The hedge is a landscape classic used for its streamlined elegance. But for thousands of years, it served other, more functional purposes.
From its humble hedgerow beginnings as a handy source of nuts, berries and firewood, the hedge quickly became a way to create a fence-like barrier to separate livestock, shield crops from strong winds, prevent soil erosion and reduce flooding.
Eventually, the hedge found its way to garden artistry and stretched the imagination of gardeners to create intricate knot gardens and topiary masterpieces.
Today, the hedge has another important contribution to make, because apparently the hedge can actually clean our dirty air!
Recently, researchers from the University of Surrey published a study showing how roadsides with hedges can reduce carbon by as much as 63 per cent. That’s more than street trees can do, and they have a lot of evidence to back that up.
As quoted in Sustainability Times, Professor Prashant Kumar, the study’s senior author, said: “This study provides new evidence to show the important role strategically placed roadside hedges can play in reducing pollution exposure for pedestrians, cyclists and people who live close to roads. Urban planners should consider planting denser hedges, and a combination of trees with hedges, in open road environments.”
What does this have to do with Leaside, you ask?
The Pixies chose globe cedars and ferns to create a hedge on Bayview. Perhaps they were just ahead of their time.
Because of the dense leaf structure, a hedge can absorb more carbon and other airborne fine particle matter from city streets by grabbing it at a lower level where we breathe it in. Think of the pedestrians walking along Bayview, Laird or Eglinton, and consider children playing in school yards near busy roads as countless cars pass by. This is where hedges can really come to the rescue.
Now hedges may be able to play an even bigger role in our neighbourhood. Face it, Leaside is getting dirtier because of the many large-scale developments creating construction dust, soot mixed with exhaust fumes, and a host of other noxious by-products swirling around our streets like never before. These tiny poisonous particles may cause heart and lung disease, cancer, asthma, bronchitis, depression, and a decline in brain function.
And while all of this destruction/construction is taking place, our city street sweeping trucks are unable to keep up.
So, what can we do?
Start by planting more hedges and encourage the city, schools and our local BIA to do same.
If you’re thinking about a landscape change to your front garden, consider adding a hedge near the road to grab the toxic fumes and polluted dust from the street. This will help your indoor air quality, reduce storm water runoff, and give the birds and other pollinators a safe shelter.
The hedge works for condo and apartment dwellers too because it can be a buffer zone almost anywhere. On a large balcony, use evergreens such as cedars, yews and Alberta spruce to catch and block the polluted air from entering the interior of your balcony. You’ll enjoy both inside and out a lot more.
For small balconies or window sill gardens, try a mini hedge of lavender, winter savoury or lemon thyme (this can keep mosquitoes away too), but don’t eat any of them, just use their dense foliage to help filter the air before it enters your space.
We could all use a little hedge power, the sooner, the better. Here’s to hedge power and cleaner air!