How Arley creates its hedge on stilts

A HISTORIC ‘hedge on stilts’ has had its annual maintenance in a tradition stretching back more than a century.

Gardeners use a method called pleaching to transform an avenue of lime trees at the entrance to Arley Hall into an iconic feature.

The technique involves weaving the branches of the trees into a hedge.

Doug Rustage, 48, has been doing the job for more than two decades and 20 years ago was pictured in the Guardian carrying out the challenge.

“It takes seven days to cut them back so they can be kept under control and looking smart,” said Doug, who lives in Northwich.

“Years ago they used to be cut with a bullhook but now we use the electric cutter and it is a far less severe way of doing the job.”

Arley Hall’s lime avenue was planted in the 1840s by Roland and Mary Egerton-Warburton and has stood tall ever since.

“I suppose they are a feature of historical interest and were probably planted to make a statement,” said Arley’s head gardener Gordon Baillie.

“They do look like a hedge on stilts and provide a striking lead up to the house.”

The trees are cut back every year, which stops them from growing even taller than their 26ft and prevents their trunks from widening.

“If you were to cut into them you would hardly be able to make out the rings as there would be so many, so close together,” said Doug.

In the past 180 years the gardeners know of only one of the trees that has died, but its younger replacement is hardly noticeable now.

For Doug, the pleaching of the limes is the last of his hedge cutting jobs at Arley – a task that takes up to three months every year.

“Everybody notices and comments on them, which is great,” he said.

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