HEDGES AND FENCES. The object of the hedge or fence (abbreviation of “defence”) is to mark a boundary or to enclose an area of land on which stock is kept. The hedge, i.e. a row of bushes or small trees, forms a characteristic feature of the scenery of England, especially in the midlands and south; it is more rarely found in other countries. Its disadvantages as a fence are that it is not portable, that it requires cutting and training while young, that it harbours weeds and vermin and that it occupies together with the ditch which usually borders it a considerable space of ground, the margins of which cannot be cultivated. For these reasons it is to some extent superseded by the fence proper, especially where shelter for cattle is not required. In Great Britain the hawthorn (q.v.) is by far the most important of hedge plants. Holly resembles the hawthorn in its amenability to pruning and in its prickly nature and closeness of growth, which make it an effective barrier to, and shelter for, stock, but it is less hardy and more slow-growing than the hawthorn. Hornbeam, beech, myrobalan or cherry plum and blackthorn also have their advantages, hornbeam being proof against great exposure, blackthorn thriving on poor land and possessing great impenetrability and so on. Box, yew, privet and many other plants are used for ornamental hedging; in the United States the osage orange and honey locust are favourite hedge plants. As fences, wooden posts and rails and stone walls may be conveniently used in districts where the requisite materials are plentiful. But the most modern form of fence is formed of wire strands either smooth or barbed (see Barbed Wire), strained between iron standards or wooden or concrete posts. The wire may be interwoven with vertical strands or, if necessary, may be kept apart by iron droppers between the standards. Fences of a lighter description are machine-made with pickets of split chestnut or other wood closely set, woven with a few strands of wire; they are braced by posts at intervals.
From the fact that tramps and vagabonds frequently sleep under hedges the word has come to be used as a term of contempt, as in “hedge-priest,” an inferior and illiterate kind of parson at one time existing in England and Ireland, and in “hedge-school,” a low class school held in the open air, formerly very common in Ireland. From the sense of “hedge” as an enclosure or barrier the verb “to hedge” means to enclose, to form a barrier or defence, to bound or limit. As a sporting term the word is used in betting to mean protection from loss, by betting on both sides, by “laying off” on one side, after laying odds on another or vice versa. The word was early used figuratively in the sense of to avoid committing oneself.
See articles in the Cyclopaedia of American Agriculture, vol. i., ed. by L. H. Bailey (New York, 1907); in the Standard Cyclopaedia of Modern Agriculture, ed. by R. P. Wright (London, 1908–1909); and in the Encyclopaedia of Agriculture, vol. ii., ed. by C. E. Green and D. Young (Edinburgh, 1908).
- Hedge is a Teutonic word, cf. Dutch heg, Ger. Hecke; the root appears in other English words, e.g. “haw,” as in “hawthorn.”