The principal hedging material I use for my hedge is privet. Privet is a shrub native to Asia that made its way through Europe and to America over the centuries. There are many varieties of Privet, but the one I use is the common Ligustrum vulgare, which can be found all over North America. I wonder if Privet was ever reintroduced into Asia. In the United Kingdom, the most frequent hedging shrub is the Korean privet or Ligustrum ovalifolium. Privet can grow to extraordinary heights. I’ve seen some privet plants that exceeded ten feet in height. However, since privet seldom grows thicker than 3 inches, it will fall over once it reaches its maximum height. I knew it was time for the big trim last winter when I saw the shrubs laying to one side after a hard snowfall. The hedge maze might look exotic in the snow, but a broken privet shrub takes a long time to grow. When the shrubs are burdened with snow, they can die if left on the ground too long. Especially if they are uprooted. Privet transplants without much trouble. My hedge maze was created by moving the hedge line around the front of my house into a pattern on the lower property. Privet sends out runners as one means of propagation. Since the roots are shallow, it’s possible to dig up a privet shrub with ease and separate into many individual saplings. In a few years, the shrubs grew together and created a nice wall for the hedge maze. Privet grows fast. Within two weeks of the hedge line trim, green shoots sprang up on the branches. In four weeks, it was not easy to tell the plant was bare in the recent past. I’ve seldom seen a transplanted privet shrub die. If one dies it was from lack of water most of the time. It can also die if it receives too much water. I was forced to put a small fence in place at the lower corner of my maze since ever privet shrub transplanted there fell over when it rained. Privet produces white flowers in the spring, soon followed by small blackberries. Don’t eat the berries, they are toxic to humans. In fact, all parts of privet are toxic to humans. So, don’t eat the berries, make tea from the flowers or chew on the leaves. Some birds feed off them, however. When the hedge maze is in full bloom, around April and May, it has a pungent scent. The smell doesn’t last very long, for which I am grateful. I will admit that privet doesn’t have a set schedule on which it blooms. I write this in September, and I’ve seen a brush in full flower just last week. As always, these are generalizations. I see where privet replaced a lot of iron gratings from the Victorian era in England as a hedging material. During WWII, there was a movement to cut down all the iron fences in England for the war effort. Most of the iron fences didn’t go into armaments- the metal requirements are too stringent- but many of them did end up as ballast in ships. There are rumors of Victorian iron fences appearing in Northern Africa when the locals saw the ballast dumped out on the shore. They realized what the British dumped and carted them away for their own houses. Anyway, privet was grown to replace the former iron fences and is found all over England. Privet can be ordered from many online suppliers, but it grows plentiful in the temperate zones. The prospective maze builder should be able to get all the plants he or she needs for free. Privet is an invasive plant in many areas. I constantly must pull out privet saplings that pop up out of the ground in the wrong place. If you live in Eastern Pennsylvania, get in touch with me, I probably have a few I can spare. Actually, I have more than a few. I try to repurpose the privet saplings as I hate to see good privet go to waste. Chopped down, privet makes good firewood. You should let it dry out for a year first. Since privet contains close to 25% water, there’s no immediate danger of spontaneous combustion. I’m in the process of chopping up the privet brush mountain which resulted from the Big Trim, so I’ll keep the readers posted in case any sudden fires erupt. I’m trimming the small twigs off the privet as I pull it from the pile. The smaller ones should break down quickly. The larger limbs I’ll saw up and use in the fireplace next year. They seem to burn quick, to its not like an oak log that will burn steady for hours once you get it going. A small collection of dry privet limbs burns fast. It makes good kindling for a fire and will dry-out other forms of wood that take a long time to ignite. The limbs grow out and begin to divide once the shrub reaches a height of 6 inches. The limbs don’t always bifurcate, which is good. They form dense structures, not too stiff for stopping a determined person from penetration to the other side of the hedge line. However, it’s more than enough to scratch up any unprotected skin. This is another reason I always wear gloves and long sleeve shirts when working in my hedge maze. It’s way too easy to get your hands cut-up if you work around the privet. Or your arms filled with scratch marks. Nothing allergic has resulted in my casual contact, other than the occasional run-in with a poison ivy leaf. In any event, make sure you treat any cuts or scratches as the common soil contains plenty of nasty microbes. Sometimes I worry that the privet is self-aware. I’m no Secret Life of Plants type, but there are days when they seem to know when I’m coming out to the maze. I’ll leave that one to the mystics.
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