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A psycho-analysts guide to hedging

My father used to say that you could always judge a person's character by the car they drive, whilst a friend maintains that you can best evaluate someone by looking at their clothes. Neither of these approaches work particularly well for me so I've developed my own, somewhat unusual, reference criteria. I weigh people up by the hedges they have in their gardens.

The bordering, and hence enclosing of a piece of land is a very English concept and dates back to the Eighteenth Century Parliamentary Enclosure movement. The objectives were initially economic, today, though, we plant hedges for all assortment of reasons.

Because hedges serve different purposes to different people, by according a particular hedge with a purpose, and therefore an underlying motive, I can deduce back to what sort of person would plant such a hedge. This character identikit can be fleshed out further by an array of supporting material. Let me give you an example.

You walk up the driveway of a pleasant but ordinary looking, detached house bounded by neighbouring properties. On one side is a sprawling informal screen of Berberis thunbergii, on the other a four metre high X Cupressocyparis leylandii. The Berberis in a domestic garden has several purposes, these include bursting footballs, puncturing bicycle tyres, and inflicting nasty scratches on bare legs. The man who lives at this house hates children. The thought that they might be having a good time and that they might stray onto his property is more than he can tolerate. But he's also a sadistic coward: he'd rather sit indoors and listen to the cries of pain and disappointment inflicted by his hedge than ask the children to play somewhere else.

Generally, only men plant thorny hedges, by contrast, women plant leylandii hedges. The lady in our example suffers from paranoia. She thinks that the neighbours to one side are nosy and try to take too much of an interest in her life. You can tell this by looking at her neighbour's garden. There is nothing out of the ordinary about it. Had it resembled a piece of waste ground, or had it a caravan parked in it, then we could have safely deduced that our lady was a snob. But not in this instance.

The fact that the leylandii had never been trimmed since being planted several years ago would suggest that the husband is either frightened of his wife, or lazy. A quick inspection of how well the hedges to the rear of the property are maintained will confirm which it is.

Once you get into the swing of associating hedges with personality traits it becomes quite easy to make character assessments. You can hone your skills by driving along residential roads and making snap judgements. If you see hedges of; holly, laurel, beech or yew - you're talking social status. You'll need other clues to determine whether it's old money, nouveau riche, or pretentious, social climbing.

If you see a box hedge then you can be sure it was planted by a conservative, deep thinking man. A box hedge could never be planted by a woman - she wouldn't have the patience to wait for it to grow, and if she did, no sooner would it have matured than she'd want to pull it out and plant something else.

Rosemary and lavender hedges are strong give-aways. A gaming person could safely wager the house to be decorate with dried flower arrangements, with bowls of potpourri in each room. You should anticipate the gentleman of the household being a mild-mannered, cardigan and slipper wearer.

People who pull hedges out to replace them with concrete posts and chain link wire are strange if not dangerous and should be avoided. They want you to be able to see exactly how much land they own, but they also want you to know that it's private land and that you should keep off. Don't be fooled if the owner has a pair of Dobermann's - he's still dangerous.

A personal prejudice of mine is to always avoid anyone who effuses the practicalities of fruiting or cropping hedges. These people are former hippies who have moved on to being ecologically sound. If you don't take heed of the warnings, then being invited into their homes to drink herbal tea, and eat lentil and split pea crunch, will be your fate.

Screens created from and adorned by clematis, honeysuckle and rambling roses indicate creativity and an artistic disposition. Beware, though, of anyone who plants tall varieties of bamboo, and grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus', these are the Kate Moss and Brad Pitts' of the plant world and allude to sexual frustration.

Hedge maintenance is a bit of a tell-tale. Show me an unkempt hedge and I'll take you into the owners garage to point out his golf clubs and squash racquet. It's an indisputable fact that people who play sport are idle.

There are one or two out-of-the-ordinary hedge types that you should know about. Those that plant low, decorative hedges with no obvious purpose other than the aesthetic can be perplexing. A garden fronted by such will almost certainly be owned by a woman; she will more than likely attend church regularly and bake cakes for the Women's Institute. She is also likely to be a generous donator to worthy causes. Almost exclusively, on the other hand, men will be responsible for any topiary embellishments to a hedge. Such men should be given a wide berth; they tend to perceive themselves as failures and attempt exorcising enormous chips from their shoulders by the clipping of greenery into crudely abstracted shapes. Be wary, also, of those who plant internal hedges within their gardens. Just say to yourself. WHY?

It's a wonder really that the local C. I. D. haven't called on my services yet. If they were to give me the psychological profile of a particular criminal they were looking for then I could give them a fairly accurate description of what sort of hedge such a person would have in their garden.

Some of you may be thinking about planting a new hedge and anxious not to present the wrong image, whilst others may be concerned with what subliminal message an inherited hedge might be implying. For the former I recommend contemporary classics such as Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, or Lonicera nitida 'Baggeson's Gold'. These hedges exude quality and style, are multi-functional and guaranteed to project a respectable and well balanced image. In the case of the latter, where you have moved to a house and the hedges (not of your choosing) are already well established, it is possible to mitigate their implications by various techniques. A tall dense privet hedge which suggests stuffy librarian types with Victorian moral codes can be transformed by drastically reducing the height and width. Old wood soon sprouts new growth and the result can be a quite contemporary parterre effect which can be further liberalised by planting within its bounds a selection of hot-coloured perennials.

If you're unsure about what you want your hedge to say about you, but, on the other hand, don't want to be readily typecast, then under-plant it with Tropaeolum speciosum (flame creeper). When this vigorous climber establishes itself, and splashes its raw colour around your boundaries, you'll be too busy answering the questions of passers-by who want to know what on earth this plant is to care about what anyone thinks.

- The Composter

All Articles � 2000 Paul Lathrope
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