I've had to walk the same route twice this week to fetch more and more books for the library - I'm writing up for this semester - and as I walk past the front gardens I can't resist running my hands along the hedges. We're well beyond bud-burst now, into the point where hedges become fluffy with fresh new leaves and touching is irresistible.
The leaves have a silky feel, more or less soft depending on species. Common Beech is probably the winner, with its crumpled-silk leaves fringed with soft hairs, but many of the suburban standards feel lovely too; Privet has a bubbly softness, occasionally interspersed with a dollop of cuckoo-spit; Service Bush, Labernum, Wisteria and Robinia all have a waterfall softness, leaves flushed red and yellow with toxins to deter predators from the fresh young leaves. Even the natives and evergreens join in with Yew turning pale green and fluffy and Field Maple and Oak showing their silks.
Plants don't like to be touched very much. Touch induced growth inhibition (or to give it its full name, thigmomorphogenesis) helps plants adapt their growth to suit the environment they are living in and avoid stress. Regularly touched and brushed leaves are at risk, and although hedging plants are tougher than most anyoine who has a hedge regular used as an ingress point by badgers, dogs, children or even adults will know that the hedge opens up a space, and concentrates growth where it will not be interrupted and annoyed.
So, brushing my fingers along hedges may be a tactile delight but it's also an action not entirely of aggression against the plant, but competition with it; a gentle suggestion from the pavement; this is human space, draw back, draw back.