they can provide wildlife habitats (especially when native species are used) and they can protect the soil from erosion.

A wide variety of plants can be grown as hedges, providing us with small hedges suitable for even the tiniest gardens, rampant growing trees and shrubs for larger areas and all shades between. There are evergreen or deciduous species to choose from, species that are best left untrimmed or others that are very amenable to cutting and, within reason, can be cut back to whatever size is required.

The following is just a brief selection of some good hedging plants with a few of their other uses:-

Acer campestre: The Field Maple is a native deciduous tree that responds well to trimming and is fairly undemanding of soil or site. Its leaves make an excellent packing material in which to store fruit or root crops.




Alnus glutinosa: The Alder is another native tree which can be trimmed into a hedge. It is fast growing, especially in moist or wet soils, is very wind resistant and produces nitrogen nodules at its roots. This tree is a very good source of dyes - yellow, green, pink and red being produced from the bark, young shoots and catkins. An ink can also be made from the bark.



Atriplex halimus: The Sea Orach is an evergreen shrub that has become naturalised by the coast in Britain. Very wind resistant, succeeding even in very exposed maritime areas where it will make a hedge 6-8 foot tall and require very little trimming. The leaves and shoot tips make an excellent spinach. Also well worth trying is the N. American A. canescens, a very similar shrub with perhaps even nicer tasting leaves.



Berberis species: The Barberries. This genus of evergreen and deciduous shrubs contains many species suitable for hedging, most of them being very undemanding of soil or situation. They produce edible, though acid, fruits and a good yellow dye from the roots. Favourites with us are the evergreen B. darwinii and B. x.stenophylla plus the deciduous B. vulgaris (but this last species should not be grown in cereal producing areas since it harbours black stem rust.) They grow 6-10 feet tall and look best if left untrimmed.


Cornus sanguinea: The Dogwood is a native deciduous shrub. It grows to about 10 feet high and whilst it can be trimmed, is probably best left to its own devices in an informal hedge. A good quality oil suitable for lighting is obtained from the fruit and seed. Young branches can be used in basketry and a grey-blue dye is obtained from the fruit. The related Cornus Mas (Cornelian Cherry) can also be grown as a hedge and yields a tasty fruit (when fully ripe).


Corylus avellana: our native Hazel nut. This deciduous shrub makes a fine hedge but has to be left untrimmed if its edible seeds are to be produced and will then prove to be too big for many gardens. It is also a source of oil, a wood polish, and the wood is excellent for hurdles, wattle fencing and basketry. The named cultivars with their larger seeds can also be grown as hedges.




Crataegus species: The Hawthorns. Deciduous trees and shrubs, many of which are suitable for hedging including our two native species C. laevigata and C. monogyna. They are easily grown in most soils and are very amenable to trimming. Although far from the tastiest of the genus, our native species do produce edible fruits and their young leaves are a pleasant addition to the salad bowl.



Elaeagnus species: A genus of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, many of them making excellent hedging plants that can be left untrimmed or trimmed regularly. They succeed in the windiest of sites and generally prefer well-drained soils that are not too rich. At least some of the species produce nitrogen nodules on their roots. We feel that this genus has tremendous potential for fruit production, some of the evergreen species producing their fruits in April and May when they are especially welcome. Some of the most hopeful include E. angustifolia, E. multiflora and E. umbellata (all deciduous) plus E. x. ebbingei, E. glabra and E. pungens (evergreen).


Hibiscus syriacus: Is a very ornamental deciduous shrub for sunny positions in well-drained soils. It grows up to 10 foot tall and can be trimmed but then you lose the flowers. These flowers, and also the leaves, are edible. An oil can be extracted from the seed, a hair shampoo from the leaves and a blue dye from the flowers.



Ligustrum vulgare: Is our native Privet. A semi-evergreen shrub, it is very amenable to trimming and will grow almost anywhere, though its greedy surface roots will impoverish the soil. A poisonous plant, it yields green, black and yellow dyes as well as an ink. Young twigs can be used in basketry. A number of other species in this genus are grown for hedging including L. ovalifolium and L. lucidum.


Phormium tenax: New Zealand Flax is an evergreen plant growing to about 9 feet tall and is naturalised by the coast in western England. It is tolerant of most soil conditions including boggy moorland and withstands maritime conditions though its leaves can get quite noisy in windy weather. A very high quality fibre is obtained from the leaves. The plant also yields a number of dyes and a paper glue.



Pseudosasa japonica (syn. Arundinaria japonica): a vigorous bamboo that makes an excellent screen even in exposed conditions, though it can be a bit invasive. The young shoots are edible when cooked and the stems make good plant supports. Other bamboos worth trying as hedges (but not in exposed conditions) include Pleioblastus (syn. Arundinaria) hindsii, P. simonii, Sasa palmata, Semiarundinaria (syn. Arundinaria) fastuosa, S. murielae and S. nitida.


Rosa species: Many roses can be grown as hedges and all of them, in theory at least, produce edible fruits rich in Vitamin C. One of easiest to grow, succeeding in almost any soil or situation and virtually insect and disease proof (except the fruits, unfortunately), is R. rugosa which also has the tastiest rose fruits which we've tried to date. It will grow to 8 feet but can be kept smaller by pruning.



Sambucus nigra: The Elderberry is a native deciduous shrub capable of growing almost anywhere and very valuable in the informal wildlife hedge. The flowers are delicious raw whilst the fruit is probably best cooked. The leaves are a good insect repellant when rubbed on the skin though they do give you a rather unusual colour.





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The database has more details on these plants: Acer campestre, Alnus glutinosa, Atriplex canescens, Atriplex halimus, Berberis x carminea, Berberis x lologensis, Berberis x stenophylla, Cornus sanguinea, Corylus avellana, Crataegus laevigata, Crataegus monogyna, Hibiscus syriacus, Ligustrum lucidum, Ligustrum ovalifolium, Ligustrum vulgare, Phormium tenax, Pleioblastus simonii, Pseudosasa japonica, Sambucus nigra, Sasa palmata, Semiarundinaria murielae.



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