Hedging: Garden Hedges

For a garden, a hedge is the living equivalent of a frame for a picture. It enhances the beauty of what is inside it, as well as acting as a valuable windbreak and a screen to give privacy. The choice of hedging material is very wide, and needs careful consideration if you are to cut down on maintenance as much as possible.

As already mentioned, conifers are widely used nowadays, even in the smallest gardens, as hedging plants. In this capacity they are first-rate labour-savers and normally need clipping only once a year, in late summer. This compares favourably with the requirements of some other hedging shrubs, such as privet and lonicera, which are in constant need of attention in summer and autumn.

For a rapid and dense evergreen screen, there is nothing to compare with the Leyland Cypress, Cupressocyparis x leylandii. This vigorous hybrid has an amazing growth rate – up to 15m (50 ft) in ten to fifteen years. It was first introduced to the home gardener some thirty years ago and is now the most widely planted hedging subject of all. It can be clipped well at any height from 2 m (6 ft) upwards.

Since its introduction, several distinctive forms have appeared, includeing ‘Stapehill’, with denser growth than the type, and ‘Green Spire’, with brighter green foliage.

Other hedging conifers, slower in growth but possibly more suited to the smaller garden include some forms of Lawson’s Cypress. Many of these make dense, impenetrable screens or windbreaks. Thuya plicaia, formerly high in the charts as a hedging tree, has been largely superseded in popularity by the dynamic ‘leylandii’.

Yew is the most easily managed and labour-saving tree of all when used for hedging. Clipping presents few problems until the hedge reaches maturity (usually in about ten to fifteen years from planting). Even then the operation will entail only the removal of 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in) of annual growth.

A yew hedge grows fairly fast in its early stages – up to 15 cm (6 in) in height and girth annually – it slows down considerably after this. It therefore is a long-term investment and many of us would not be prepared to wait for it to reach maturity, as this takes 10 years or more. Yew hedges should be trimmed only lightly to retain their dense growth.

There are quite a few other plants that need little care and clipping be-cause of their comparatively slow rate of growth and compact, dense habit. Box is one of these. Once established, it needs very little attention. The common box, Buxus sempervirens, is the best for hedging. ‘Gold Tip’, with leaves splashed with yellow, and ‘Handsworthensis’, with upright growth, are the two kinds most commonly used. ‘Suffruticosa’ is the dwarf edging box, once widely cultivated as a formal edging and used in Tudor ‘knot’ gardens. Today, however, looking after garden features of this kind is too time-consuming an operation for most part-time gardeners, and it is wiser to keep your hedging plans as simple as possible.

Many evergreen flowering shrubs make colourful and decorative hedges that will need clipping only once a year – normally as soon as the flowers fade. The barberries, for example, include many forms that are ideal for this purpose. The vigorous Berberis stenophylla makes a strikingly beautiful hedge, with its long arching sprays of orange-yellow blossom in spring. The flowering shoots should be trimmed back hard after the flowers are over. This will also help to keep the hedge well-furnished at its base.

Two other good species are B. darwinii and B. julianae. These are more compact and have larger leaves than stenophylla. The flowers are orange and lemon-yellow respectively.

The Mexican Orange, Choisya ternata, makes a dense and intensely fragrant hedge and will flourish in a shady situation. The shiny, three-lobed dark green leaves make a perfect foil for the cream waxy-textured flowers, which have a penetrating orange-blossom perfume. These appear from late spring to early summer, with a repeat performance later in the year. The Mexican Orange does well in the milder coastal districts of Britain, but is not suitable for cold, exposed situations.

The cotoneaster species, too, include many that make good evergreen hedges. The small white flowers are pretty but the main attraction of these shrubs lies in the abundant crops of scarlet berries that persist well into winter. Cotoneaster franchetii, C. henryana and C. simonsii are three of the best for hedging. All have handsome dark green foliage and bear their scarlet boot-button berries in great profusion.

The firethorns Pyracantha also include a number of useful evergreen berrying shrubs for hedging. Their spiny stems and dense growth make a hedge that is almost impenetrable by man or beast. Most of the Pyracantha species, including P. gibbsii and P. rogersiana, are good for hedging, but the best of all is ‘Orange Glow’, a vigorous cultivar with an abundance of orange-red berries.

None of the hedges mentioned should need clipping more than once a year. You should carry out this task with flowering types when they have finished their display, and with non-flowering kinds at the end of summer, in August or early September.

Where a dividing hedge is needed between different sections of the garden as, for example, between a plea-sure garden and the fruit or vegetable plot, cordon or espalier fruit trees can be used to advantage. As well as their fruit, you can also enjoy the decorative blossom in spring which can rival the beauty of many ornamental flowering trees and shrubs. Cordons are grown on single, double or triple main stems and can be planted as little as 75 cm (2-½ ft) apart, either at an angle of 45° (single cordons) or vertically (double and triple cordons). Espaliers have their side branches trained horizontally at intervals of about 60cm (2 ft) from a central upright stem and are planted 4.5-6 m (15-20 ft) apart. Apples and pears grow and crop well in cordon or espalier form.

Both forms are trained on wires, stretched between posts at intervals of not more than 3 m (10 ft). Pruning is not an arduous task, consisting of shortening side growths on the main stems to six or seven leaves in July with a further cutting back to two or three buds in late autumn or early winter. These operations encourage the formation of fruiting spurs.

A screen of this nature can serve a triple function, not only providing delicious fresh fruit but also being decorative and labour-saving. Such features are important when choosing trees or shrubs for any part of the garden. Although some may have a spectacular display, it is often short-lived. Those of the greatest value in the garden are the ones that either flower over a long period or provide a bonus, later in the year, in the shape of edible fruit or attractive berries, bark or autumn colour.

27. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Gardening Ideas, Time Saving | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Hedging: Garden Hedges

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