www.barrowvoice.co.uk - First Publised 1975
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Hedges are Interesting Things

I thought for summer I'd write about hedges. Interesting things hedges; it’s said that you can tell the age of a hedge from the variety of trees and shrubs it contains. It’s only a very approximate guide though… what you do is take a 30m length of hedge and count the species of trees and shrubs it contains. They say for each species found you can add 100 years… there again you don't know what was planted originally! It’s fun to look though. Most local hedges are hawthorn and blackthorn; these stay prickly all year round providing a safe barrier for livestock kept in the fields.

Look for other shrubs and trees such as ash and oak that are left to mature, and shrubs such as elder, blackberry brambles, dog roses and even wild woodbine. These are often brought to the hedge as seeds by nesting birds that use the hedges as a safe place to rear their young. Hedges have been around since Saxon times and there may still be evidence of their ridge and furrow method of farming in unploughed meadowland.

I think the dog rose (Rosa Canina) is one of my favourite hedgerow shrubs, it usually flowers in early summer. It’s pretty delicate, pink, five-petalled flowers open on long, wiry branches that ramble their way through the thorn hedges adding to the impenetrable barrier with their sharp thorns. Later, in Autumn, the red rosehips begin to form. Inside these tough red cases are the seeds of the next generation. To allow these seeds to germinate, the hard, red casing has to be broken down. Mother Nature, being wonderfully inventive, makes the hips attractive to animals and birds so that they are eaten and naturally transported away from the parent plant. Even those hips not eaten have a chance as a good sharp frost will help to break them down and allow the seeds to germinate. Rosehips are a useful source of vitamin C. Rosehip syrup I especially remember from my childhood as a preventive against colds and flu.

There were few over-the-counter supplements in those days and blackberry vinegar, made by a friend’s mum, was sent to anyone suffering winter chills - or given to us children who begged a warm drink in cold weather. Look closely at hedgerow flowers and you'll see that the flowers of the blackberry are very similar to the dog rose… five petals around the pollenbearing stamen… then look at the hawthorn flowers, tiny by comparison, but they are the same. They all belong to the Rosace family.

The more you look at shrubs and flowers in the wild, and in the garden, the more you can spot family members, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha to name but two, and most fruit trees… it’s a big family! The rose has a very long history; they have been cultivated by the Greeks and Chinese for over 3,000 years. Possibly originating in Central Asia the rose spread all over the northern hemisphere but it seems not to be native below the equator. Amazingly fossils of roses, similar to our dog rose, have been found dating back millions of years. Imagine that! Roses have been here in all their delicate beauty well before man walked this earth and the lovely cultivated blooms we see today all have their origins in the humble dog rose.

Maggie J