Wildscaping with hedgerows

Part of the Wildscaping/Rewilding series (4th Thursday of each month)

Joyce, Master Gardener (Rideau Thousand Islands) describes Rewilding or Wildscaping, as a conversation between ourselves, the land and all the beings with whom we share the land …. connection with place. She sees it as a way to heal our relationship with earth. This blog summarizes Joyce’s presentation about Rewilding with hedgerows. In it, Joyce describes the term, and contrasts it with the typical suburban hedge. She follows with suggestions on how to approach creating one yourself, including hedgerow themes and principles to consider.

Hedge vs hedgerow

Rocky Dale Gardens, Vermont

In our typical suburban landscape the hedges we see are controlled monocultures, and often cedars. Hedgerows, by contrast, are polycultures.

The broadest definition of a hedgerow is that it consists of a long, fairly narrow arrangement of usually native, woody and herbaceous plants (trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs or flowers, and often including vines). It is used as an edge, or border, of a property, a field, or a road or path, or as a shelter-belt near buildings. It could be narrow, perhaps fifteen feet wide, or it could be much wider, looking and functioning like a linear woods, or a long oak savanna. It is entirely possible that an urban or suburban yard could encompass a mini-hedgerow and, if neighbours had the same, the individual groups could join to form a functional corridor. Depending on where you live and what your purpose is, the possible variations are nearly limitless. There is no generic hedgerow; it is always completely local, completely place bound and tailored to its ecosystem. Hedgerows and fencerows full of native plants can thread like ribbons through a landscape, serving as corridors, wildlife refuge and genetic banks carrying valuable plant DNA into the future. Thus a hedgerow allows for biodiversity which Robert Macfarlane describes as a “wondrous, teeming, calamitously threatened variety and variability of life on earth, sometimes measured by species richness.

Designing with hedges

Changing our view of our hedgerows and rethinking how we see the edges of our properties provides endless possibilities.

Hedges can create a series of ‘garden rooms’ each with their own individual character (Alex Schofield Landscapes). Hedges should be to a garden what walls and partitions are to a house. They can mark boundaries and provide privacy from without, act as a background to garden displays from within, give emphasis to formal designs, or separate one garden area from another. Because the purpose of a hedge is to form a barrier, division or corridor, it should end in a fixed object such as a building or a massed planting. A hedge that ends in space loses its effect.

Alex Schofield Landscapes

Hedgerow themes

A range of themes can be used to help focus selection of plants for example

  • Woodland hedgerow
  • Edible hedgerow
  • Edible/ wildlife hedgerow
  • Hedgerow for wind breaks
  • Pollution breaks
  • Thorny hedgerow as a fence or barrier (for example keep chickens in a yard)
  • Flowering hedgerows with a focus on bees and pollinators.
  • Windbreaks and fire defence as illustrated by permaculture designer Bill Mollison
  • Perennial hedgerows

How to Increase Biodiversity with Hedges

Southern Wild Garden Design

An existing tree (in this example a large deciduous tree) offers a starting point from which to anchor a hedge. Layers that include trees, shrubs, and perennials create excellent bird habitat.

  • Link your hedge to existing trees, water sources, woodland habitat or neighboring hedges or
  • Merge the hedge into a planting of native perennial plants.
  • Include flowering native shrubs that provide nectar and fruit
  • Include a variety of shrubs that flower and fruit throughout the growing season
  • Avoid the use of pesticides, including herbicides that target dandelions (an important early season nectar source)
  • Choose plants that are appropriate for your area and growing conditions.
  • Avoid unnecessary pruning or trimming, especially during spring through mid-summer when you are likely to disturb nesting birds
  • Avoid unnecessary raking especially in spring and fall. Many species of Lepidoptera roll up in leaves and over-winter in leaf litter which provides additional insulation. The environment created by leaf litter and dead plant material is critical habitat for insects, toads and salamanders.

Some principles to keep in mind

Cultivate a plant community

Biodiversity  leads to resilience. A minimum of ten species in your hedgerow supports more wildlife throughout the season. Mix conifers and deciduous to allow for winter protection for birds. Effective designs generally limit the number of specimens (a plant grown for exhibition/ to create interest).

Think in layers including

  • Canopy
  • Understory
  • Shrubs
  • Living mulches
  • Carpet the ground
  • Roots and tubers and bulbs.
  • Vines (once trees/shrubs have had some time to establish themselves to allow for adequate support)

Think multiple gifts

  • Edibles for people or wildlife
  • Protectors (insectaries)
  • Feeders (Nitrogen fixers)
  • Miners (minerals)
  • Beauty

Combine shapes

Architectural, grassy, mounding, spreading, erect, cascading, ferny

Diversify edibles

Fruits, nuts, berries, leaves, roots, tubers, bulbs,  sprouts, shoots, flower buds, pods, petals, hips, seeds.

Think life expectancy

Perennial, annual, biennial, ruderal.

**Wikipedia defines ruderal as: A ruderal species is a plant species that is first to colonize disturbed lands. The disturbance may be natural – for example, wildfires or avalanches – or a consequence of human activity, such as construction or agriculture. The word ruderal comes from the Latin rudus, meaning “rubble”

Consider density/spacing of planting

When considering spacing several rows of plants are more effective than single rows and close spacing more effective than wide spacing. Typically a hedgerow is planted much more densely than has traditionally been advised – 3 trees or shrubs per metre. This facilitates the plants in the hedgerow to support each other and promotes faster growth and healthier plants. Think of a hedgerow as a tiny forest. One example of this is the Miyawaki forests started in the Netherlands on areas the size of a tennis court.

A background of evergreens sets the stage for deciduous shrubs and perennials and ensures winter interest. Gaping holes in perennial plantings in the winter are avoided by layering woody plants and shrubs for year round interest. Plantings are overlapped so that plants “hug” each other.

Rethink and reimagine your yard

Consider creating your own hedgerow, your own “ snaking berm of exuberance that draws you into the symphony of the living world.” ~Robert Mellinger, Whidbey Institute


Walnut tree hedgerow

If you have a walnut tree it can be challenging to know what to plant with it. Here are some suggestions:

Mulberry, (Morus rubra), Snowberry, (Symphoricarpos), Wild roses , (Rosa spp.), Eastern waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata), Sweet woodruff, (Galium odoratum), Solomon’s seal, (Polygonatum biflorum), Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus), Pawpaw(Asimina triloba), Elderberry , (Sambucus spp.), Woodland strawberry, (Fragaria vesca), Daylilies, (Hemerocallis spp.), Sweet cicely, (Myrrhis odorata), Wild ginger (Asarum canadense

Showcase gardens in Kingston

  • Lakeside Community Gardens is establishing a hedgerow (next to Centre 70)
  • Utilities Kingston Bioretention Pond (85 Lappan’s Lane)