We’ve discussed all manner of barriers, ranging from dry-laid stone walls to anti-vehicle fortifications, but today we’re taking a look at a type of wall that not only defends you, but also replaces and expands its protection over time! Rather than relying on the durability of stone, metal or wood, a living wall relies on the tenacity of certain kinds of dense plant life that grow together and impede enemies from moving forward against you. Let’s look at how a wall of this kind can be formed, and which plants are best for a given situation.
Disclaimer: Many jurisdictions have laws regulating hedges and living walls, so make sure you check those before purchasing plants. Furthermore, plants that cause harm to others by their fruit, sap, thorns, or other means may leave you liable for harm to others so check with a lawyer if that is a concern.
Why a living wall?
Also known as hedgerows, Bocage, and a variety of other names, living walls have unique strengths and weaknesses that are different from more conventional ones:
- Hedgerows are innocuous and even beautiful. Nobody bats an eye at plants, even ones covered in evil looking thorns, the way they do at military-style barricades. Even plants that are particularly hardy and covered in thorns can sometimes be carpeted in lovely flowers which disguise their true purpose even further.
- Hedges can grow back if damaged. If you get a hole in your concrete wall, you’ll need concrete to fix it. If a hole is cut in your hedgerow, you need only guide some branches down to fill in the gap and let nature do the rest. When in a survival situation where a trip to Home Depot for a bag of cement is out of the question that could be a big deal.
- Living walls can hurt. Generally speaking stone walls rely on their defenders to hold them, as stone isn’t well suited for forming tiny spikes. Many plants that form living walls are covered in thorns that stab through even thick clothing with ease. Furthermore, some of them put out berries or fruits that are unpleasant or even deadly for a looter to consume.
- Living walls can feed you. Other plants in a hedge can easily provide you with a bounty of blackberries, honey locust pods, or other edibles. If grown together with the poisonous ones, you may have a good situation for tricking unknowing thieves into stealing the bad stuff because of easily spotted blackberry plants growing among them. It hardly needs saying, but your stone wall won’t provide you much to eat unless you need more granite in your diet.
Weaknesses to the wall
As with all things a living wall also has weaknesses that a stone one would not have, such as:
- Vulnerability to fire and hedge clippers. Stone is durable and it’s unlikely that you could cut through it with a pair of hedge cutters. Plants, on the other hand are often readily cut and if all else fails most of them will burn readily. In some cases the thorns will remain even when burned, but it won’t be nearly as effective.
- No bullet stoppage. Bullets aren’t much slowed by most of the plants in a living wall. Vines, branches and leaves may slow a bullet some in large numbers, but even a BB gun will probably be able to penetrate it. Some plants are thicker and may stop smaller rounds, but generally this is unreliable.
- Poorly situated hedges may conceal enemy approach. They cannot stop rounds but a hedge can certainly hide someone, which may make it easier for you to be ambushed if you are not able to see over it. Technically this may also be true of a stone wall, but at least an enemy can’t shoot over stone walls that are sufficiently tall.
- Thorns show no mercy to their owner. If you have to make a quick escape, those hedges may well hem you in, and while you’re still getting used to them you may end up sticking yourself a few times. It is also possible that you could poison yourself if you consumed/touched the wrong fruit or berries, but generally if you bought the plant you should know which are poisonous and which aren’t.
How to build a strong, solid wall out of plants
The first and most important part of building any living wall is to choose your medley of plants. You will want to include plants that grow in “vines” or “branches”, filling in the gaps between bushes or trees that you plant. Blackberries, raspberries, Pyracantha (aka Firethorn), and other flexible plants make good gap fillers. Note that some of these (like blackberries) are able to grow vertically unsupported while others such as some varieties of thorny vine may require either staking or trees and bushes to cling to.
Then you will want strong bushes or small trees that act as a wind and “bulldozer” barrier, slowing ramming vehicles and the like. Honey locust trees are wonderful for this, are nearly impossible to kill, and even provide barnyard nails in the form of the mature red thorn clusters that surround them. If you grow dwarf trees of some kind avoid cedar trees as they tend to kill lower growth plants around them which could severely impact your hedge. Fruit trees can sometimes do well, as can hardy “scrub trees” like the Osange Orange (aka brain fruit tree) owing to their rapid growth. Generally speaking it is more important for the trees to be strong and hardy than for them to have thorns or poisons to deter enemies, as the vines and branches should be able to surround and cover most of the trees and shrubs in the hedge.
Finally, you can plant creeping juniper, giant rhubarb, and other annoying plants to act as groundcover. They will fill in loose parts in the bottom of the hedge with their thorny leaves, keeping looters from crawling underneath. Stinging nettles are a good favorite here as well, as are poison ivy vines.
Generally speaking you will have to provide at least some artificial support in the form of posts for vining plants and the like until they grow enough to surrounded the trees you’ll be using as a permanent support. Once the hedge has reached a given size, you need only ensure that it is properly fertilized with compost for maximum growth and trimmed to keep the thorns and vines pointed in the right direction.
What else could improve a hedge? Would you take the time to grow one to protect your household? Let us know in the comments below!
This article first appeared at Prepared For That: Survival Defense: Forming a Living Wall