Author’s Childhood Hedge

Privet hedge in winter makes a strong horizontal line and separates the farmyard from the house at the author's childhood home.
Privet hedge in winter makes a strong horizontal line and separates the farmyard from the house at the author’s childhood home.

I grew up with a 120-foot privet (Ligustrum spp.) hedge that separated our farmhouse from the barnyard. The hedge was planted by my father or perhaps grandfather around 1930. The hedge is in every early picture of the farm, so no one alive today is really certain when it was planted or who planted it. I grew up cutting the hedge after my father taught me. No electric tools for this hedge trimming, just a hedge shears that my father had sharpened. I recall how much my arms hurt and hands blistered when I first cut the hedge, but there was a great sense of satisfaction in seeing the formal shape emerge. And mistakes were easily outgrown in a few weeks by the tough privet plants.

My sister, who lives in the farmhouse now, cuts this hedge once or twice a year. I believe it was planted to keep animals (chickens and sheep) away from the house, and it symbolized a formal cared-for landscape. The hedge creates a strong horizontal grounding for the house, which stands uphill behind the long hedge. As my sister says,” It makes a frame for the house.”

A formal hedge is quite a lot of work for a farm. Typically farms require functional plants, since there is limited time for labor on ornamental plants. I like to think that my father added the hedge for beauty and for a more formal landscape. 90 years later this privet hedge is growing strong and certainly could outlive me!

Did you grow up with a hedge? Is pruning a hedge a passage of summer chores and labor that you were taught? Who cuts the hedge in your landscape?

Mary Meyer's Father, William Hockenberry, August 11, 1973 walking through the privet hedge at her wedding reception at the family farm.
Mary Meyer’s father, William Hockenberry, August 11, 1973, walking through the privet hedge at her wedding reception at the family farm.