Category Archives: Horticulture

A Mediterranean Diet is Good for You

Is there anything a Mediterranean Diet can’t cure?

Specifically, I wonder if a Mediterranean diet can help to cure this terrible head-cold I’ve suddenly contracted?  Or more likely stop me from catching a cold in the first place? Well yes it could ~ but only if I really upped the amount of raw garlic I eat.

A diet rich in oily fish, fresh vegetables, olive oil, garlic, and nuts protects our bodies and our brains, especially as we get older.  However, to get the most benefit from a Mediterranean diet we also need to cut down on alcohol ~ one drink a day for women, (try not to spill it, and drink red wine, not white), and one or two drinks a day for men.  Lucky for me I don’t drink at all these days.  But, a glass of red wine every day is actually very good for you.

It isn’t only the Mediterranean peoples who ate that type of diet, the Vikings did too, and nobody ever accused a viking of being a sickly wuss.

Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.  ~  Hippocrates

People from the Mediterranean region have longer life expectancies and are generally healthier than people from Northern Europe and the United States of America.  The United Kingdom ranks 19th and the USA 31st in terms of average life expectancy, (out of 183 counties listed).

People from around the sunny Mediterranean have lower risks of suffering; Alzheimer’s disease,  type 2 diabetes, cancers, colitis, depression, heart diseases, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pancreatitis, and strokes.  Trust me, you do not want to get type 2 diabetes, and you really, really, don’t want to have a stroke.

A proper Mediterranean diet isn’t all baguettes, pizza, pasta, and roasted lamb with lots of herbs.  A healthy Mediterranean diet consists of the region’s fruits, vegetables, (especially leafy greens like spinach), seafood, olive oil, cheese, and a couple of glasses of a robust red wine.  These are all anti-inflammatory foods.

But you also need to add a lot of fresh air, sunshine, and lots of physical activity to the mixture to obtain the most benefits.  If you are not already doing so, then you should walk 10,000 steps a day, both to improve your health and help prevent an early death.

Modern scientific evidence suggests that many, (some), of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet accrue directly from all the good olive oil included in just about every recipe, dish, meal eaten around the Mare Nostrum.

Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fatty acids, (MUFAs), which are supposed to be good for you ~ at least the Mayo Clinic says that MUFAs are good for you.  In fact the well-respected Mayo Clinic says that olive oil is good for you ~ in moderation.

So; your Mediterranean diet should include;

  • The very best extra virgin olive oil you can get.  Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest fat on Earth.  Only ever buy extra virgin olive oil.
  • Fresh fish.  The oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, pilchards, and sardines are full of vitamins D, B, omega 3 fatty acids, and selenium.  Eating oily fish a couple of times a week is said to help prevent; arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, dementia, prostate cancer, schizophrenia, and blindness / impaired vision.
  • Green fruits and vegetables.  It seems that eating green plant stuff can reduce the risk of cancer, helps maintain strong bones and good teeth, and promotes the health of your eyesight in your senior years.  Popeye was right all along, spinach is good for you ~ and so are kale and dandelion leaves.
  • Garlic.  Everyone knows that Mediterranean people eat a lot of garlic.  The Ancient Egyptians used garlic as a medicine.  Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed a hell of a lot of garlic.  The health benefits of garlic include; fighting off allergies, keeping bacterial and viral infections at bay, improving your skin, prevents colds and sore throats, reduces the risk of thrombosis, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, helps prevent type 2 diabetes, reduces cancer risks, helps beat anaemia, and improves your sex life, (if she can stand the smell).  If you can manage it, eat raw garlic, especially if you have dental problems.
  • Nuts and seeds.  Walnuts, almonds and other nuts are good for your heart.  It seems nuts and seeds contain lots of unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, plant sterols, fibre, vitamin E, and something called L-arginine.  Allegedly L-arginine does wonders for your sex life.
  • A glass of a robust red wine, (when I was drinking I would always choose an Italian red).  The health benefits of red wine were known as far back as the ancient Egyptians.  It seems a regular glass of red wine boosts heart health, lowers bad cholesterol, reduces the risk of degenerative diseases, helps reduce he risks of type 2 diabetes, stops you being so obese, and may prevent Alzheimer’s

However, some things about the Mediterranean lifestyle are very, very bad for you. Men from the Mediterranean coasts of; Spain, France, Corsica, Italy, Greece, (and less desirable places like Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia and Albania), smoke far too much, drive like maniacs in unroadworthy heaps, drive when they’re drunk, and sleep in the afternoons when they’re drunk.  In medieval Hell-Holes like Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt you will just get ripped off and / or assaulted / shot / blown up.

