Hedges - the perfect way to frame your garden
Have you ever looked enviously at those meticulously maintained miles of hedges that you always seem to see at fine houses and castles? At its most developed, the art of topiary involves creating geometric shapes, animals, birds – whatever the owner of the garden loves - by carefully clipping hedges as they grow. But simple, clipped, formal hedges of yew (Taxus), box (Buxus) or beech (Fagus) look fantastic too.
Hedges don’t have to be formal to work well and can be highly effective in wilder contexts as natural windbreaks and stock-proof boundaries. They offer habitat for garden wildlife and may provide an annual harvest of hedgerow fruits such as blackberries, sloes, plums or apples. Deciduous hedges reflect the passage of the seasons whereas evergreens provide colour, shelter and texture all year round – so both have advantages.
As well as protecting your home and garden from the effects of wind, hedges also muffle the noise of passing traffic and form an effective barrier against particulate pollution. You will also find they are excellent at intercepting litter from the road, keeping your garden clean and wholesome! With all these points in their favour, you will surely want to find out how to create your own hedges and begin reaping the benefits.
Spoilt for choice!
A well established hedge will be with you for many years so it’s worth putting plenty of thought into your choice. Remember to consult with neighbours and make sure that you don’t go for species that will grow too quickly and block out light or views. Consider what the primary function of the hedge is – for a permanent screen you’ll want to choose an evergreen, but if you’re after a more ornamental hedge, look out for species that have attractive colour effects(e.g. Photinia fraseri ‘Red Robin’, beech or maple) or fruits (e.g. hawthorn, blackthorn, or cotoneaster). If you have limited space, for example a patio or balcony, ivy (Hedera) ‘hedges’ can be very effective with climbing evergreen plants grown up light supporting structures of wood or metal.
There are many situations where evergreens are exactly what you need. Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) and box (Buxus sempervirens) are the classic choices in this country. Privet is extremely tough, but does need to be kept in check with regular pruning. Box is perfect for close clipping and topiary. It is slower growing and therefore easier to maintain than privet. Choose box for hedges between 0.5 and 1.5m in height. The cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus 'Rotundifolia') is a vigorous plant that will thrive in almost all soil types. Easily recognizable by its big, bright green, glossy leaves, it can grow about 30cm per year and does need to be pruned twice annually to promote bushy growth and to keep it in check. Its wonderful foliage makes a superb backdrop to perennials and seasonal flowers.
Greyhound hedging plants!
As well as privet, the other renowned (or possibly infamous, depending on your viewpoint!) hedging plant that can run away with itself is Leyland cypress (x Cuprocyparis Leylandii). Although figuring in neighbour disputes where hedges have been allowed to get out of control, leylandii is a useful option in certain situations precisely because it is quick growing and delivers an effective hedge or screen in short order. Prune between April and August but be very careful not to disturb any nesting birds. Thuja plicata can also deliver quickly (45-60cm growth per annum) but will allow you more time between prunings!
Not just for Christmas
Evergreen holly (Ilex) species open up a new world of foliage and berry options including variegated or single colour leaves, prickly leaves (great for deterring unwanted visitors) and attractive fruits. Ilex aquifolium 'Pyramidalis' is a faster growing, self pollinating variety and produces lots of berries. Holly hedges can be maintained at a height of about 1.8m (approx. 6 foot) and plants should be placed about 45cm apart at establishment. Ilex crenata is another faster growing holly. It is similar to box and is a very tough and disease resistant variety of Ilex.
Establishing hedging can be extremely cost-effective, especially if you opt for bare root stock. If you buy bare root plants (as opposed to root-balled plants in containers), make sure that you put the roots into water as soon as you can. Dig a trench about 50cms wide and deep enough to accommodate the roots. Improve the soil with compost or well-rotted manure and back-fill to firm-in the new plant. Plant bare root material about 25cms apart. Water well during establishment, especially in dry periods. Where necessary protect from deer, rabbits and hares. As a general rule, prune or clip all hedges so that they are wider at the bottom. This helps to ensure that adequate light reaches the lower portions and will keep the whole hedge healthy, giving you enjoyment and benefit for years to come.