Posted by: lialeendertz | March 23, 2010

Rescued by a pile of sticks

I have been meaning to make my dead hedge for some time now, but it was a little heartbreak that finally pushed me into it. Not exactly a thing of beauty, is it? It was a bit of a rush job, considering the circumstances, and I will pimp it later. It is serving a purpose. More than one, actually.

A dead hedge is a rather grand name for a pile of sticks. You build two parallel fences, pile in your twigs and very, very slowly they rot down, but in the meantime they form a bit of a feature, plus they make a home for beneficial insects. I’ve always been troubled by quite what to do with woody garden waste. You can burn it, sure, but I don’t have space for a bonfire. You can chip it, if you have a machine, which I don’t. Or you can take it to the dump. This is what used to happen. Until recently my husband was a jobbing gardener. He tarted up people’s gardens, a bit of planting, pruning, a lot of clearing and tidying, plenty of trips to the dump. Clippings went into a big builder’s bag, and when it was full he would spirit it away. Occasionally I would have a moan: ‘I don’t want you to take all this stuff to the dump all the time. I want to build a dead hedge, I want to deal with all the garden’s waste within the garden.’ But then the bag would disappear, and I would go about my business, outwardly concerned for the unsustainability of it all, secretly pleased it was gone.

So I’ve been teasing you a little, haven’t I? OK, here come’s that heartbreak. Michael, said husband, was diagnosed with ME in September. I’m determined not to bang on about this, although I could, obviously. Suffice to say it is very, very rubbish. The heartbreaking stuff came thick and fast at first as we scaled down expectations, set aside plans, and started dealing with the boring, everyday reality of illness. I have toughened up and they have slowed a little now, but I probably still get an average of one of these moments a day, sneaking up and knocking the wind out of me for a minute or two.

This particular moment involved a builder’s bag that had been in the garden since just before the diagnosis, filled with dug up turves from widening the beds, and sticks and twigs and various roots of vicious perennial weeds. It looked ugly, it was killing the grass and I was determined to shift it, at least out of sight. But it was a dead weight. I really gave it my best shot but it was one of those hopeless moments: no amount of will power or determination is going to make any difference here, I simply physically cannot do it, and there’s nobody to help. Michael was there, he watched from the verandah. He was having a bad day, and there was nothing he could do.

And so I started making my dead hedge. It isn’t how I imagined it. My idea was to get some native hazel or chestnut poles, drive them into the ground in two parallel lines, and then weave multi-coloured willow stems in between to make the two walls. In reality I grabbed whatever was to hand, which of course was bamboo canes, shoved them into the ground and piled in the turves and the woody waste. It is not especially lovely, but I love it anyway because it put me back in control and made me feel like I could tackle this garden myself, get rid of the bloody builder’s bag (it’s long gone now, by the way) and maybe force something positive to come out of this weird new life.



  1. I have a dead hedge – well sort of. The fence at the back of my garden is set on concrete panels – very ugly. In one corner I have been piling up woody rubbish from the garden to hide the concrete for all the reasons you give. Been doing it for couple of years and whilst it isnt gorgeous to look at it is doing a good job.

    On the subject of ME, I was diagnosed with ME years ago (wrongly I think) and a friend of mine has been dealing with it for some years. For me the best help I got was from a homeopath. She looked at all sorts of things incl diet etc and within 6 months I was better (hence my doubt over whether it was ME). For my friend the trigger was stress, she is well on the way to recovery, has moved to Italy to marry an italian (!), organised a wedding in Italy (no mean feat I can tell you) and overseen the building of a new house. She is also living in a country where the language is not her own. All this within 2 years of being diagnosed. Yes she has bad days but they are generally when she has been trying to do too much. She has learnt to organise her life so that if she has a busy day, a couple of quiet ones follow. I hope that helps you feel more positive

  2. Lia, Michael – sorry, ME completely sucks. My next door neighbour has ME and makes her way round the bad days. I can’t imagine what it’s like, but this new reality just pushes you farther along the spectrum of doing-the-impossible that parenthood has already started you on…viz balancing sleeplessness, parenting, housekeeping with working, not shouting too much, the loss of personal time, etc. Whatever it is, you can do it. Just don’t forget to stop & pat yourself on the back sometimes, because you’re doing something very hard, and you’re doing great.

    Sheila Averbuch – Stopwatch Gardener

  3. That’s bloody awful – the diagnosis, not the hedge I hasten to add. Must be very hard for you all.

    I’d not heard of the idea of dead hedges before – well at least not purposeful dead hedges – but I might try one of those in future.

  4. I love your dead hedge, what a great concept. Sorry about the sucky bits of life, hope they improve for you soon.

  5. But what looks like a dead hedge will be very much alive. As you say, beneficial insects but all sorts of life which is good for the garden. Much better than taking it to the dump.

  6. Speaking as somebody who has killed a number of hedges in my time – by sawing, burning and digging (both mechanically and by hand) I consider myself a bit of an expert in this field.
    I think your hedge fulfills all the necessary criteria perfectly: to whit, it is hedge shaped and everything in it is dead. Another name for such a construction could be linear dump.
    Soon,however, it will teem with busy wood lice, the occasional grass snake and a cute family of mice wearing clothes.
    The next step would be a series of children’s books, an animated TV spin off, a computer game and a line of Lia’s hedge crockery (designed by Emma Bridgewater for Habitat).

    I am so sorry to hear about Michael. Sometimes life is not so much a bowl of cherries but a basket of thorns..

  7. Like the idea of the dead hedge, I made a Bug hotel with the kids at school last year , however they dismantled it recently much to my annoyance & that I suspect of the residents! A dead hedge would be a good project for this year.

