The Philosophy Of Hedges
Hedges are protective, productive and permeable. They offer haven but also permit the flow of light and air. They respond to change by organic adjustment and they can sustain themselves. They are a metaphor for healthy boundaries, rural or urban, able to adjust and yet still retain integrity.
Hedges have always fascinated me. As a small child I walked with my sister and father along country pathways between fields, my father, a rural science teacher, all the time pointing out the features of the hedges,and explaining how, as living things, these hedges had been both nurtured and shaped – sometimes for many centuries -whilst they in turn sustained life for other plants, and birds and animals.
The craft of the local hedger, the names of his tools and the names of all the bushes, grasses and wildflowers… details now elude me, but abidingly the ideas underpinning of the significance of hedges remain.
It is not therefore surprising that the gardens of my homes as an adult have always been enclosed by hedges. Some were there long before I arrived, but quite a few have been planted and grown by ourselves. I especially enojy it when I find a tiny shoot growing from a random seed or berry, and can plant it amongst the larger inhabitants of our urban hedgerow. Thus in the fullness of time have emerged quite a number of hollies, some buddleia and even a few rustic roses and hawthornes.
The urban meaning of hedges
My professional life now is a thousand miles away from the innocent rural ambles of my childhood. Perhaps the contrast is almost Cider With Rosie vs. The City; but the significance of boundaries for me continues to be beyond doubt.
People still require boundaries, real and metaphorical, for their comfort and protection. Not many of us feel at ease in unmarked and uncharted territory. But, whether we consider and acknowledge it or not, a metaphorical ‘brick wall’ can be constraining in a way that a ‘hedge’ never is.
Hedges let us see the light next door, they permit the passage of air (but diminish the onslaught of the gale), they support life in a host of ways. Brick walls, on the other hand, block light and air, and do not offer sustenance and safe haven to small creatures. Hedges may take years to grow, but they adapt and respond organically to change. Brick walls are quickly constructed but come down only when they are dismantled – and then they are no more.
Protective, productive and permeable
The hedge as a boundary is a model for both rural and urban life. Hedges protect, but they don’t constrain, they are productive but they are organic in their response to their environment, and they are permeable, enabling flow of light and air without any loss of their role in defining boundaries.
Rural fields and urban communities alike need to be marked out. But let’s not forget that the marking of boundaries is best done in ways that respond to changing needs and opportunities over time, encouraging cross-over and the flow of the small ideas which may one day become big players on our territory. Hedges with their rich ever-changing diversity, the haven for a host of hidden small lives, serve us better than brick walls.