Living close to the hedge

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Informality is part of the pre-Christmas scene; people pop in unannounced; singers stop by for a quick rendition; that normally sullen-faced bloke with the unruly wig suddenly finds a comb and a smile.

So, why not let this informality, this lightness, this feeling of well-being, spread into the garden? Instead of order and regimentation, let’s have some organised chaos, a bend in the straight rules, a little bit of help for the birds.

Why the birds? Because they do a lot of good in the garden and bring year-round cheer, so if Christmas is a time for giving, let’s give them something in return. It may be an extra scoop of bird food – or it may be the promise of planting something they will truly appreciate.

For most gardeners and gardens, that could be something as simple as a few extra flowers whose seedheads will bring winter food and cheer; or, if there’s room and resolve, it could be something as big as a hedge.

And not an informal hedge, but an in formal one, providing a wonderful habitat – and food – for birds, small mammals and insects.

Native plants like the hawthorn, the magnificent blackthorn, hollies, hazel and even a few viburnums, like V opulus and V lantana, an occasional crab apple, and, of course, the ever reliable beech.

Fagus sylvatica can grow into a huge and imposing tree, but it can, with a bit of considerate pruning, be trained to live and grow as a substantial hedge. It will keep most of its leaves throughout the winter, providing an excellent windbreak and a great place for small birds to take shelter.

Beech will grow in most soils (although it’s not very fond of heavy clay) and it always looks its best in the sun.

And you don’t have to have just green leaves; there are beech which come with golden foliage, and a lovely purple leaved-form, the copper beech, purpurea.

Just think about it this Christmas while you’re tucking in to the turkey and mince pies.