This week is Devon Hedge week.
We haven’t celebrated the beauty and diversity of our hedges this year by opening the farm or holding a hedge event because last year when we did the heavens opened with a vengeance and all our hard work was rewarded with but a handful of brave souls. To cap it all, the seasonally decorated barn full of delectable autumn goodies was flooded, the sheep went walkabout, cattle bawled hideously and hid under the trees and stress levels reached new dizzying heights – making it a thoroughly miserable affair!
A different story this October. The sun is shining; the stock content; and we walk around our hedges and admire their glory in solitary splendour.
We manage our hedges by laying and cutting in rotation. We don’t cut every year, except for one or two hedges along the lane to keep it open. Instead we prefer to cut once every few years, often at five or six year intervals. This does, it’s true, create an unsightly mess for a while, but nature soon disguises the ragged ends, and a few months into the next season you wouldn’t know. And we are rewarded by our hedgerows bursting with wildlife and looking stunning. We don’t want the neat suburban short back and sides favoured by many, instead we want colour and richness and life.
A good many years ago we were trying to find out why our ancestors had put so much effort into building hedge banks in this part of the world. A visiting anthropologist from Brittany told us that where he came from it was believed that the souls of said ancestors rested in the trees planted in hedge banks. I like this explanation; also it’s one of the best we’ve yet come across to explain why hedgerows throughout the Celtic world have been planted on banks.
All through the rest of the country, man planted his hedgerows straight on the ground, or at most on a small bank thrown up from digging a ditch. In other, usually upland areas, they use the stone cleared from fields to build walls, but here in the West Country we have these massive earth banks, often stone faced, but far bigger than needed just to mark ownership boundaries or keep stock in or out of fields.
Anyhow, whatever the reason, cultural or otherwise, I’ve decided I want to be buried on the farm in a bank, and I’ve chosen my spot. In a pot, an acorn (from a very special oak tree) is slowly growing into a tree that will be planted on top of me.