Hedges are part of our landscape and part of our gardens. We use them to give us privacy, to mark out boundaries, to keep animals in or out, and to provide habitats for wildlife. Sometimes we want them to frame a view, hide an eyesore or form a backdrop to our planting.. They may also form windbreaks, cut down noise or keep out unwanted intruders. For all these purposes it is worth planting the right varieties for your conditions or use. Plant the wrong hedge and you may have years to consider your mistake and more years to put it right.
There is a large variety of different plants suitable for hedging. Below we give a few suggestions about the basics.
FORMAL AND EVERGREEN HEDGES
Although an established deciduous hedge can be an effective screen and windbreak, evergreens are often faster and more complete. They tend to look more formal and give a better backdrop to planting displays.
Conifers such as Leyland Cypress, Lawson Cypress and Western Red Cedar can grow quickly and make a very dense and uniform screen. Although Yew is slower it makes probably the best formal hedge and can be cut to almost any shape. All parts of it except the red of the fruits are poisonous so it should never be planted where animals graze. Evergreen hedges over 2m high may be subject to objections in the United Kingdom by neighbours and the local authority who may make you reduce their height.
Other evergreens. Box are classic hedging and edging plants more appropriate for lower hedges than are conifers. Holly, Eleagnus, Euonymus, Laurel, Aucuba, Berberis, Bay, Privet, Pyracantha,Griselinia, Viburnum tinus and Lonicera nitida are also very useful and tough though they suit formal clipping to different degrees. Other shrubby plants such as Choisya, Rosemary, Lavender, Osmanthus, Pittosporum, Hebes, Escallonia, Cotoneaster and Abelia may be used for less formal hedging or for lower hedges. They will need to be fitted well to the particular conditions.
Gardeners have a large range of woody plants suitable for mixed or single species hedges. We may wish to create many effects- successive flowers, intruder proof thorns, a wildlife habitat, fruits etc. All plants have preferences in the conditions in which they thrive. They may prefer sunny or shady, wet or dry, limy or acid, light soil or heavy, exposed or sheltered. Often they can be left informal (not clipped too rigidly) but most hedges will grow more densely and be more effective barriers if they are clipped at least once a year. Amongst the more effective deciduous hedging plants are Beech, Hornbeam, Forsythia, Ribes (Flowering Currant), Elder, Willow, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Philadelphus, Fuchsia, Dogwood and Flowering Quince. Many of these can be combined with each other and with evergreens.
Country hedges. Landowners and farmers are encouraged by the Government to plant native hedges in keeping with local traditions. In some cases Countryside Stewardship grants are available for this. They usually recommend at least five local species should be in the hedge with no more than 50% of any one. Hawthorn is usually significant in plantings, depending on conditions. Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Holly, and Dog Rose are also frequent. With time, of course, other native species will find their own way in.
SCREENS AND “FEDGES”
In smaller gardens the width available for a hedge might be very limited. Under these conditions there are various options, “Fedges” are a combination of fence and hedge and may be as simple as a trellis with plants growing through it. Some are available as instant hedging using, for example, ivy grown densely on trellis panels within troughs known as living green screens or ivy panels. These can be installed immediately on to hard surfaces such as paving and, provided that they are effectively watered, will give long lasting effects. Narrow screens can also be formed by bamboos provided that their roots are restricted by effective barriers to prevent them spreading out of control. Phyllostachis and Fargesia species can be excellent for this purpose.
Where larger screens are needed trees can be planted further apart and allowed to grow more freely into each other. Poplars would be a classic example of this. For more formal situations pleaching produces effective screens by weaving the branches of trees into each other. Often the tree trunks are left clear to, say six feet, leaving a line of sight beneath. Limes, Hornbeams, Beech and fruit trees are commonly treated in this way.
HEDGES FOR SPECIAL SITUATIONS.
It is usually a good idea to check the varieties of plants doing well locally in similar situations. For situations where there are salt-laden, high winds Berberis darwinii, Cotoneaster, Eleagnus, Euonymus, Fuchsia “Riccartonii”, Garrya, Hippophae (Sea Buckthorn), Blackthorn, Griselinia and Tamarix may all thrive. They will need to be well staked and protected in the windiest areas.
This has been an introduction to hedging and is given in good faith but cannot be expected to cover all situation. For more complete details at a very reasonable price we recommend the Royal Horticultural Society’s excellent concise guide. This costs just 4.99 from RHS at http://www.rhs.org.uk or 01483 211320.