HEDGES THROUGH THE AGES: C.18th

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Over the next few posts, we’ll be looking at hedges through the ages, starting in the C.18th, a dynamic and radical time in our horticultural history…

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HEDGES THROUGH THE AGES: C.18th: Philip Miller FRS

In fact we are concentrating on one man – Philip Miller FRS (1691 –1771). He was head gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 1722 until just before his death and became one of the most influential of C.18th  English botanists and gardeners. He was also a prolific author and his monumental The Gardener’s Dictionary containing the Methods of Cultivating and Improving the Kitchen Fruit and Flower Garden remained the text to which gardeners first turned for decades. It was first published in 1731 and went through eight ever enlarged editions during his lifetime. It is from this book that this and subsequent posts all quote.

We start with a few general observations he made upon the hedge:

Hedges are either planted to make fences around enclosures, or to part off and divide the several parts of a garden: when they are designed as outward fences, they are planted either with Hawthorn, Crabs, or Black Thorn, which is the Sloe, but those Hedges which are planted in gardens, either to surround wilderness quarters, or to screen the other parts of a garden from sight, are planted with various sorts of plants, according to the fancy of the owner, many preferring evergreen Hedges, in which case the Holly is best, next the Yew, then Laurel. Others, who make choice of the deciduous plants, prefer the Beach and Hornbeam, English Elm, or the Alder…

When a Hedge is grown old, i.e. of about twenty or thirty years growth, and there are in it old stubs as well as new shoots, the old stubs should be cut off within two or three inches of the ground, and the best and longest of the middle size should be left to lay down , and some of the strongest, at the height of five or six feet, according as you design the height of the Hedge to be, may be left to serve inftead of stakes, and fresh stakes should be put in those places where they are wanting. The Hedge should be then thinned, so as to leave on the stubs only such shoots as are designed to be of use, that there may be room left to put a spade in between them.

I shall next treat of Hedges for ornaments in gardens. These are sometimes planted with Evergreens, especially if they are not intended to grow very high in which case, they are planted with deciduous trees. Evergreen Hedges are planted with Holly, Yew, Laurel…

Many people prefer the Yew, on account of its growing very close for when these Hedges are well kept, they will be so thick as that a bird cannot get through them, but the dead colour of the Yew, renders these Hedges less agreeable. The Laurel is one of the most beautiful greens of any of the evergreen trees, but then it shoots so luxuriant, as to render it difficult to keep the Hedges which are planted with it, in tolerable shape ,

Our next post will feature his thoughts on topiary and other matters of taste. As we’ll see as we look at hedges through the ages, so much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same…