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Thursday, 31 August 2006

Hedgerows - Page 2

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Hiking toward the summit of Pen Y Fan, third tallest peak in Wales, the burden of keeping up with long-legged leaders forced my head down as I gasped for air. It wasn’t until I got to the summit that I finally looked around. That’s when it happened – I became captivated by the net-like pattern across the valley slopes. Also likened to spider webs or embroidery work sewn into the hills, the pattern is formed by hedgerows – the patchwork quilt of ancient people of the Bronze Age that has survived Norman occupation and the more recent accommodation of modern farm equipment.







One type is called crop-and-pleach and the other is called stake-and-pleach – both forms representing art entwined with economics.  In other words, if stakes are available and economically feasible, they are used; otherwise foundation crops are cut to stand like stakes and then the pleachers (or saplings) are woven through the stakes or crops giving a rich, raw texture to the hedges, becoming living strands of these dynamic fences.

Welsh hedges are distinct from the hedges found around other parts of Britain.  Welsh hedges stand between 30 and 45 inches tall because they are designed with sheep in mind.  Deadwood is often incorporated into the lower rungs of the hedges in spots where young lambs can squeeze through. Land and weather patterns determine distinct regional difference in the shape and thickness of hedges. As I stood before them, I could feel not only the life within them and on the other side of them, but I also felt their creators’ attempts to control the effects of punishing weather and contain the land and animals. I also noticed their whimsy in placing their individual marks upon their work.

My new home in Wales was nestled in the Black Mountains on a 2,500-acre farm, better known as the Glanusk Estate. Each day began with the bleating of the 1,200 ewes and lambs in the surrounding fields.  That was my cue to begin my daily investigative-jog between the estate farm and Jubilee Cottage, my home. Between the sheep, cattle, border collies and sows, I would have had trouble keeping informed of each day’s developments if I hadn’t made it part of my daily routine.

hedgerowsOn one March morning, a newly-lain hedge popped up.  Next to it was a stretch of saplings yet to be pleached to join the new hedge.  It was obvious a hedgerow layer had been in the vicinity, but had taken a break. After taking a few photos of the new hedge and the tiny birds already making a nest within its hour-old strands, I resolved to return the next day.

Night mist had only begun to lift from the center of the fields as I set out the next morning.  I turned left into the farmyard and caught my breath as I realized the workers were only a few yards in front of me, their backs heaving and lowering in synchrony as they worked. One man wore a royal blue cotton tee and the other a green-and-khaki hound’s tooth blazer, the proud dress of the St. Fagan’s photos.

I silently watched the rhythm of their rising and falling as they pulled the strands out of the earth and through the stakes, which stood rigidly at uniform angles. Finally, the man in the blazer straightened up and revealed himself to be the elder of the two. He rose to give silent directions to the younger man, who peered up at him, a sapling in his hand.

Trying to hide my excitement, I introduced myself. “Hi, I live in that house there,” I stammered. “My name is Kathy.”  The older gentleman crossed the back lane of the estate and straightened the flaps of his blazer as he walked. “Oh, you live in Jubilee, do you?” using a casual reference to the cottage in which I lived. The younger man remained crouching.

“Yes I do.  You wouldn’t believe it.  I went to St. Fagan’s yesterday…”

“Yes, in Cardiff…” the man in the blazer looked worried and raised his eyebrows to the younger one beckoning him over.  He stood smiling and sauntered over to join us.

I accelerated my pitch; “I saw an exhibit on hedgerows.  I see you are using stake and pleach…”

Both men smiled, faced me fully and relaxed their shoulders as if we had all the time in the world to discuss their craft.  It was only the older one who spoke, but the younger one smiled and nodded.  Mick, the estate’s farmer, rounded the corner and pulled up in his Land Rover.  Billy, his red Welsh border collie, was riding shotgun and hopped out when Mick opened the door. Mike passed bean poles to the men, saying, “Are these what you needed, Sook?”


(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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