The word "hedge" appears to stem from the Old English word "HEGG" which is believed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ;
HAEG - hurdle 
HECG - territorial boundary dead or planted
HEGA - living border boundary 1
Hedges are a bordering and design tool. They enclose and subdivide fields, orchards, yards, parks and gardens. They form vegetative edges, topographic spaces, garden rooms, gateways, screens, enclosures, foci and forms within the landscape.

The term Hedgerow used to refer to 2 hedges running side by side separated by a track or pathway. These hedgerows served 2 traditional purposes , that of being a barrier to livestock and as a means of marking out territory or property boundaries. The term however tends to be used these days to describe a hedge of shrubs and occasional trees that create a border between fields and gardens or to create a privacy wall for a homeowner.

An extreme privacy hedge

It is believed that the Romans may have first planted hedges in Britain but most of the few ancient hedges date from Saxon times, making some of them 1000 years old. The Saxons organized ‘strip farming’ in which each community of people would have a field which was divided into strips separated by grass verges. Each strip was one furrow long (one furlong or 201 metres). People were given a number of strips to farm by the lord of the manor. This system changed in the late Middle Ages when landlords wanted to put boundaries around their property, so they enclosed their land with walls or hedges. Enclosure Acts in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed farmers to put more hedges round their fields and most of Britain’s 300, 000 miles or so of hedges date from this time.

“During the 16th and 17th centuries, dense hedgerow patterns provided shelter for persecuted Protestants in France and Holland to organize their clandestine religious meetings. During the WW II the dense bocage in Normandy caused the invading Allied forces much trouble in advancing to conquer the Nazi regime.”2

In the past hawthorne (Crataegus monogyna) was the most popular choice for hedgerows in the ancient woodland for marking territory or as barriers to contain livestock. Nowadays hedges are commonly constructed of various plant and non-plant material for more ornamental purposes yet still as a privacy tool.  Boxwood, Privet, Beech, Cherry Laurel, Hedge Maple, Hornbeam, Holly and Yew are but a few of the more desirous plants used currently for hedges.
 Designer Luciano Giubbilei's masterful use of hedges at a Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2009

1. Hedgerows, Hedges and Verges of Britain and Ireland
2. Natural History Museum of Britain. www.nhm.ac.uk/index.html

*all photos copyright Todd Haiman unless otherwise noted