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The Art and Craft of



Kate Ellis, hedgelayer extraordinaire, reveals some of the secrets of her ancient craft to Samantha Allemann.

Photos by Vivienne Hamilton

When Kate Ellis was living in the UK, she came across an unusual sight in the country fields. 

“I was perplexed at what looked to be the butchering of hedgerows, but then I discovered it was the traditional way to restore old hedges,” she recalls.  “Hedgelaying is a traditional rural craft, but it’s still the only way to restore a hedge.  Trimming it simply encourages top growth and won’t extend the life of the trees, whereas laying a hedge promotes growth from the base up and ensure it lives on for another 70 years.”

Hedgelaying does indeed have its roots firmly in the past, having been first noted in 57 BC by Julius Caesar in his report on the Battle for Gaul.  

“He described how tribes along the French border laid down bushes and brambles in an attempt to keep stock in and soldiers out,” Kate explains.  “Hedgerows were the traditional form of fencing and have been planted and laid throughout Europe for many centuries.”

While Australia’s early settlers continued with the tradition of planting hedges as fences, the trade was shortlived once heavy machinery and wire fencing were introduced. 

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