Garden Boundaries: Fence or Hedge?
TO FENCE OR TO HEDGE?
It is likely that you will want or have to mark the boundaries of your garden, for security or a more decorative garden, or both. The quickest solution is obviously to erect a fence – it is immediate and you can always start to grow a hedge or plants up against it, once it is in position.
Cheaper, as you would expect, is often quite stark and definitely not decorative. Besides, planting is not only the cheaper, if longer-term option, it is also much friendlier to the environment than building great fences of sawn wood daubed in preservatives that are potentially harmful to plants and animals.
Interwoven panels fastened to posts are the cheapest way to enclose your garden with a wooden fence. They are also straightforward to erect: you can drive the supporting posts into the ground and cement them in. Once the posts are firmly in place, the panels can be nailed to them, preferably using simple panel brackets.
Protect them with a timber preservative that is not harmful to animals and, if you have any plants growing nearby, cover them with plastic sheets or large rolls of fabric to avoid splashing. You will need to treat the fence every couple of years, preferably in the winter when the early plants are dormant and the perennials are still underground. Have some consideration for your neighbours if you choose a bright or contrasting colour for your side of the fence: it may ruin their planting effects by ‘bleeding’ through a clashing colour, or damaging their unprotected plants. A word with the neighbours first can prevent all sorts of horrors later on!
Apart from being less environmentally friendly, fences such as these also have the disadvantage of not lasting a great length of time. As the panels are generally thin, they soon become brittle and break quite easily. If your garden is situated in a windy site they can become like sails, picking up the wind and rattling all night in a storm. That’s if they don’t take off!
Picket fences, with alternating wooden uprights and gaps, are more attractive and durable and once again they are not difficult to put up. Unfortunately, being much more substantial, they inevitably cost quite a bit more.
Hurdles, made from long strips of woven hazel, are obviously more natural and are also very easy to install, as there’s no need to cement in the posts they are attached to. They have a distinctive, rustic look and add pattern and texture to the garden, wherever they are put up. Don’t expect them to be cheap, though!
Trellis panels are certainly cheaper than hurdles and are just as easily nailed to posts or even attached to the tops of existing walls, to give your garden greater privacy. They are, though, much flimsier, and really need to be used as a frame for, which will also make them a stronger structure for your boundary.
Last but not least, wire netting probably provides the cheapest solution and gives you the opportunity to keep your reputation as an environmentally friendly gardener. How? Simple: once you have tacked your wire netting to posts, plant a hedge just inside it, using commonsuch as beech, hawthorn or hornbeam seedlings, which you can buy cheaply in bundles in the winter. Alternatively you can plant a border of mixed shrubs, preferably some that are evergreen, to give all round interest and privacy.
The wire fence shelters and protects your hedging plants as well as enclosing the garden. Then, when the plants are big and strong enough, you can take down the wire fencing altogether, if you wish. Alternatively, you could let the hedge grow through the fencing, making it a much stronger structure that will repel all invaders, including people, pets and livestock!
Provided you are prepared to be patient, planting hedges will, in the long run, bring you greater satisfaction and will cost less. Your hedge will be not only a tough, practical boundary but also an important aspect of your garden, and not just round the edge of the garden. Small internal hedges, to enclose or define, for example, herb gardens or beds, make the garden much more interesting by giving it distinct areas like rooms in a house. Hawthorn orhedges are particularly effective and attractive in country areas where there might be sheep or cattle grazing nearby. At the same time, if you want to attract as much wildlife to your garden as possible, you could consider a mixed country hedge of blackthorn, holly, hazel, elder, dog rose, hawthorn and acer campestre: just watch the birds, butterflies and insects enjoying the habitat you have set up for them!
hedging is a good idea if you live in an area where it is particularly windy. Remember, a hedge, as well as providing security, also shelters and protects plants from damaging winds that can at worst break them and in general dry them out and cause harmful loss of water.
If you want a neat but substantial country hedge for clipping, you can’t do better than beech or hornbeam. For gardeners living near the sea, try clipped escallonia macrantha orrhamnoides also known as sea buckthorn. If you need to keep animals or intruders at bay, plant a prickly hedge of berberis or or species .
Box, laurel or yew will give you formal, evergreen hedging, while dwarf box is ideal for dwarf hedges, as are lavender, hebe, santolina and rosemary.
If you prefer a flowering hedge, try forsythia,or prunus cistera.
Last but by no means least, the common privet, in its green, golden and variegated forms, provides evergreen, all-purpose, substantial and cost-effective hedging for all types of gardens and situations.
A word of caution for anyone tempted to plant leylandii: don’t, unless you are prepared to devote lots of time and energy to ensuring it doesn’t grow into a giant, impenetrable monstrosity that your neighbours (and you yourself) will hate! It will take over completely and block out the light from other plants. When you chop off the top few metres the trees don’t do the decent thing and bush out: they just look awful.
PLANTING A HEDGE
Keep your costs down by buying common hedging plants that are available in bunches with bare roots in the winter. Look for beech, hawthorn or hornbeam seedlings. If necessary, leave the roots to soak for a couple of hours in water, if the plants have been out of thefor a while. In any event, aim to plant within 24 hours.
Once you have dug your trench, 30 cm deep and wide, add generous amounts of compost and fork it well into the base of the trench. Then sprinkle in some general purpose fertiliser and mix it with the compost. Place the hedging plants about 30 cm apart in a double row, making sure the second row is staggered, forming an elongated ‘W shape along the trench.
Cut the plants back to a height of 5 cm after planting, then water them and mulch them well. It will encourage lots of healthy growth in the first season if you feed and water the plants regularly.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
A BIT OFF THE TOP, SIR?
The best way to guarantee thick, healthy growth from top to bottom of a formal hedge is to trim the new plants lightly each time they grow 5 cm. If you’re looking for a more ornamental hedge or you want quicker results, go for potted bushy shrubs with lots of growth at the base. Plant them in single rows, whenever the soil is workable. To produce a taller, more stable hedge, plant in staggered, double rows, using plants such as laurel or escallonia.
OR SHORT BACK AND SIDES?
Clipping hedges is not as easy as you might think, so follow these suggestions, to ensure safe trimming, a straight line and a cut that promotes continuing growth.
Wear goggles to protect your eyes and thick gardening gloves if the hedge is prickly and use a line attached between two posts, one at either end of the hedge, to give you a level.
The sides of the hedge should be clipped so that the top ends up slightly narrower than the base. This makes the hedge more stable and lets more light and rain get to the roots, keeping the base green instead of dying off.
Above all, beware of trailing power cables that can so easily ‘disappear’ in the foliage, only for you to ‘unearth’ them with your hedge trimmer! If you don’t have a circuit breaker (RCD) fitted for your electrical gardening equipment, think long and hard before using power tools with cables, such as hedge trimmers, lawnmowers and nylon-line strimmers.
HEDGE YOUR BETS
You can sidestep all of the dangers listed above, as well as most of the work, if you plant a screen instead of a hedge. Try planting a row of bamboo canes or any tight growing evergreen or small, upright-growing trees. They will provide you with an impressive barrier that can also enhance the look of your garden. Make sure first that you know how high they are likely to grow, to avoid the kinds of problems associated with rampant leylandii.
A further alternative to exhausting work on a hedge is to use evergreen climbers. Providing you train them along wire netting or a chain-link fence, these climbers will end up concealing the mesh, without growing any higher than the netting or fencing supporting them.