Monday, 15 March 2010

Choosing the right plants for a hedge

A well kept hedge not only looks good, but is one of the most positive things you can plant to help out wildlife. A hedge provides a home for a diverse array of small mammals, birds, insects, plants, and fungi. Maintaining a hedge is relatively easy compared with tending a large lawn, or a mixed herbaceous border.

But what plants make the best hedges? This depends largely on where the hedge is and its purpose. If you’re trying to create a smart front boundary a more formal, clipped hedge works best. If you have a formal garden which you’re trying to screen or compartmentalize then, once again, blocks of clipped hedging usually work best. If you have a less formal garden or want to create a boundary adjoining open countryside a wildlife hedge is perfect and a wonderful habitat for all kinds of wild critters.

You can make a hedge out of almost any shrub. A hedge of Lavender looks and smells wonderful and is brilliant for attracting insects to the garden. I also like to see shrub roses like Rosa ‘Hansa’ planted in blocks to make a fragrant, informal hedge. You can use evergreens like Choisya, Aucuba, and Ilex (Holly) to make a looser, shrub hedge. If you are using shrubs to create a hedge you will need to prune them with secateurs. Don’t let shrub hedges get overgrown, you’ll eventually have to cut them hard back and they’ll look sad and bald.

I’m not a big fan of Laurel. I know it makes a robust, fast-growing evergreen hedge and is cheap to buy, but if it’s not cut back ruthlessly it looks ugly. Laurel also doesn’t respond well to being cut with a hedge trimmer because its large leaves get sliced in half and go all crispy at the edges. Not a good look. Instead, I often use Bay. It is a type laurel (Laurus nobilis), but makes a much better hedge than ordinary Laurel (Prunus Laurocerasus). Bay has smallish, matt, dark green leaves which not only look gorgeous, but smell lovely and can be used in cooking. Bay grows rapidly without becoming as woody as bog standard Laurel and its smaller thinner leaves lend themselves much better to a haircut.

Yew makes the most stunning hedge and wins on so many levels. It has very small, evergreen leaves, which allows it to be cut into crisp shapes. You get a great architectural effect from blocks of Yew hedging in a garden. Yew makes fantastic walls for a garden room, you can easily cut doorways and arches through it, and it makes a dense habitat for animals, birds and insects. Yew is relatively slow growing and this puts people off using it for hedges, but you will get around 30cm growth in a year.

I also love Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Beech (Fagus) which are very similar looking plants. Hornbeam is more drought tolerant than Beech so may be a better bet in these uncertain climatic times. Copper Beech makes a very interesting alternative to the straight green Beech or Hornbeam and gives a striking backdrop to shrubs and herbaceous plants. Although Hornbeam and Beech are deciduous they retain their dead leaves throughout the winter, so they are not totally bald and make an evocative rustling sound on windy days. Beech and Hornbeam make great nesting places for birds and hedgehogs are often to be found snuffling about in the dead leaves at their base.

A true wildlife hedge contains a mixture of native hedging species that provide a habitat designed to be aesthetically pleasing and also good for all different kinds of wildlife. It is a mixture of native species traditionally found in country hedges. Common plants in a native hedge include Hawthorne, Field Maple, Dog Roses, Blackthorn, Quickthorn, Spindle, Hazel and Dogwood. These plants often have wonderful blossom in spring, then fruits in the autumn. Others, like the Field Maple (Acer Campestre) have fantastic autumn foliage colour.

Buckingham Nurseries supplies individual hedging plants and also native hedging mixes. If you want to create a wildlife hedge, just visit their site, input the length of hedge and choose your plants. They’ve got loads of information on hedges and how to plant them. They supply many different types of hedging plants at really good prices. If you want to plant a ready made hedge there are several companies out there that will do this for you, but it will not be cheap.

If you need help planning a hedge, or sourcing the plants at reasonable prices, why not get in touch and let me help? Email me, or visit my Web site for other contact details.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this useful post - I'm choosing something to replace an old neglected evergreen hedge that we're about to pull out, and I think hornbeam is the favourite at the minute...

Linsey said...

Glad it was of use. Hornbeam makes a fabulous hedge. It's much more drought tolerant than Beech and although it's deciduous it does hold its leaves in winter. You can also keep it clipped into a tight shape and the birds love it.