Designing a Landscape with Hedges

When close-clipped and uniform, hedges create a sense of neat formality; when mixed and billowy, they are a garden in themselves.
From: DK Books - Learn to Garden
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Photo by: DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Plants can help make a garden into an outdoor room with their leafy walls, structure and protective canopies. A backdrop of dense yews clipped into a hedge provides a property boundary and privacy.

All hedges take some years to establish and gain the required height, but some, such as oval-leaved privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium), are relatively fast-growing. Remember, though, that the faster they grow, the more frequently they will need clipping. While your hedge is maturing, you can erect a temporary screen of split bamboo or hurdles, or a wire-netting fence as a boundary line. This netting can be left in place as it will eventually be covered by the hedge. If you can’t wait, “instant hedges” (the plants are grown in containers) can be bought by the yard. They are not cheap, but the contracting company will also prepare the ground and carry out the planting. Use hedges as garden dividers where you want to split up your space into different rooms. Tall hedges here create a secret, sheltered enclosure, further “furnished” with dwarf box edging. 

What Type of Hedge?

Evergreens give cover year-round while deciduous hedges are see-through in winter, except for beech and hornbeam, which retain crisp brown leaves until spring. If you live in a cold, exposed place, choose a hardy, deciduous hedge that will withstand windy conditions, such as hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) or hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). Plants for seaside gardens exposed to wind, but relatively frost-free, include the hawthorn and hornbeam again, and also the sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) and tamarix, and the evergreens griselinia, holly, and olearia, all of which tolerate salty air. 

For a smooth, formal evergreen hedge, look for small-leaved plants with a dense growth habit that tolerate regular close clipping. Two of the best choices for formal hedges are yew (Taxus baccata) and Lawson cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana). Others include boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), or fast-growing privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium), and shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida). 

Informal hedges are often a mixture of flowering and berrying, evergreen, and deciduous shrubs planted closely together. They are well suited to rural or semirural areas and informal garden settings, and need little or no pruning if they are to show off their beauty, so allow them a bit more space than a clipped hedge. You can achieve a more formal look by mixing plants of a similar growth rate and size, but with different foliage colors, such as green and copper beech, or green and golden yew. 

Existing Hedges 

If you already have a hedge, you may consider it your pride and joy, or merely a chore. If your current hedge is not doing anything for you or your garden, you could dig it up and start again. This is not as drastic a step as it may seem—yes, hedges are long-lasting, but they are also renewable and some grow faster than you might think. You could replace your old hedge with a low-maintenance version—beech (Fagus sylvatica), for example, needs just one trimming per year—or, if space is limited, you could achieve a similar effect by training ivy through wire netting or trellises to make a narrow divide. 

Hedges for Wildlife 

Hedges can enrich the garden by encouraging birds and other wildlife, providing shelter, nesting sites, and food in the form of berries and the insects they harbor. A wildlife hedge of mixed species, such as field maple (Acer campestre), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), holly (Ilex aquifolium), hazel (Corylus avellana), and spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus), will attract visitors all year. But don’t clip it too hard if you want flowers and fruit. If space allows the occasional plant to grow into a small tree, so much the better. For extra flowers, plant species roses, which also offer hips in fall, and viburnums. 

Considerate Planting 

Hedges can cause serious conflict between neighbors. They take up much more space than walls or fences, and are unsuitable for the boundaries between very narrow yards. To stay on good terms with your neighbors, keep them informed of your boundary plans and do not allow your hedge to encroach on their yard. Before planting, check any local regulations or homeowners’ association rules relating to boundary structures. Ensure that there is sufficient space for the hedge to spread, and, by mutual agreement, be prepared to cut it on both sides. Also, ensure that your hedge does not grow too high and shade your neighbor’s property. Internal hedges for screening parts of the garden can be taller, but think about how you will clip them before they get out of hand.

Next Up

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When close-clipped and uniform, hedges create a sense of neat formality; when mixed and billowy, they are a garden in themselves. