Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Now’s the time to make hedges – not fences

Andrew Midgley  argues that autumn is the perfect time to think about hedges and says there’s such a great choice of hedging plants that it’s time to banish thoughts about fencing.

I often try to persuade my customers to keep their hedges or to replace a dilapidated fence with a hedge as a well maintained hedge can form a natural, aesthetically pleasing, backdrop in the garden. A well trimmed hedge can set off your border. 

Also a well maintained hedge acts as a natural barrier that helps filter wind through the garden whereas some fences can abruptly halt the wind by forcing the wind to go over the fence and down, flattening plants. Hedges are ideal habitats for nesting birds and for insects. 

Some hedges can double up as a security deterrent as well as a practical and attractive boundary. Plant hawthorn (Crataegus) or blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) or berberis to make it difficult for intruders to get through.

Osmanthus X burkwoodiiThere are numerous hedging plants that can be deployed to so many different types of hedges, from the formal hedges, to 'agricultural' hedges, to conservation mixed hedges. There are hedges suitable for all soil conditions and aspect. 

The cheapest way to buy hedges are bare rooted ones but you need to buy a minimum of 25 per bundle and you're restricted to when you can plant them out. 

Alternatively, you can buy containerised plants which you can plant out throughout the year (except in extreme weather) but you have the advantage of having a 'hedge' being created there and then.

Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)For deciduous hedges go for beech as they retain their structure and leaves over winter (Fagus sylvatica), or hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). The Swedish whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia) is grown for its dark green foliage.

For the traditional evergreen hedges, yew (Taxus baccata) and box (Buxus sempervirens) are top of the list for that classic formal look. For a quick growing evergreen hedge with attractive glossy leaves and small pink flowers, go for Escallonia.  For something a bit different but with scent and evergreen, try Osmanthus x burkwoodii or the heady scent of Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) which flowers in winter.

Planting a hedgeNot all conifers are as brutal and thuggish as the leylandii but still useful if you want a fast growing hedge for privacy or as a sound deadening barrier. The Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) can be cut fairly hard back to old wood, unlike the leylandii.

When I was the head gardener at Castle Drogo, I planted several agricultural/ wildlife friendly hedges between the car park and the 'private area' to create a natural boundary and screen. To plant a wild life hedge it must be a mixed hedge consisting of at least 40 per cent of hawthorn (Crataegus), and roughly ten per cent of the following plants: blackthorn, (Prunus spinosa), hazel, (Corylus avellana), field maple (Acer campestre), holly (Ilex aquifolium) and crab apple (Malus slyvestris).

If you're thinking of planting a hedge, autumn is the best time to plant out as the soil is still warm and the winter rain will water and firm the newly planted hedge.  Think about what you want the hedge for and what you are looking for it to do (a formal hedge to add structure to your garden or to create a conservation hedge). 

As always, preparation is key to getting your hedge off to a good start. Weed the area where you want the hedge to be planted and fork over the ground in order to loosen the soil. Plant out the hedge in single or double rows. 

If you are planting bare rooted plants, prune the plants to around a couple of inches to the ground as this will thicken up the base of the new hedge. 

Water in well and then mulch with garden compost to suppress the weeds. 

Periodically weed in between the plants until the hedges start to thicken up and merge together. Trim the sides of the hedge annually and then the top once it has got to the desired height.

Andrew Midgley worked for the National Trust for 17 years and was recently garden manager for the National Trust for Coleton Fishacre, Greenway and Compton Castle. He now runs a gardening business in the Newton Abbot area.

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