The brilliance of Ireland’s rural landscape is all it is touted to be. The rolling pastures are more than 40 shades of lush green.
About 64% of Ireland’s land area is used for agriculture. Farmland forms a rich patchwork of vibrant green fields used for pasture, hay and grass silage, rough grazing, crops, fruit and horticulture production. Hedgerows demarcate the continuum of parcels in the panorama.
Overall Ireland’s landscape is relatively flat with the highest point on the island only 3,415 feet. However, the rolling aspect of the land allows innumerable vistas across miles of verdant terrain which is visually enriched with pattern created by the hedgerows as they segment the land.
The Irish use hedges to mark domestic perimeters, provide privacy shields and to blend buildings naturally into the landscape. It is not unusual to see cows, sheep or horses grazing in hedge defined front and side yards of homes.
On farmland hedges provide property boundaries, windbreaks, barriers for stock and mark the edges of each field. Often hedges grow on raised banks of earth derived from the excavation of drainage ditches
Most of Ireland’s hedgerows were planted in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some hedgerows were removed during much of the 20th century to facilitate intensive farming techniques; however, the government has sought to replant and rejuvenate the resource through The Rural Protection Scheme in 1994 which called for the protection of hedgerows. In response farmers have undertaken to replant and reinvigorate the living barriers. Currently more than 62,000 farmers are involved in the revitalization of more than 6,000 miles of hedgerows.
Today Ireland has the lowest tree cover of all European nations. It is the result of centuries of deforestation caused by man’s effort to create farmland, industrial activity and climate change. Forest cover diminished from 80% to less than 1%. Government schemes and grants to stimulate afforestation over the past several decades have produced mostly manmade forests now less than 25 years old. Cover has increased to about 11%.
Meanwhile, ubiquitous hedgerows provide an important substitute for forest edge habitat natural woodland would otherwise afford: habitat for pollinators, insects and wildlife.
Since 2004 farmers have undertaken to replant and rejuvenate more than 6,000 miles of hedgerows to build up the environment for birds, insects and small animals. Today’s hedgerow length throughout Ireland is estimated at about 186,000 miles. The wildlife friendly hedges improve connectivity across the landscape.
Plant material for hedges may be single species or mixed, evergreen, deciduous and perennial. Property owners are encouraged to use native and adapted shrubs, vines, small trees and wildflowers. Shrubs and trees provide cover and nesting places. A pollinator friendly mix of flowering plants contributes blooms in spring and produces seeds and berries in the fall.
Here in Coastal Carolina we have lost naturally wooded areas by giving the land over to development. With that we, too, lose diverse plant material and wildlife habitat.
One or two isolated native plants in the garden are a start to restoring local vegetation, but a couple of plants are not enough rebuild the original natural community. However, a mixed hedge of just 10 ft. or so offers more opportunity to plant two to three shrubs, perhaps a small tree, a vine and native flowers. It can offer shelter and nesting space for small wildlife, flowers for pollinators, host plants for larvae, as well as berries and seeds to feed other critters vital to our ecosystem.
A mixed hedge creates a beautiful wildlife garden whether you site it close to your house for privacy or at the edge of your property.
Aim for five blooming pollinator plants per season. Use flowers with single instead of double blooms—double varieties provide little pollen. Plant perennials—they provide a better source of pollen and nectar than annuals. Consider leaving a strip of long grass along your hedge where wild flowers can bloom in the grass.
Some top plants for mixed hedges include hollies for berries and cover, shrub roses for rose hips and nesting, Indian hawthorn, pittosporum, boxwood, crabapple and cherry laurel. Consider butterfly weed, echinacea, black-eyed Susans, sea holly, St. John’s wort, solidago and monarda for seasonal blooms.
The mixed hedge is an idea worth stealing from Ireland.
Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at email@example.com.