And yet, parts of the Mediterranean are among the most beautiful, most magical, most spiritual places on this Mother Earth.  Guys, take your girl there, soon and often.

I’m glad I am a woman who once danced naked in the Mediterranean Sea at Midnight.  ~  Mercedes McCambridge

A Mediterranean Diet is not only good for you, it has some utterly fabulous, great tasting recipes.  Mix Mediterranean with Paleo and you may well have the perfect diet for your health, fitness, well-being, and gustatory satisfaction.

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

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Old Wives’ Tales are True ~ Mostly

Folklore connects us with the wisdom of centuries past.

Modern science has ‘proved’ that old-fashioned weather lore is pretty accurate ~ for England anyhow, and what Gentleman really cares about any place but England?  We shouldn’t call them old wives’ tales because much true ancient lore comes from sailors, soldiers, and farmers.  Weather lore is often very accurate.  And while older people often give good advice, the wisdom of ages past, seniors don’t much like taking advice from the young.

Advice in old age is foolish; for what can be more absurd than to increase our provisions for the road the nearer we approach to our journey’s end.  ~  Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Going back beyond Roman Times, our oral history is full of rhymes, anecdotes, adages, warnings, and axioms.  They wouldn’t have lasted this long if there wasn’t a lot of truth in them.

  • Red sky at night, sailors delight.  This appears in the Bible, where it relates to shepherds.  It means that if the sky is red at sunset, then tomorrow will be a fine day ~ and this is mostly accurate.  In fact this saying is utterly reliable when the weather comes in mostly from the west, as happens in Great Britain.
  • Mackerel sky and mares tails make tall ships carry low sails.  If there are high clouds that look like the scales of a fish, (altocumulus), and / or streaky clouds like a horse’s tail, (cirrus), then we are due for a storm with high winds within the day ~ allegedly.  As it goes, this is always true.  A prudent skipper will be ready to shorten sail if he sees a mackerel sky.
  • St. Swithun’s Day.  If it rains on St. Swithun’s day then it will rain for the next 40 days and nights.  This lore, and the poem that goes with it can be traced back to the 14th Century, but probably goes as far back as the 9th Century in Southern England.  It’s mostly not true ~ we never get 40 days and nights of consistent weather in England.  However, St Swithun’s Day, (or St. Swithin’s Day), is on July 15th, and you can guarantee that if it does rain on that day England will have a wash-out of a summer.  As a matter of fact, it rained all day here on St. Swithun’s day this year, and the weather has been very wet ever since then.
  • It’s too cold for snow.  In England this saying is true.  It can be too cold for it to snow.  Actually the whole saying is a misconception, it should really be ‘it’s too dry to snow’.  Very cold air is always dry air, because only warmer air will carry water vapour, and you need water vapour in the air to have snow.  It almost never snows in bitterly cold Antarctica.
  • A ring around the moon means rain or snow is coming soon.  This is very true, and also applies to predicting the arrival of a hurricane.  The ring around the moon, (less frequently a ring around the sun), is due to ice crystals forming in cirrus clouds in the high atmosphere.  If you remember cirrus clouds are also the mare’s tails that predict storms.
  • A stitch in time saves nine.  This saying goes at least as far back as the 18th century in England, and it’s completely true, relevant today, and utterly applicable to our lives.  What is means is that if you sort out a small problem now, it will save you from it growing into a much bigger problem in the future.  It is exactly analogous to that other saying One year’s seeds is seven years weeds, which appears in Shakespeare’s Richard II.  Ignore a small problem and it will soon grow into a great big problem.  Ignore acorns and before you know where you are you will be up to your armpits in oak trees.
  • There will be the devil to pay.  Meaning that if we do something very bad there will be terrible consequences later.  This is always true.  This saying has nothing whatsoever to do with Satan ~ like many English epigrams it has maritime origins.  ‘The Devil’ was the longest seam on a planked wooden ship, and ‘Paying’ means caulking.  If you’ve ever done it you’ll know that caulking a seam on a boat is a heartless task, involving thick string-like stuff, tar, a special caulking chisel, a hammer, and a lot of time.

