We finished laying a hedge last week at one of our county’s finest old stately homes. 220 yards of mixed hawthorn, hazel, field maple and spindle is now laid at 40 degrees, staked and bound with hazel and awaiting the warming sun to do its magic- sap will rise, leaf will unfurl and blossom erupt into colour. I posted a few pictures of our work on social media and was treated to hundreds of positive responses. Many appreciated the conservation benefits that hedge laying brings, some marvelled at the intricacies of the work. One comment was repeated time and time again, what Richard Gould and I had achieved, we were told, was a “work of art”. I am not so humble that these plaudits didn’t fill me with some frisson of pride, however I did silently question if our hedging is indeed “art”. I believe it is no art form, merely craft, the only reason we lay hedges is to ensure that these arteries of the land continue to flow. The end result may look almost so perfect that it is viewed by some as art, yet, to my mind hedgelaying is nothing more than harnessing nature, to help nature- the wildlife that relies upon hedges for their hearth, home and sustenance.
Suffolk’s natural wonders obviously do inspire art. The paintings so skilfully produced by Iken based artist Simon Trinder of the wildfowl and waders that he sees about him along the Alde and Ore is a prime example. My wife’s pottery is inspired by Suffolk’s landscape, flora and fauna, my writing is an eulogy for our county and its wildlife, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, Alfred Munnings, Yvonne Drewry, Ed Sheeran and his castle on the hill, the list of “real” artists who have been, and continue to be, inspired by our county and its wild agrarianism, people, coasts and heaths, farms and holdings is embarrassing in its depth and wealth of talent. However one thing that these artists share is a wish to portray this beauty, not to try and improve it, add to it nor change it merely for the sake of art (whatever that is). I watched with a mixture of bemusement and incredulity at the recent activities on the beach at Aldeburgh. Sculptures of rust laid down on the shifting shingle, only to be removed in a fit of angst. An “Angel of the East” appeared in their place, fashioned from worn old bricks, manufactured in places here, there or anywhere other than Suffolk - it is hard to imagine anything less seraph like nor East Anglian. I still shake my head at the scallop on Aldeburgh’s beach, erected to memorialise a musician, Benjamin Britten. I wonder if Britten would choose to gaze upon this crafted alien metal or the fragile coastal plants that are casually trampled underfoot by the thousands of visitors who parade to the shell to take their selfies?
Why not instead get up before dawn to watch the sun rise over Aldeburgh’s Lantern or Town Marshes instead? There you will witness a piece of art truly worth viewing, colours, scents and sounds changing by the second. If you wait there, muffled in wool on a January morn, you may well see the Whitefronted geese, aloof travellers from the far north drawn to our county for the winter, listen to them making their yodelling music, so elemental that it sets the hairs tingling on the back of the neck of all but the dead. If you look at one of my hedges, marvel not at the cut pleachers and twisted binders, but gaze instead at the delicacy of the filligreed lines on the hawthorn as the leaves unfurl, the fine greenery and perfection in form could never be bettered by an artist’s brush, sculptors knife or potters hand. The landscape, skies, the very land we walk upon here is a work of art. I am fortunate to be able to work that land, each day counting myself lucky that I help it stay beautiful and fecund. I trust I will never become so arrogant to believe that my human hand could improve on what nature has made so gloriously here. Suffolk is blessed with artists, but we are also blessed that ours is a county that inspires them rather than one so dull and boring that it needs adding to with old metal and bricks. Take a walk in this Suffolk countryside at springtime and around every turn lays a true gallery, one of natural delights.