Grow a foraging hedge

By Helen Billiald

There’s something deeply satisfying about hedgerow foraging. The gathering of nuts or making of jams, jellies, liqueurs, syrups, fruit gins or vodkas to squirrel away in a store cupboard must appeal to our ancestral hunter-gatherer instincts, as well as our taste buds.

If you’re not surrounded by miles of native hedgerows, planting your own in the garden couldn’t be easier. November until March is bare-root hedge planting season, so now’s a great time to get new woody planting schemes into the ground.

There’s a wealth of hedgerow plants offering something for the kitchen, the trick is tailoring the plants you choose to the space you have and the upkeep you can offer them. If you wish for a typical British hedgerow mix then you do need room – lots of room – to do them justice. A foraging hedge could include hazel, wild cherry, crab apple, damson, cherry plum (sometimes called myrobalan plum), wild pear, hawthorn, blackthorn and elderberry. Allow some brambles and dog rose to scramble through and you’ve a cornucopia to pick from. Should you be keen to go the staunch native route, keep in mind plant provenance and contact nearby nurseries, you might be able to source trees that have been propagated from your local area.

Two plants, blackthorn and elder, should only be included by the bold. Blackthorn suckers like an advancing army and its spines are horrific – you can see why it makes such good livestock-proof barriers, while elder also has wandering tendencies.

For a more formal looking hedge, reduce the planting diversity. You could grow hawthorn with standard crab apples and it wouldn’t look out of place in the suburbs. Even blackberry can be tamed, with plenty of large-fruiting, thornless cultivars on the market. You could go as far as a single species mix – Rosa rugosa produces hips just like the dog rose (Rosa canina) and its fruits are perfect for Vitamin C-rich cordials.

How often you prune will also have a big influence on what you can pick. Hedgerows tend to be cut back just once a year, or allowed to grow for several years before laying. If you cut too tight, too often, you’ll forfeit future harvests. You can get round this by including trees as standards, with a more tightly pruned hedge running between, try damson, crab apple or wild pear as well-spaced standards. 

READ MORE Subscribe to our digital edition