A hell of a lot of English folklore goes back at least as far as the Roman occupation of Britain; for example ‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need’.  This saying is supposedly from Marcus Tullius Cicero, who died in 43 BC.

The snag with using folklore for your weather forecasts is that you don’t get to see the cute weather girls on TV.  Seems a guy can’t have everything.

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

 

 

 

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Air Pollution and Insomnia

The health effects of air pollution imperil human lives.

So, you have trouble sleeping?  Air pollution in your bedroom could be the reason you suffer from insomnia.  If the air in your bedroom isn’t as sparkling clean and clear as the freshest mountain breeze, it’s quite likely that you will suffer from insomnia.

The clever people in white coats tell us that people living in areas with raised nitrogen dioxide levels, (for example if you live near a busy road), were up to 60% more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation than were people living in places that had clean air.

These new findings indicate the possibility that commonly experienced levels of air pollution not only affect heart and lung disease, but also sleep quality.  ~  Dr. Martha E. Billings

Air pollution increases the risk of you having breathing problems during sleep ~ which will naturally wake you up, or at least give you poor quality sleep.  Breathing problems during sleep have also been linked to night terrors and nightmares.

So what can you do to improve the quality of the air you breathe in your home, and especially in your bedroom at night?

  • Use non toxic paints when you decorate.
  • Sanitize your telephone frequently, and never use the phone late at night, or when you’ve been drinking.  And, never, ever smoke in your bedroom.
  • Choose hard floors over carpets ~ carpets are just a jungle of muck, dirt, pet dander and dust.  If you can’t easily change your flooring vacuum at least twice a week.
  • Choose solid wood furniture over composites which will give off formaldehyde over time.
  • Turn your mattress frequently, use a washable mattress topper and wash it weekly
  • Use allergen proof pillows, and change your pillowcases every couple of days.  Change all your bed linen weekly.
  • Don’t put clothes you have worn outside on the bed.
  • Open the windows on breezy days to air your home.
  • Buy an air purifier for the bedroom.  The EPA has a guide to air cleaners in the home.
  • Have air filtering plants in your home, especially in your bedroom.  Choose low-maintenance varieties such as; Mother-in-Law’s Tongue / Snake Plant, Spider Plant, Garden Mum, (the garden mum removes formaldehyde, benzine, and trichloroethylene from the air), Boston Fern, and the Peace Lily.  Think about a nice, green, air filtering plant on your desk at work.

Our homes are not the safe haven we think they are.  Most people are adversely affecting their health just by breathing the air in their homes and offices.  You too can be affected in lots of ways when you are continually exposed to the polluted air in your own bedroom, and particularly around your own bed.  You may suffer problems such as; skin complaints, breathing difficulties, and insomnia.

Sleep disturbance is especially common in women, starting at their midlife.  As good sleep is essential for good health, it’s important that we do something to improve the quality of our rest at night.  And it behoves us to improve the quality of our sleep, starting right now.

O sleep, O gentle sleep.  Nature’s soft nurse, how I have frightened thee.  That though no more will weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness.  ~  Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

 

Your dirty phone may be affecting your health.

Air Purifier at Amazon

prebiotics for health

With good digestion all can be turned to health.

Most people know about probiotics ~ which are ‘good’ bacteria mostly found in dairy products such as live yogurt.  Many of us buy products containing probiotics in order to improve our health.  The snag is, which among all the myriads of bacteria in the probiotics we buy are actually ‘good’ for our own unique body and gastrointestinal tract?  When we take probiotics we are taking on trust that whatever is in the live yogurt we’ve just bought will benefit us ~ and it might not.  Most probiotics in products such as yogurt are proprietary strains of bacteria created in a laboratory, and yet they are not subject to regulation.

Putting probiotics into foods that don’t naturally have the beneficial bacteria might not make these products healthier, higher quality, or worthwhile additions to the diet.  ~  Dr. Patricia Hibberd

In any event, some of us can’t abide yogurt and most other dairy products that might contain probiotics.  Milk makes me feel sick.

So what’s the alternative?  Turns out it’s prebiotics which act as a fertiliser for the ‘good’ bacteria that’s already in our gastrointestinal tract.  Prebiotics help your own ‘good’ bacteria to grow and stay healthy.  Prebiotics have many benefits that makes them a better idea than probiotics.

