Hedging Plants for Garden Privacy and Boundaries
A hedge gives a thick permanent screen but you should decide what its purpose is to be before you plant it. If it is merely to set the boundary of your plot, then make it as unobtrusive as possible. If you want to turn your garden into an outdoor room as it were, then make good green walls from dense hedge plants (but cut attractive doors or windows into them also) such as beech and hawthorn which can be clipped.
Mixed or tapestry hedges, can be very attractive, especially if an evergreen likeis mixed with deciduous trees such as beech with its sweet soft green silky leaves in spring and the copper beech which brings a note of purple-bronze. Privet is really not good for a hedge plant because it robs the so badly and is very dull. Cotoneaster and lonicera, which needs constant clipping are both evergreen and good for small gardens. Beech, green and copper mixed three to one, is pretty and keeps its autumn brown leaves on all winter – as does hornbeam which is useful for heavy clay soil. Snowberry or symphoricarpos gives a mass of berries but loses its leaves in winter. Hawthorn is probably the cheapest and most effective hedge. Holly is the best evergreen and, like hawthorn, keeps everything out. You can mix the two alternately. Box is compact but very slow growing and attracts snails. Thuya, a conifer, is evergreen or evergold.
Quite often a fence, low wall, even a low hedge, exists already round a garden but is not in itself important enough to give the privacy required. In this case hedging plants grown as a screen are more important than closely grown and clipped hedge plants.
Most nurseries stock a supply of hedging plants. These vary considerably in price but, as you might imagine, the common hedging such as privet, is very much cheaper than say, myrtle. Hedging plants vary in size but a good size is around 1-1/2 to 2 feet. This means that you have very young plants at an early stage in the life of your hedge and so can train it as you will.
Generally speaking, you can keep hedges under control according to how you trim or clip them. The ultimate height of a tree or shrub given in a botanical or gardening site may be no guide for a hedge. With beech, for example, a specimen tree may grow as high as 80 feet. A hedge will tower to 15 feet or more but it may also be kept, and with not too much labour, at 4 feet — a good working height.
Much of the success and long life of a hedge is due to the original preparation of the soil. Most gardeners plant hedges “forever”, and so soil must be very well dug, well drained, and enriched, especially with humus, for a hedge consists of a highly competitive community of plants, and one must ensure that enough good food exists for each plant to grow well.
Ordinary soil is suitable for most hedging plants and you will see by my lists that follow that there are many that will grow almost anywhere. Before planting be certain that the hedge you choose is suitable. Some plants, Cupressus macrocarpa comes quickly to my mind — will die in heavy or cold, wet soils.
The easiest way to prepare the site for a hedge is to use a line and to make a trench in which everything you can spare or afford in the way of humus that will benefit the plant can be incorporated. This is one case when double digging is necessary. This means removing the topsoil for a spade’s depth and standing in the trench and forking over the bottom from one end to the other. Before forking, spread well rotted animal manure, well rotted, or leafmould in the trench. If none of these are available, buy some peat and mix it well with a general proprietary fertiliser or bone meal.
Next, put most of the soil back into the trench but withhold some so that when the hedge is planted you can spread the roots out, cover them with the soil and firm them in well.
You may decide to plant a single or a double row of plants. There is no rule about this, except that if you plant a double row you should stagger the plants so that the one behind fills in the space between the two in front of it. Hedging plants can be planted quite close to a mesh fence. A hedge is generally recommended that it should be planted 18-24 inches away from a wooden fence — but my advice is to allow a little more than this if you are likely (a) to trim it and (b) to use a powered trimmer. A foot and a half is not sufficient room to handle a machine easily and without causing damage.
Hedging plants may be planted any time between September and May — the earlier the better, so that the plants can become really established before spring and can shoot anew naturally.
Evergreen hedges are best planted in early autumn or late spring. Cold winter planting does not suit them. Keep the plants well watered, foliage as well as roots.
If you want a clipped hedge, you should spend the first two or three years encouraging the hedge to “feather” close to the gound. Do not let the hedge plants grow too high too fast. Discourage this by keeping the top clipped so that new shoots are made at the base. Only when these are thick enough to suit you should you allow the hedge to grow upwards for a few inches. Clip this portion too until it is dense enough and then let it grow a little more.
Even where the hedge is intended to form a windbreak, the young hedging plants themselves must be protected from wind until they are firmly anchored and growing well.
It is natural for new gardeners to be in a hurry but it is a great mistake to try to rush the growth of a hedge. The fastest growers are often the shortest lived. Gaps caused by dead bushes take time and trouble to fill.
In the early years of a hedge, the young hedging plants need to be cut quite often. In the same way that you pinch out the centre of say, an antirrhinum, to make a nice bushy plant, so you keep cutting off the tips of a hedge plant to encourage it to become bushy. Wait until a hedge is really thick at the base before allowing it to grow noticeably upwards.
If you feel that the hedge is encroaching too much in width, then it may be kept cut back and so kept under control. This is best done with the secateurs and if you have a lot of hedge this can be a lengthy job. This is something to be borne in mind when selecting the hedging plants.