If you have been to Metford Road Community Orchard in the past, you may need to do a double-take as you approach it now. I’ve been an active member for many years, and I certainly did when I arrived for the second day of hedge-laying on 19th November. I had been there at the start of the previous day to welcome Malcolm Dowling and his 17-year-old grandson Ollie who is his trainee, but I had taken my bad back home after an hour.
Malcolm (or ‘Grandad’, his trading name) has won many national prizes in six regional styles of hedge-laying, but he chose to use North Somerset style for our sloping site. He started at the top, wielding his chain saw to bend a 20ft high tree across the path above. He then sliced the top off and wedged the remainder behind a stake he made from a straight branch. He then worked his way downhill in the same fashion, teaching as he went.
We asked him to leave a yellow plum as a tree part way down as the small round fruit are so delicious, but we did decide after much deliberation, that he should include the tall Sea Buckthorn in the laying process as it did cast shade on a plum tree and on the neighbouring allotment – we do have some regrets about that but hope it will spring up again. To our knowledge, the Sea Buckthorn has never fruited, which is a shame, as it’s fruits are supposedly high in vitamin C. I pulled off some small side branches and plan to see if they will take as hardwood cuttings.
There were two willows along the run – one large crack willow which we had permission to remove (but didn’t), and one smaller goat willow. He took the crack willow down to a low stump, and the goat willow to a stump around a meter high – they should both come back and we hope to coppice them in future years (basket-making anyone?). Other plants laid include several Dogwoods, Hawthorns, Blackthorns, Hazel and Dog Roses. Malcolm took great delight in passing around a severed branch of Dogwood and instructing us to sniff it – the reference to dog was quickly obvious to all!
Hedges are a valuable resource for wildlife in terms of food and habitat, especially in winter. Getting this run of out-of-control hedging (i.e. trees) laid has also massively improved the light levels and airflow in the orchard and the neighbouring allotment.
We have local law firm Barcan+Kirby and their Corporate Social Responsibility budget to thank for getting this job done professionally after our inadequate attempt to do it ourselves last year (sorry Joe – we just didn’t come up with the manpower to do justice to your workshop!). We will be working hard on fund-raising during the year ahead, so that we can get Malcolm and Ollie back to do the hedge bounding the other side of the orchard.
Our biggest fund-raiser is our annual stall at Whiteladies Road Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning 9th December 2017. Do please come along and buy some cake, jam, jelly, medlar butter, chutney, honey, hand cream or whatever else our members offer for sale to help us on our way. We orchard members will appreciate every penny spent (and I like to think that the hedge-in-waiting would say the same if it could make itself understood by humans!).