    Sorry to hear about your Husband, take care

  8. If a pile of woody branches and long-life leaves, pinned behind something counts as a ‘Dead Hedge’, then I have two. And I’m very pleased to have a name for them. They won’t need to be called ‘piles’ any more. I explain to guests about wild creatures and leaf mould and I can see them trying not to think ‘pile because she has no-where else to put it’.

    Along with the others, well . . . what does one say? Long term illness, disability, conditions which come and go – they are like living in a trap (for the whole family) and doing something which lets your hands get muddy and which smells of leaves is a pretty wonderful escape. I hope you get lots of these escape moments – and when Michael has good days, may he do too.


  9. I hear dead hedges are most fashionable, so perhaps we here in the south west will follow your example and catch up with the trend at last.

    As for ME – that is a blow. I’ve several friends who’ve recovered, so do hang onto the fact Michael can get better. It’ll just take a very long time and well, those good days will seem like Christmas, birthdays and everything in-between rolled into one when they happen. Treasure them.

    I took one of my ME friends to Malvern Spring Show last year. It had been her ambition to go ever since she’d been diagnosed and it was wonderful to make it happen for her at last.

  10. Im shit at hedges, and you’re obviously not. I think I may try one of these, so thank you for the inspiration to.

    And a huge hug – how shit for unpleasantnesses like ME to be around x

  11. Perhaps you could expand your writing to include a book on all forms of dead gardening. It might shift well.

    As for the rest of stuff, ie life, sometimes it sucks. Dead hedging sounds like the perfect therapy/antidote for at least a small corner of it.

  12. This afternoon I was wondering what to do with raspberry canes, twigs and other garden rubbish instead if burning it. Now I have the answer, thank you very much.

    I am so sorry that life is so rough for you and your husband at present. I hope things will soon start to improve for you both. Please give yourself a virtual hug from me and take good care of yourself. Love from Gilly

  13. Sorry to hear about the shoddy bits of life, Lia. But your hedge is not one of them. Great idea. Wish I’d thought of this before. hang on in there.

  14. What a fabulous idea, and what a great way to seize back some control. So sorry Michael has ME, have the wretched illness myself, and know only too well how it curtails life and activity and derails plans, for sufferer and all around. Gardening is one of my saviours, though the scope of it is rather limited depending on how good the day, so this touched me on several levels. Kudos for finding a way to turn rubbish into something positive, and for being so honest in your post. All the best, and hope your seedlings stop stinking soon!

  15. ME is the pits – so hard for all of you. Good to see you fighting back out of the misery cloud. Hope we can all help keep your spirits up.

    Fence great artefact and a reminder of how you can get back into the driving seat when things are overwhelming you.


  16. I remember at Hyde Hall, the chap who single-handedly set up and then ran the volunteer scheme in the garden did so as a way of fighting back aginst his ME, which had forced him to quit his job. It was bloody tough for him, and I feel for you, it must be hell.
    I love dead hedges, used to make lots in Essex. You can jazz them up with a layer of top soil and some turf on top. A project to do together when Michael has a good day maybe? xx

  17. It needs a name and you, as a practitioner, need one too.

    Extopiary & you are an expert extopiarist.

    *add to CV*

  18. Sorry about your problems.
    Well done you for keeping on the go.
    Hedge probably worthy of the Turner Prize. Are you the next Tracey Emin-don’t answer that!
    I have last few years in wood put piles of clippings and prunings beside the tree they come from. They very gradually subside into the woodland floor.
    Even Robert is getting green!
    Best Wishes

  19. Thanks so much everyone. Yesterday was spent with lots of tears. Somehow writing this down made it more real, maybe it was the realisation that I can no longer pretend online that everything in my life is perfect and wholesome and delightful. Or perhaps it was just people being so nice to me, like when you burst into tears becuase a lady in the chemists asks you if you’re alright. But today i feel great, and I’m glad I wrote about it now.
    I am really pleased so many of you like the idea of the dead hedge too (or have them already!). I have always thought this is such a great solution to a problem, and obviously an even better one if I can make it look nice too. I am determined to do so, and will keep you posted, of course. Thanks x

  20. Hi Lia,
    This is the first time I have visited your blog – hello!

    The dead hedge is a brilliant idea and with a little pimpage it will come on lovely (and frankly when did wildlife ever care what things looked like, anyway!).

    Was sorry to hear about the ME. My sister in law has a phrase – ‘it may be humble, but it exists’ for those things that one achieves despite life’s vicissitudes, frustrations and disasters. Marks in the sand that mean that you just might get there, in the end, regardless. Things like hard-won dead hedges.

    Good luck and take care,


  21. Hi sorry to hear about Michael, I enjoy your blog and will try to merge my various ‘piles’ into a dead hedge at some point.

  22. Everyone has already said what I would have said had I got here earlier. Love the dead hedge. We burn a lot of things as we have the space and I plant a lot of live hedges. Maybe I will add another form of hedging.
    So sorry to hear about the ME. Everything I know says take it very slowly. Look after yourself too.

  23. Great hedge. This just the inspiration I have been looking for. We have 3 trees on our plot and have trimmed them back to let in light. This seems a great solution for the branches, plus to provide a bit of privacy by the shed and a home those bugs. Thank you, great blog. Sorry to hear about your hubby’s illness. Look after each other… I hear gardening is a great help! 🙂

  24. Hi, Lia,

    I’m so sorry about your husband’s illness. It’s really tough when the life you thought you were going to have together turns out to be somewhat different.
    Please don’t struggle with physical tasks, though. If you’re anything like me, when my husband was ill, it will just be a really painful reminder of the things you did in the life you used to have.
    People will want to help, and they won’t know what to say, so put them to work in the garden! They’ll feel they’ve done something to make your life better – and you get all your rubbish shifted.

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