Which hedge is right for my garden?
A friend recently asked me which hedge she should choose for her garden.
It’s a bit like being asked for the answer to world peace. It’s rather a big question.
The first step is to ask another question: What do you want your hedge for? To mark a boundary? Encourage wildlife? Are you looking for a hedge for privacy? And is there a ‘fashion in hedges’?
Which hedge is in fashion now?
The biggest new trend in hedging is probably the increased popularity of mixed native hedging.
Morris Hankinson of Hope Grove Nurseries says that their mixed packs of native hedgerow mixes with themes are ‘our best-sellers’. They sell edible hedging or ‘hedges for foragers’, coastal hedging, ‘hedging for privacy’, ‘hedging for wildlife’ packs and more.
I’m delighted by the idea of edible hedging or a ‘hedge for foragers’, made of hazel, blackthorn (sloe), dog rose (rose hips), wild pear, elder and crab apple.
The eradication of mixed hedges or hedgerows in the last 100 years has been a major issue in the loss of habitat for wildlife. Now environmentally-aware farmers are replacing mixed hedgerows where they can, but we can also push for them to be grown in parks, public spaces and private gardens.
A mixed wildlife or foragers’ hedge, if it is allowed to flower and fruit, will spread more than a tightly clipped hedge. Although, as you can see from Frances’ garden above, you can train it not to take up too much space. There’s a growing interest in this sort of hedging, with more books and articles about it. Try The Hedgerow Apothecary’s Forager’s Handbook or Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Britain.
But, alternatively, why not consider having a sprawling, colourful hedge, with a strip of wildlife ‘meadow’ below rather than a traditional border?
How to decide which hedge is right for your garden
People ‘overthink their hedge choice’, says Morris. ‘There are only two things you really need to bear in mind.
If you’re planting a hedge in a shady spot, you need hedging that copes with shade. And if it’s a damp area, you need hedging that can cope with that. Apart from that, it’s all quite simple.’
In which case I suggest that you decide what you want to achieve with your hedge first. Here are some hedge ideas to inspire you.
To divide the space
If you want to break your garden up into ‘rooms’ or areas, hedging is a good option. This hedge with steps would work well in a long narrow town garden, especially one with a slight slope. You could terrace it. Box, yew and privet are the traditional hedges for this sort of treatment. Photinia can also be trimmed in shape.
As a backdrop for garden colour?
If you want your hedge as a backdrop for garden colour, then you might want to choose a single species in a fairly plain green. These include box, privet, yew and griselinia, all of which make a good backdrop for flower colour.
Other smart backdrops include beech, hornbeam and even cypress Leylandii, provided you keep it firmly trimmed.
Hedging as a punctuation point
Just as plain full stops and commas break up a sentence, gardens need their punctuation points too. Wonderfully lavish borders need a little geometry to give them structure.
Create shelter with a hedge
Hedges protect your garden from the wind better than fences do, because the wind is broken up by the hedging. With a fence or wall, the wind whistles over the top and can land on the other side with some force.
You could easily use a mixed hedge here – an edible hedge might be perfect for a veg patch.
Do something different with hedging
If you’ve got plenty of space and about a hundred years to spare, you could do something like this with hedging. You could probably adapt this idea with a faster-growing hedging than yew – it would probably work with privet, for example.
Hedging as sculpture
You can frame a sculpture or a work of art with hedging.
Hedging as contrast
Smart tailored hedging makes a good contrast to wilder plantings, such as meadow strips.
Equally, you could use a wonderfully rambling and colourful mixed hedge as a contrast to a smart lawn.
Hedges for wildlife
Wildlife need hedges both for shelter and food. An edible hedge will suit them very well, and mixed hedges offer the best range. Plants for a wildlife hedge include ivy, dog rose, blackthorn, elder, wild plum and hazel. If you want to know more about hedges for wildlife, see here.
Hedges for privacy
If you are thinking about hedges for privacy, be aware that a hedge is defined as ‘three trees in a row.’ Depending on whether there are any special rules and covenants where you live, you can often grow a hedge higher than a fence. Evergreen hedges offer more privacy, but less light. There are also more likely to be restrictions about their height.
Deciduous hedges aren’t covered by legislation – or not in Britain, anyway. You can grow them as high as you like, except in front gardens, where the height of a boundary is often restricted.
There’s more about planting evergreen hedges for privacy here. It specifically applies to Britain, but if you live elsewhere, it’ll give you an idea of what you need to check out before planting a hedge for privacy.
It may also be worth considering making your garden more private by placing just a single tree in the right place. There are 8 perfect-for-privacy trees here.
Hedges against pollution
A major international study lead by the University of Surrey recently concluded that hedging – even low hedges – is an excellent way of trapping particles of pollution and helping to keep the air near them clear.
So far, no specific hedge plants have been suggested as better than any other for anti-pollution, so choose the hedge you like the best for other reasons.
Warning! Plant your hedge right – or else!
How you plant your hedge makes a huge difference to whether it grows well. The two pictures below show two yew hedges planted near a friend’s house. The yews came from the same nursery and were planted on the same day by the same people.
But one was planted into a ready-prepared trench with lots of compost and then well watered. The other – possibly because time was running out – was simply dug into the ground.
You can download a guide to choosing, planting and looking after your hedge here:Hedging Guide from Hopes Grove Nurseries
However, Anne Wareham, who owns the excellent garden Veddw, cautions against taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to planting your hedge. She planted her yew hedges straight into the soil. A trench would have turned into a fatal wet sump, drowning her yew roots in the wet weather and heavy soil of Wales.
This goes back to the first point that Morris makes at the beginning of this post – you need to think carefully about your choice of hedge and how you plant it if it’s going to be sitting in damp.
That’s one reason why it’s worth to talking to a specialist hedge or tree nursery, particularly if you can find one near you.
And look after your hedge in the first year
Hedges are reasonably low maintenance. Fences often need painting, repairing or replacing, but a hedge will go on forever with just an annual clip.
However, the first year is important, Morris says. This reflects what every other plant expert and nurseryman has ever told me. Trees and shrubs need looking after in their first year.
So you need to water and weed around your new hedging plants regularly in that crucial first summer.
So which hedge really is right for my garden?
Now that you have considered all the factors that matter, it’s time to talk to a hedge supplier. I don’t advise that you get your hedging from all-purpose garden centres, because every garden is different. It will really help to talk to someone knowledgeable, even on the phone.
Once you’ve thought about what you want your hedge to do for your garden, you’ll probably have a shortlist of hedging possibilities. You’ll find a better range from a hedging supplier, and there’ll be experts who can confirm your choice will grow well in your garden.
The question of ‘which hedge’ is also about whether to buy cheaper, younger hedging or spend significantly more for an immediate impact.
Specialist plant/hedging nurseries will probably also be cheaper than garden centres. Bare root hedging, which can only be planted between November and March, often costs less than £1 a plant. But it takes 2-3 years – or more – before it will be the hedge of your dreams.
‘Instant hedging’ will cost at least ten times as much (literally!), but will look great immediately.
Writing this post has opened my eyes to the beauty of a good hedge. Instead of seeing a hedge as a mass of green, I now take pleasure in spotting dog rose, hazel, elderberries, sloes and more. Hedges are good for wildlife, and also good for the environment, and they are a good foil for the planting in your garden.
I’ve also started looking at gardens for their hedges, rather than their flowers. It’s an interesting new perspective, especially in terms of photography. Do give it a try!
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