Why should I care one iota about the bacteria I’m carrying around in my intestines?  It seems that the bacteria in our gut has a major influence on our health and general well-being.  Some of the smart people in white coats aver that the bacteria in our intestines are even more important than that ~ allegedly our bacteria even affects our moods and behaviours.  Some say that our gut bacteria is our body’s second brain.  And, that the way people think is linked to the bacteria in their gut.  All I know is that if I eat the wrong stuff I feel slow, lethargic, and miserable.

All disease begins in the gut.  ~  Hippocrates

It’s the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut that actually digests most of the food we eat, looks after our immune system, and protects us from seriously harmful bacteria.  Our ‘good’ bacteria are essential for our good health.  Without these ‘good’ bacteria we can become prone to nasty illnesses such as; acne, early aging, autism, asthma, allergies, cancers, cardiovascular problems, colitis, anxiety and depression, diabetes, obesity, stress, ulcers, vitamin deficiency…

I need to look after my ‘good’ bacteria, and one way to do this is to eat high-fibre foods rich in the prebiotics that act as a fertiliser for the ‘good’ bacteria already in my gut.  There’s a long list, but mostly these prebiotics are raw vegetables which are quite indigestible; raw Jerusalem artichoke, raw dandelion greens, raw leeks, under-ripe banana, raw garlic, raw asparagus, raw chicory root, raw wheat bran, and onions any way you like them.  (Thank the Gods for the onions and banana ~ the rest of that list looks yuck.)  Also honey is a very potent prebiotic, as is unpasteurised apple cider vinegar, (such as Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar).

Turns out that sushi containing cooked and cooled rice is a rich source of prebiotics.  I hate sushi.

Almost nothing influences our gut bacteria as much as the food we eat.  Prebiotics are the most powerful tool at our disposal if we want to support our good bacteria ~ that is, those that are already there and are there to stay.  ~  Giulia Enders.

Prebiotics have several well-documented health benefits;

  • Improved digestion.
  • Enhanced immune system.
  • Better uptake of dietary calcium and magnesium.
  • Stronger bones, increased bone density.
  • Cancer prevention.
  • Reduced risk of dementia and other neurological disorders.
  • Reduced risk of high blood pressure and strokes.
  • Reduced risk of diabetes.
  • Better controlled weight and appetite.
  • Improved bowel regularity.
  • Better balanced hormones.
  • Reduced propensity to anxiety and depression.
  • More energy and better concentration.

Your body is colonized by a vast array of microorganisms that modulate every aspect of your health and physiology, moment to moment, and you can optimize your health by nourishing and protecting these microbes.  ~  Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Mercola

If you want to make the most of an increased intake of prebiotics, then under no circumstances drink diet soda, eat anything made with wheat flour, have too much refined sugar, drink too much booze, eat pasteurised flavoured yogurt, buy cereal bars or breakfast cereals, eat chips, (crisps), of any kind, and especially never have anything with high fructose corn syrup in it.  High fructose corn syrup is highly addictive and extremely bad for you.

In fact, whether you’re eating more prebiotics or not, don’t have anything listed in the preceding paragraph ~ all of those things are very bad for you.

The conclusion is; taking probiotics is most likely a waste of time, and could possibly be doing you harm, especially if you take your probiotics as a yogurt drink.  Conversely, eating foods rich in prebiotics will most likely improve your health and help to stave off several nasty, or even life-threatening illnesses.  For fitness in body, mind, and spirit, as well as improved health overall, it’s worth fertilising the ‘good’ bacteria already in your gut with prebiotics.

Luckily for me a Paleo diet is supposed to good for giving you lots of prebiotics.

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

click on the picture

to buy apple cider vinegar

Flowers for Love

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

not every woman loves the same flower

nor wants the same flower from her love

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jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

Flowers

Things haven’t been going to well for me recently ~ so, I wanted to post something happy and pretty today.  I hope that you all like these flowers.

