Privet hedge used to be funny. People used to plant it as a folly in the futile fight against the wind. Here a clump, there a clump; in the corner of the hundred-acre field is a clump, old and huge, but singular and shelter, the final outpost of a long-ago subdivided ditch row.
When we go to this field to set up the potato planting operation, or to bring lunch, or to replenish the seed, the privet hedge, is our geographical marker. The entire southern edge of the field is linked by a labyrinth of tall, stately hedges, and yet when my brother tells everyone to set up near the privet hedge, the crew knows he means the rocketing cluster of six or seven just inside our field, and not the towering walls beyond. Now, privet is ironic.
Fighting battles that can’t be won is an important part of this nation’s economy, and privet hedge does its part. It is a wind block, a property line, a sound barrier, a spite planting if you must! It is not indigenous to this area, but it is native to our current culture. So native, in fact, that a lot of people think Hedges Lane means “lane of many hedges.” The number-one asset a hedge has to offer is privacy. People love privacy—which completely explains Facebook.
Lately, there has been even more public grumbling about hedges in Sagaponack. There is talk of an ordinance. As someone who has vaguely chronicled this place, I can attest that the ire has always been there. I have gotten letters about it, that there should be limits placed on privet, as it is not a tree but a green edifice and at five years old casts unintended shadows in the neighbor’s yard.
The redeeming thing about privet, and culture, is that trends come and go. And just as the public arena is heating up, so is the private. Tastemakers are chopping it down. In the past week, two enormous and seemingly permanent installations fell. This follows the immortally popular trend of flaunting it if you’ve got it. While we, who all enjoy a good sunset every once in a while, embrace it. Hello, neighbor.
The Magnolia Gawkers Guild hasn’t been happy. They like to view magnolias from their convertibles but have had a hard time erecting ladders in the back seat. The impact of the privet on this rite of spring has been highly underreported. Of course, the gawkers aren’t the happiest people anyway, which explains their affection for flowering trees as diversion and reminder. They notice what is beautiful while complaining about the conditions. This, too, might be a cultural thing.