Hedges good enough to eat

Organic gardener Kitty Scully is wild about edible boundaries.

It has to be said that these long dark evenings lend themselves to snuggling up beside the fire and pouring over gardening books and seed catalogues.

In fact, now is the best time for planning what you want to grow next year, making seed lists and working out your crop rotation for next season. But just because it is winter doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do outside in your vegetable garden.

On the contrary, winter is the time for pruning, planting and replanting fruit trees and bushes, acquiring and fixing tools, building structures, doing DIY jobs, turning the compost heap, and generally tidying up the garden in order to lay the finest foundations for a fabulous growing season next spring.

If you intend to enclose your garden with a hedge or need to fill some gaps or replace an old hedge, November to March is a good time to take action. Providing the ground is not frozen or waterlogged, your plants and your pocket will benefit from winter planting. Trees, shrubs and hedging plants grow best when transplanted during the dormant season as it allows root systems to establish before the onset of spring. They can also be purchased and planted bare root at this time of year. Bare root plants are cheaper than potted plants and are certainly easier to transport, faster to transplant and generate less waste plastic pots.

There is a host of non-native, non-food bearing hedging shrubs available but when it comes to creating a living boundary, I recommend an edible hedgerow, that is, using only plants that provide something edible. If you enjoy making jams and experimenting with hedgerow tipples, planting a treasure trove of wild edible delights at your back door will certainly have appeal. And any produce not picked by yourself will be happily devoured by the birds, who will also enjoy nesting in the heart of your established hedge. There is a host of native edible hedge species to choose from, with obvious candidates like crab apple (for jelly), wild plums/damson (for jam, crumbles and syrups), blackthorn (sloe gin), blackberry (for jams, flavoured vinegars and vodka), elder (flowers for cordial in the summer and berries for syrup in the winter), hazel (for protein rich nuts), and dog rose (for delicious rosehip syrup).

To plant an edible hedge, select a site with well-drained soil. Dig out all perennial weeds, remove large stones and enrich and condition the soil by digging in plenty of organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. Your hedge will be there for a long time, so do the job right to begin with. You could opt to plant through a ground fabric such as mypex to prevent weed competition in the early years.

The goal when planting a hedge, is to place plants close enough together so that they create a barrier but not so thickly that they compete and knock each other out. Individual plants respond to different aftercare but as a rule of thumb, cut back all thorn-based plants (hawthorn, rose, blackthorn) by half, to encourage bushy lower growth.

Ask your plant supplier to give you exact planting and maintenance guidelines.

GARDEN NOTES

¦A morning of Floral Arranging featuring Rose Hickey will take place at Carmel’s Garden Centre Kilworth on Tuesday, Dec 11, at 10.30am for Cork Simon. Volunteers will attend for the acceptance of duvets, socks, gloves, etc. Refreshments will be served and all the arrangements will be raffled.

¦ The Pavilion Garden Centre continues its Leisure Learning Programme on Wednesday next at 10.30am. The topic is ‘Transform your home for Christmas’. Don’t forget gloves, scissors, secateurs, foliage and berries. www.thepavilion.ie, 021 4888134.

¦ Ballincollig Flower and Garden Club will hold their members only annual Christmas dinner on Monday next in the Oriel Hotel with a mulled wine reception at 7pm.

¦ Kanturk Flower and Garden Club gala Christmas demonstration takes place on Wednesday, Dec 12, at 8p.m. in the Temperance Hall, Strand Street (next to Alley Bar). Flower arranger Kay Murphy (Mourneabbey) will demonstrate ’Decorating the house for Christmas’. The evening will include a luxury raffle and refreshments with be served. All welcome. Admission €10.

¦ Kanturk Christmas Fair featuring local artisan food producers, takes place on Friday next at 4pm in the Council Car Park (rear of Super Valu). Lorraine O’Riordan’s Gospel Choir will perform prior to the tree lighting ceremony at 5.30pm.

¦ The Irish Garden Plant Society meets on Tuesday next at 8pm in the SMA Hall, Wilton, Cork for a talk by Adam Whitbourn, head gardener at Blarney Castle.

¦ Blackrock Flower and Garden Club’s Christmas party is on Tuesday next at 7.30pm in the Ursuline Secondary School, Blackrock, Cork. There will be a mulled wine reception.


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