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jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

flower faces

expression of delicate frustration

turning a painted face to the sun

perfumed treasured spring bloom

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words and pictures by jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

Medicinal Plants ~ Rosehips

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Autumn is upon us, and in England the hedgerows are full wild harvest.  One of these is the false fruit of the dog rose, (rosa canina), more commonly known in England as rose hips.

p1050177You can do a lot of stuff with rose hips, from making syrups and jams, to my preferred use which is to make a tincture of rose hips and rosemary in apple cider vinegar.  As well as sweetening and adding taste to the cider vinegar. the rose hips also add diuretic, lithontriptic, and mild laxative qualities to your brew.  As for rosemary, this stuff is almost a cure-all.  I just add an odd number of fresh sprigs to the bottle, (it must be an odd number.)

The finished product, (ready in about 6 weeks and will keep for a year or more), is a great basis for a salad dressing.  Diluted in water it is also a first class tonic and as part of a whole-body cleanse.  There is no truth whatsoever in the rumour that this is a female aphrodisiac.  However, it is supposed to be a cure for practically whatever that ails you.

You can also make a true tincture of rose hips using medicinal alcohol, (or vodka).  For those of us with a real taste for booze, just make a rose hip brandy or vodka.  I have even heard of rose hip gin, although I’ve never tasted it.

The dog rose is an important plant to the herbalist, because the leaves, petals, and hips all have their uses.  In a hedgerow, the plant may reach six feet or more in height, its flowers can be anything from white to a delicate pink, and if will guard its bounty with some particularly persistent thorns.  (You can also use the hips, leaves, and petals of the cultivated rose, but I would look for a rose variety that’s as close to the wild rose as possible.)

The mixture of rose hips, rosemary, and organic apple cider vinegar is as near to a sorcerer’s brew as anything I know.

~

canina1jackcollier7@talktalk.net

liebster-12

the warmth of a real a log fire

Now that autumn is drawing in, there’s nothing much nicer than sitting near a crackling log fire.  Cats love being near the warmth, and the flames seem to fascinate the little assassins.  Almost every woman you meet will love to curl up in front of a log fire, if you’re lucky right next to you ~ or the cat anyhow.  Burning wood is environmentally friendly, (more or less), and it’s a much cheaper and nicer way to heat your living-room than oil or gas.

Well, let me tell you, if you’ve never had a log fire, (or a wood burning stove), then it’s all a lot more complicated than you’d think.  First of all do you have a fireplace, or a wood burning stove?  Do you even have a chimney?  Look outside, are there neatly stacked plies of seasoned firewood?

Start with the basics, and assume that you at least have a fireplace.

When was the last time the fireplace / stove was used, and when was the chimney last swept?  Burning wood creates ash, smoke, soot, and tar, which then goes up the chimney, and some of it sticks there.  Birds and other creatures nest in chimneys, or on top of chimneys.  Dead stuff and other crap falls into chimneys.  If in doubt thoroughly clean out the fireplace and chimney, (this should be an annual job anyway).  If you’re a useless wimp and in real doubt get some guy to do it for you, (if you have never seen a fall of soot you have no idea how filthy, stinking, dirty that is).  If you don’t have a clean chimney some very bad things could happen; the fire may not light, your house may burn down, you may die.

Do you have some firewood?  Have you any idea how much seasoned firewood you can get through in one winter ~ even if you only light the fire / stove at weekends?  Do you know the difference between hardwood and softwood?  Have you ever used an axe, log splitter, saw, chainsaw?  Do you own a truck?

We could see that gas was costing us too much money.  That’s why we made the choice to go to the wood burner.  It’s easy to do.  Cutting firewood is putting a little sweat equity into it, is all.  ~  Jerry Lambert.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn average sized home could easily get through two cords of wood in a winter, just to heat the lounge in the evenings ~ Jerry Lambert must be one fit actor, or he buys in his firewood by the truck load.  I have cut, hauled, split, stacked, and brought firewood into my home ~ and let me tell you it’s hard work requiring some expertise in everything from forestry to using hand tools.

The Finns have a proverb; Judge a man by his firewood.  If you can haul enough firewood to heat your lounge in a cold winter, then you’re a real man.

Open log fires can spit sparks onto the hearthrug, burning embers can fall out, and they are quite inefficient, (maybe 10 to 15%).  Really, an open log fire is for looks, cooking the odd whole side of lamb, (cooking with wood is by far the best way to do a lot of meat), and for snuggling near in the flickering light, (much better than scented candles).

vermont_encore_woodburnerTo actually get some heat into your home by burning wood, what you need is a wood-burning stove.  These are heavy, expensive, usually iron or steel, use much less wood for the amount of usable heat you get, and you can also get your hot water and central heating from the thing.  Some come with pretty glass doors so you don’t lose the joy of watching the flames, (or you can open the doors while your girl is snuggling with the cat).

