Hedge Fortifications

Our usual route to town has been closed for the past couple of weeks, with the flooding of the Selwyn River. Instead of crossing at Coes Ford, we have to drive upstream and cross at the bridge on Leeston Road. It adds about five minutes to the daily commute, but it gives me an excuse to drive past one of my favourite hedges.

Hedges are important out here on the Canterbury Plains. Winds regularly hit 100 kph (62 mph). If the wind isn’t howling from the northwest bringing hot dry weather, it’s probably gusting from the south, carrying rain.

When we first moved into our house, I wasn’t happy about the tall hedge, no more than five metres from the south western wall, that blocks the view and the evening sun. Luckily, we moved in during winter, or we might have cut down the hedge before we fully understood why it was there. After the first screaming southerly storm, I knew that the only reason the house was habitable in winter was because of the hedge.

Hedges protect buildings, crops, and livestock, and most of them are meticulously maintained. The larger hedges are like fortifications, a dozen metres tall and two metres thick. They’re trimmed with strange-looking machines with huge, terrifying spinning blades.

One of my favourite hedges (the one I get to drive past when Coes Ford is closed) is the one in this picture. It is enormous, both in height and length, but I have never seen this hedge looking shaggy, as mine does when it’s in need of a trim. It is always trimmed like chiselled stone. And the marks of the great rotary trimmer blade leave a swirling pattern in the hedge that I find mesmerising. It is almost a work of art.

There are certainly more artistically trimmed hedges–I’ve seen a few clipped into undulating waves, or including graceful archways–but there’s something about this hedge that evokes stone castles. It is artistic in its clean lines and sheer bulk. It’s a hedge to aspire to.