The Beech Hedging

Much of the west lawn is surrounded by an old, high beech hedge.  Whoever planted it should really have planted hornbeam* as, like beech, a clipped hornbeam hedge holds its leaves over winter (this is called marcescense, which is a fine word by any standard) – though the dead leaves are muddier in colour than the golden russet of winter beech leaves.
The west pond with beech hedge beyond – Nov 2010
Also, the Priory sits on heavy Wealden clay which is wet and cold in winter, and beech prefers to be rooted in light and airy soils.  Hornbeam, however, would shrug off not only the poor soil but also the heavy shade caused by the weeping willows and oak.  Fortunately the beech hasn’t cottoned on to how unhappy it should be and generally is thriving..
Last year I had a medium-sized, very pretty hawthorn tree taken down.  It was growing up against the beech and causing the latter to die back.  Sad to cut down a perfectly healthy tree but the beech has precedence.  The die back above was the result of that hawthorn.  Slowly, the beech is coming back.
Ahh.  There are my secateurs.
As beech does thrive at the Priory, I’ve planted three more stretches; another sixty plants.  That was back in February 2010
and they are doing well, with only one fatality.  (Famous last words).  With these new plantings there will always be plenty of beech hedging to trim.  As if cutting the hedge wasn’t a big enough job already – I’m adding to it.  What a big hedge.  What a big job.  This year, I decided to cut the hedge myself with help from Tim (not his real name) who helped me cut the driveway hedging a few weeks ago (see ‘The Mixed Hedging’).
Hibiscus ‘Oiseau Bleu’ – finally flowering (in the rain) after a two year wait.
We set aside last Thursday to do the deed but then, predictably, it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  A day in the greenhouse then.  The following day however, dawned clear and bright and we set to.
It was a long, hard, hot day especially as we weren’t just trimming the hedge but reshaping it. This was because, in places, the shape had been lost or too little taken off in previous years.  There was a lot of cutting off a tiny bit of beech, standing back, considering; cutting off a tiny bit of beech, standing back, considering; cutting off a tiny bit ….
The second arch viewed from the car park
There are two arches through the hedge and it is surprisingly difficult to achieve a nice smooth, symmetrical sweep
and from the west lawn.
up and over from the horizontal.
The main arch – the hedge here is at its thickest.
  In fact it is so difficult and tricky to cut hedge arches that I’ve decided to grow a third!
It’ll be at least five or six years before it attains Adult Arch Status.
Please allow me one before and ….
The amount of clippings produced were, as you can imagine, immense.  But rather than raking them all up and barrowing them out to the bonfire site, I ran over them with the ride-on mower.  They were sufficiently chopped up to be then dumped into the compost bins.
….after shot.  Thanks – you know how much I love them.
Really pleased that we cut the hedging rather than hiring contractors.  The beech hedges are so beautiful, so stately and so very integral and important to the Priory that it seems only right that they be cut by the gardener and, of course,  Trusty Tim.  For that reason it was quite nerve-wracking; they had to look good.
And, hey!  Despite a large wasp nest in the lawn close to the hedge – no wasp stings this time.  Result!
* I’m jolly glad they didn’t.

13 thoughts on “The Beech Hedging

  1. Hi there, yes I'm in the South East of England. I don't know 'zones' I'm afraid but a quick check on Wikipedia tells me that the UK is AHS Heat Zone 2 – does that help? My plants were sown end of March/early April and first flowered on 19th July and are still flowering now. Does that help?

    I do wish yours would hurry up and flower too; the suspense must be terrible. Good luck.



  2. 8/24/11 Gloucester County, New Jersey (USA) David, I cannot tell at a quick glance where you are. I am assuming somewhere in the United Kingdom? Regarding Mina lobata/Ipomoea lobata I see your photos which are lovely. What time of year are yours blooming? I grew them from seed in the spring and have a number of them trellised throughout the gardens. The vines are lush and lovely, but not one bloom or sign of one yet. I get different info on their bloom time. Some say mid summer to fall, late summer to fall, totally a fall bloomer and on and on. All I know is that in my Zone 6-6A I have no blooms. A friend of mine is growing them in Denver, Colorado and has no blooms as of yet either. Again, when are yours blooming and what zone are you in?