If you don’t already have a stove, you may need a professional installer to put the thing in for you ~ or you could start learning some practical skills.  One benefit of a wood-burner is that you do not need a working chimney, you can run a steel flue outside of the house.  (If you don’t understand that, then you do need a professional installer.)

The choice of stoves is huge, and mostly limited by your wallet.

The last time I built my own place I had a pretty little stove with glass doors in the lounge, and a much bigger, utilitarian, stove in the kitchen for cooking, central heating, and hot water.  I also owned 18 acres of woodland, a tractor, and passed my chainsaw certificate.  My cat, Pyewacket, loved those stoves, but I was always too damn busy shifting firewood to take his picture sitting next to one.

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Pyewacketjackcollier7@talktalk.net

liebster-12

Wildlife Gardening ~ Hedges

There are hedges and then there are hedges loved by wildlife.  In this, (quite long), guest post by my friend Gillian Rooke she discusses some of the things that go towards a hedge designed to really attract wildlife.

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Guest Post by Gillian Rooke

So many people now are looking out into their gardens and seeing  only a lawn  surrounded by close boarded fencing. Perhaps in a tiny town garden this is understandable, but in a long garden that could be beautiful? More people seem to be into minimalism now, which is fine indoors, but nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum. I am not a minimalist. I love intricate shapes and interesting textures. Horses for courses of course; and there is one way of making a minimalist garden that is good for wildlife:- replacing the fencing with hedging.

Hedging is gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds at the moment, which is very encouraging. Even I can find a striped lawn surrounded only by hedges exciting and uplifting. There is something about the angle of the green, going suddenly from horizontal to vertical that makes the senses swirl. And the things that one can imagine existing beyond a hedge are far more romantic, than anything one might find behind a fence.

Also hedges can be taller, Putting up a close boarded fence over six foot in height, requires very strong foundations, and neighbours and even the council can condemn it as an eyesore, whereas a neatly cut hedge can go on up to ten foot in a front garden. Very few people object to a huge ornamental hedge. I have seen them with crenulations and windows; really fantastic.

Of course in a back garden where the hedge is a boundary you need a neighbour that also loves hedges because he will have to cut his side, or let you on his land to do it. It makes a very good talking point though, especially if you plan between you what plants you would like to use.

Before advising on the planting I had better say a word about the wildlife of a hedge. As you probably know, hedges in the countryside are arguably the most important wildlife habitat. You have the two essentials side by side for miles: deep thick cover, and long grasses and flowers. A hedge provides the best cover of all habitats. Because the outside is cut back, the branches thicken up and  make better supports; a strong framework for nests, and the leaves on the outside are very close together providing an excellent screen.

This green cathedral is a sanctuary for wildlife of all kinds, from the monkey-pea, and exotic species of millipede and centipede that delight in the rich black leaf mould, through the spider species with webs of all kinds, catching the aphids and all the small wasps midges and flies, to the reptiles and amphibians and the burrowing mammals that can find a permanent undisturbed home here, among the rows of dark pillars that rise from the mould. And then, higher  where the pillars turn into vaulted arches, you find our most beautiful song birds living the safest and most productive lives that are to be found anywhere. Large predators cannot penetrate a well kept hedge, nor can torrential rains wash nests away or wild winds destroy them.

So why not create something so beautiful and so needed as a hedge? Here’s how…

Field hedges tend to be mostly of hawthorn blackthorn or hazel. The first two are good for domestic hedges which abut a road, because they are deciduous and the lower branches don’t get so messed up by traffic. Also of course they flower which is nice. But these hedges, because they are trees not shrubs are looser than you would really want in a neat garden. The twigs are just that much too thick to be cut well by domestic hedging shears, and the leaves aren’t very pretty.

Everyone is familiar with the deep green velvety texture of the evergreen  Leyland hedge, but this although very beautiful  has the one big drawback that it is very fast growing, and needs to be cut so very frequently. If you can afford it or can take to time to grow it, a yew hedge is even more beautiful and much easier to manage.

