Dead Hedge

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This is a dead hedge, an ironic name considering the habitat it provides for wildlife. Dead hedges are built from woody prunings, tree branches and foliage, creating shelter and food for insects, small animals and birds. They play an important role in habitat conservation and restoration. The material for a dead hedge is usually produced on site through forestry, pruning or clearing work, and the hedge will eventually compost down back to the earth. The ultimate in sustainability! I helped to build this one a few years ago during a stint as a conservation volunteer at Kew Gardens. First we hammered two rows of posts into the ground, angling in one direction. This made them less likely to bow out and fall under the stress of the ‘filling’  than if they were planted straight up. Next we began to weave the longer, springier prunings between the posts to make two parallel walls that were periodically packed with the ‘filling’ of remaining woody material. We kept building these walls and stuffing them until we were left with a lovely, thick hedge. I wasn’t intelligent enough to take a photograph, but fellow Londoners can see a nice example of deadhedgery (not a word, but seems appropriate!) in the nature reserve Leg O’ Mutton Pond, which lies between Hammersmith and Barnes on the south side of the Thames.

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Bocking 14 Comfrey

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This is my useful and beautiful patch of comfrey,  Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Bocking 14’ . It is a hybrid from parentage both rough (Symphytum asperum) and common (crossed with Symphytum officinale). The deep tap root of comfrey enables it to suck up nutrients from the soil which are then available to us gardeners through its prolifically produced leaves – the whole plant  can be cut right down 4 -5 times in the growing season, the leaves being used for a host of different things that are listed below. I see a comfrey patch as an enhancer of garden health. I got these plants from the Organic Gardening Catalogue a few years ago now;  Bocking 14  is a sterile clone, propagated through root cuttings,  and doesn’t spread the way Symphytum is renowned for.

Comfrey Leaves Can Be Used:

1. As a compost activator

 This adds nitrogen to the heap and helps it to heat up.

2. To mulch the soil

Layers of leaves makes a good thick mulch and provide food for worms and other soil fauna. The soil benefits from the action of the worms, which aerates it, and the addition of humus created when the leaves rot down into its surface

3. As part of a liquid feed (you have to be dedicated to horticulture to bother to do this)

You pack the leaves into a bucket and cover with water. It is advisable to cover this mixture with a lid because as it rots it will stink. After a few weeks you can dilute the resulting liquid  (I would do it one part feed to ten parts water) and use it to feed your plants.

4. As a slug distractor

People who suffer from a surfeit of slugs and snails in their gardens, as I do, will try anything. As slugs are ‘cleaners’, scoffing any leaves that start to rot, the idea is to leave heaps of comfrey leaves in strategic places in the garden and allow them to wilt and go brown. This is supposed to attract the slugs away from your vegetable patch to another meal. However I am not sure if this is just providing a nice hiding place for slugs until they are ready to come and eat my lettuce. Probably you are supposed to frequently inspect the mini-heaps, and remove and dispose of the slugs at regular intervals.

5. As part of a fancy leaf mould mix

This makes a potting mix as it is too strong for seedlings. In a black plastic bag alternately layer 2 year old leafmould with chopped comfrey leaves. Layers should be about 3 or 4 inches thick. Check to see when the comfrey leaves have rotted into the mix and it should then be ready to use. This could take 6 months or less, depending on the time of year.

Although having  the good intention to harvest comfrey leaves,  I rarely do. The plants start flowering and looking majestic and get covered with bees – I don’t have the heart to cut them down! I think I have managed to do it around twice a season, and I’ve added it to the compost heap or used it as mulch. My challenge is to start making leaf mould this winter and look ahead to mixing my own comfrey potting compost.

For The Love Of Ivy

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This particular tree has always caught my notice. It was obviously once host to some magnificent ivy that was killed by cutting a large chunk of its ‘trunk’ (it nearly is!) near the base. The fabulously snaking dead roots still cover the bark of the tree, and some fresh young ivy is now returning to follow the original path upwards. Trees and ivy are a combination that really seems to divide opinion.   Some people feel that the ivy destroys the host tree, smothering it and making it compete for light and nutrients. Others point out that a strong healthy tree should be able to cope with ivy climbing up it, that it forms a valuable shelter and food source for wildlife, and plays an important role in the development of woodland habitat. I think a good way of managing ivy is to allow it to grow up the tree trunk to a certain point, and prevent it from going into the branches. In a gardening situation, it of course depends on taste. If you have a tree with eg. distinctive bark acting as a focal point you may not want anything to detract from that. I myself have pruned ivy in the illustrated way when I was volunteering in a project to renovate some hazel coppice. The woodland under renovation had not been managed for some time, so the conservation group taking charge of the site wanted the freshly pruned hazel to get growing, and other plants, including the ivy, could come back in gradually.