Sometimes, although it is painful and frustrating, you just have to admit defeat.

willow fedge – June 2013

Back in March 2013, when the campsite was nought but a set-aside agricultural field, we commissioned a willow fedge to run along the edge of the meadow. It was a symbolic moment for us as it marked the first step towards our dream project. Admittedly we were planting right at the end of willow planting season, but at first all seemed to be going well. Little green shoots appeared when they were supposed to and we didn’t even mind when we found huge poplar hawk moth caterpillars munching away happily on the new growth.

But at the end of June the weather turned hot and dry, and despite my nightly efforts to keep the fedge watered, it started to look a bit sad. We still haven’t worked out exactly what went wrong but we ended up with just a few determined bits of willow growing here and there among a lot of brittle sticks. The deer just casually walk through the fedge now with a look of ‘told you so’.

And this is where the lesson starts. For the last couple of years I have been determined that it will work – I will make this willow grow no matter what. Just as bewildered as we were, the willow weaver kindly returned and replanted sections for us. When this didn’t work either I cut willow whips from our huge willow tree by the pond and tried patching it myself (and, yes I am just as confused by the success of the enormous willow by the pond, when the fedge has struggled so badly).

I think this year I might have finally got the message. No matter what I do, the meadow doesn’t want me to grow willow on it, and I need to start listening. I should know better as I have grown up in a farming environment where you work with the type of land and conditions that you have, and grow crops accordingly. I am becoming more and more interested in Permaculture, and the philosophy of using good design, and an understanding of your immediate environment, to develop a sustainable and productive ecosystem. My Dad would probably call this using good old common sense and being familiar with the land.

So, with my growing interest, and the cold hard evidence of a dead willow fedge before me, I have decided to use the principles of Permaculture and,

  1. go with nature rather than fighting it
  2. use what we have on hand in our immediate environment
  3. create something that we can sustain

We recently trimmed a large hedge on the farm just across from the meadow and have ended up with a lot of bundled up sticks and some lovely ash poles. The perfect ingredients to start a dead hedge. Dead hedges are made up of cut wood and trimmings that might otherwise be composted or burnt up. Like a living hedge they make a great home for wildlife but gradually disintegrate as the wood rots down. By adding new branches and trimmings over time you can keep their height and shape.

Dead hedge made from ash poles and mixed native hedge trimmings

Neel has been cutting our ash poles to size to form a double ‘wall’ of supports that will hold the bundles of sticks in place as a new hedge along the top of the meadow. It is already taking shape and I even disturbed some birds using it as a hideaway yesterday. I am hoping that as well as forming a much needed barrier between the campsite and our crops, it will become a home for insects and birds, and a corridor for hedgehogs and other small mammals from one side of the meadow to the other. We will just keep adding trimmings from the farm as we create them. You never know, the small determined willow whips that have survived might even grow into the dead hedge and help to form the structure.

The dead hedge already looks at home in its surroundings, as if it has been there for years. And the moral of this story? Adapt to your environment, find a way to use what is already in front of you, and more importantly for me, be willing to let go and move on.


Dead hedging – a philosophical journey
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