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Two non coniferous trees which make superb hedges are beech and the evergreen holly oak.  They are quicker to establish than yew and make equally good tall hedges. However when using trees for hedging, you have to consider the width of the trunks, and the spread of the roots. These hedges will spread outwards and may end up, in fifty years or so, as much as eight foot thick. Also you shouldn’t plant forest trees close to the house, even if you are going to be cutting them back all the time. While they are fantastic hedges; the beech keeping  its rich brown leaves all winter and the hollyoak turning bright silvery yellow with its new leaves, they are not; because of this thickening, suitable for  gardens of less than half an acre.

In smaller gardens it is better to use shrub hedging rather than trees.

The smallest and daintiest hedge of all is the European Box, Buxus sempervirens. This is most often used as a tiny hedge for dividing beds from paths, for making divisions within herb beds, and most famously for topiary. It is very slow growing with tiny leaves and so is capable of being shaped in great detail. It is actually a small tree, and left to its own devices will grow to thirty feet or more. The fact that it has a trunk, and a very strong one, makes it possible to create fantastic and durable living sculptures.

Another hedge which is very similar in appearance to the box is the Lonicera nitida, but while it looks the same, as a clipped hedge, its habit is completely different. It grows very rapidly and is difficult to keep clipped although it does make a very smoothly sculpted surface. The drawback of this little honeysuckle is the weakness of its stems and their habit of twisting round each other, which means that as you are pruning one section you can be killing branches in a completely different section. Also it is prone to collapsing and needs to have a post and rails to keep it upright if you want it as a sizeable hedge, or a permanent armature if you are using it as topiary. It has another even worse drawback, in that bits keep coming up where you don’t want them.  As with all the other green hedges a golden version is also available, and marbled in with the green it can produce a striking effect.

Flowering hedges. Many people may be surprised to learn that privet has a flower. Unpruned it makes a bush of up to eight foot which is covered in summer  with white frothy floppy candles with a delightful strong heady scent. Unfortunately it is impossible to keep it in any semblance of a clipped hedge and still retain the flowering.

One that everyone knows is the Forsythia, with its brilliant yellow flowers in early spring. This does flower very well as a hedge and indeed it should always be pruned fairly closely. However it is deciduous and the branches show twigs between the leaves even in summer. It is really rather unattractive when not in flower.

Most of our garden shrubs have an inverted conical habit. They grow up on many long stalks which fan out into a wide, domed area of leaves and flowers. You could shape the top of them loosely into an elongated hedge but there would be nothing but bare branches close to the ground. However by putting a flowerbed at the base of these plants to hide the bare stalks, you could use the height of plants such as philadelphus or wigelia or lilac as a continuous barrier hedge. This type of hedging is useful if you have a boundary wall which is not quite high enough to provide privacy. However these plants do not cut back strictly as a hedge and although they should be pruned, they should also have space to ‘billow’ a bit, and of course flower.

My favourite flowering hedges are the Berberis .There are two main types of which there are various cultivars. Berberis  thunbergii  is a short  usually purple leaved variety, (atropurpurea) with yellow flowers. It makes a neat attractive hedge up to four foot, which is almost as beautiful when not in flower.  Berberis Darwinii has thinner glossier leaves which are usually at least partly retained through the winter, and deeper orange flowers which make a solid wall of colour. It is an altogether tougher, stronger growing plant and can be self supporting to six foot in a sheltered location.  Berberis are also useful for keeping trespassers out because they are thorny.

There are also some pretty hedges grown for their leaf colour. Choisya is usually found with a golden leaf and it also has a nice white flower. Aucuba the spotted laurel is very famous, although with its large leaves it is difficult to shape,  Photinia fraseri red robin, is a wonderful  plant although it is also difficult to clip. It makes a barrier rather than a hedge.

hedgeWith all this choice, (and I’ve only named a fraction) of planting, and of course you can mix and match, who wouldn’t want to look out on a hedge rather than a close boarded fence?

With a hedge you have the beauty of seasonal colour changes, but best of all you will see goldfinches, long tailed tits, linnets etc etc flying out of your hedge to your bird table and you will know that they are nesting, part of your family, sharing your space, and not flying in perhaps from miles away to grab a few mouthfuls and try to keep their distant chicks from starving.

Next time I will tackle Wildflower lawn versus wildflower meadow.

 

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