  3. Thanks Trevor. Must be funny to be packing all your equipment away. Enjoy the break and good luck with the move. Thought of you a while ago as I poured myself a bottle of Spitfire!

    All the Best



  4. As a fellow hedge cutter can l say a big WELL DONE! This is definitely not easy work and, as you say, needs constant attention whilst cutting. You obviously take great pride in your work and this really shows. I have just finished the last of my clients work. Gardening equipment is being packed and ready for the off. I will miss this work but it will be nice to have a break!


  5. Hi Jason, Mr Marsden? There's formal! Yes, we were both absolutely wiped out by the end of the day. Come and give me a hand next year if you like!!!

    Twiddledy fiddledy dee, Faisal. I would if I could, I would if I could. This is probably the biggest one off job at the Priory – along with the driveway hedging. Really glad to have got it done – for another year. Now contentedly twiddling.

    Hi Stacy, I really, really want to be there when you drop marcescense casually into a chat. The knack will be to use it entirely inappropriately (no-one will know what you're talking about anyway!) smiling sweetly as you do so.

    I do like clipped hedges and certainly agree that they provide a nice sharp backdrop to the garden. But we don't cut them to that end. We only cut them, of course, to stop them growing too big and to keep them nice and tight. I suppose we could cut them in a less formal manner i.e. ragged or cloud but I'm not convinced it would work. There is more hedging at the Priory which I haven't written about or shown (yet); some yew which is also cut annually (I've just done that too) and quite a lot of box that I've planted. I should really like to plant even more as I think it just suits the house and setting perfectly. The hedges nicely divide the garden and block views (increasing interest, hopefully) but I feel the gardens are still too open. More hedges I say! More! Goodness, don't I go on?!

    Hi Petra, Gosh! I have cut hedges with shears before now but none of any great size. I did once apply for a job with a gardener who wouldn't use any petrol tools. Everything was done by hand tools and in retrospect, whilst I admired the ethos (all that lovely quiet) I'm glad I didn't get the job!

    I'm sure Santa will deliver (if you've been good, of course!).



  6. I had no idea there even was a word for what turns out to be marcescense. Hopefully I can remember it until winter and then drop it into casual conversations.

    I'll confess to not being a huge fan of shaped hedges in general, but that's probably just because they're not a part of the heritage out here, though occasionally people will do entertaining things with (well, to, really) junipers. When you do see hedges, they're usually badly hacked and barely alive in commercial landscaping. But yours are looking really lovely and lush (and trim!)–I begin to see the point. Those crisp lines do look nice against all the softer shapes.


  7. Hi Sara, I'm just leaving the young beech for the time being though I do take off any particularly wayward branches. They have to grow to quite a height so I'd rather they did that for now rather than being bushy; they'll do the latter to a certain extent anyway. I grew a hornbeam hedge in my last house, north facing, heavy clay – it romped away. I like it more than this post implies.

    Hi Petra, thanks. What do you cut your hedges with now then? It would take me a month of Sundays to cut the hedges with shears!

    Thanks, Janet. Well, I was a little disappointed how they were cut last year. I was away for a long weekend when they were done and they weren't cut quite how I'd wanted, so it seemed only right to do them ourselves. I'm more a glutton for revels (than punishment) really!



  8. Beautiful hedges – and very well trimmed. I love the arches.
    The beech hedging that we planted along our front border this spring is surviving happily, not looking too much ganglier than your 1-year-older hedgelings. Do you give them a trim to encourage them to grow bushy and knit together, or just leave them be for the first few years to fill out?

    We too ummed and ahhed between beech and hornbeam, our soil being heavy clay too, but the beech just won out.

    We have somewhere else in mind for hornbeam this winter…


Any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.