Hedgelaying for beginners

Dunsmore Living Landscape’s Finance & Admin Officer, Man Lan Adams was keen to learn how to hedge lay so joined our recent weekend training course. She shares her experience here:


I was brought up in a village so have always been interested in what is going on around me, especially outdoors. Mind you, my village was set among the rice paddy fields of Hong Kong: quite different from rural Warwickshire even on the wettest of days. I had long been intrigued by the craftsmanship that goes into the beautiful laid hedges that characterise some parts of the British countryside.

As you can imagine I jumped at the chance of signing up to a weekend training course on hedge-laying, so that I could find out all about it and experience, first-hand, just how much skill goes into each hedge.

I turned up on a relatively dry November day along with seven men, who were, no doubt, surprised to see me there. The first thing we looked at was the tall, untidy, prickly, thick hawthorn hedge that we were going to attack. Winter is the best time for this kind of task because the sap is no longer running through the stems, the leaves have fallen and the nesting birds all flown.

We kitted ourselves out with hard hats, protective goggles, thick gloves: all added to our own waterproofs and sturdy footwear. Once familiar with our tools we set to work in pairs, each with our own stretch of hedge to lay.

The first thing to be done was to clear away the dead wood, brambles, and lower side branches. This gave us room to work with, but also let light in to help the hedge re-grow later.

Next came the most brutal bit; cutting through at least three quarters of the stem, at an angle, so that the remaining bit could be bent over without snapping it off. We trainees were not licensed to use chain-saws for this, but had to manually cut, saw and slice through using traditional tools like billhooks and bow saws. I have to admit, this was hard work and not a little scary.

Along with these new skills, I also learnt some new words. For example, a ‘pleacher’ is the part of the stem to be bent over; the remaining part is the ‘butt’ from which new growth will sprout.

Because we were working with the Midland or Bullock Style of hedgelaying, we wove the bushy tops of the pleachers between a series of stakes. The final stages were to bind the results with cut lengths of willow to strengthen the hedge and keep the pleachers in place and to trim the tops of the stakes making everything tidy.

At last we could step back and survey the transformation we had made. We were lost for words and could scarcely believe our eyes. We shared a tremendous sense of achievement and satisfactions with the result. Only a day before there had been an old, straggly, overgrown and untidy hedge. Now there was a living barrier, not just beautiful to look at, but a conservation feature providing a natural corridor and shelter for birds and small mammals. We had done our work, but the hedge itself would now be able to continue to regenerate and grow for many years to come.