The story of hedges begins in the Stone Age. Hirsute neolithic gardeners used them as a barrier against marauding megafauna who might've otherwise trampled the cereal. (The hedge above dates back over 500 years.)
By the time of Julius Caesar, hedges, now adorning formal Roman gardens, were being considered in an more decorative way. Topiary was also first described in this period. By the end of the Black Death period in Europe, hedges were being used in an enclosing, screening manner. In Britain, a country known to fawn over hedges nearly as much as royal weddings, it's claimed that a least a fifth of the hedges standing today date back to Anglo-Saxon times.
This hedge, originally planted in the Tudor dynasty (ca. 1550), may be one of the world's largest. More than history, Britons consider hedges an integral part of what makes Britain Britain. Author Bill Bryson (Notes from a Small Island) writes that "without them [Britain] would just be Indiana with steeples."
A surprisingly interesting trove of info on British hedgery, past and present, in a blog, here.
If, as the song goes, "nature points out the folly of men" then the hedge may be our best chance to make nature submit to our desires. The perfect sculpture of a well-trimmed hedge may be as close as it gets.
Above, modern Tuscany with echos of Caesar: Paintings and engravings of the Roman period indicate long planes of fine textured shrubbery, tightly trimmed in layers of rectangles and cypress to reveal depths of space.
The photos below taken from Ann Larås's book Gardens of Italy.
More experimental takes on hedges to follow.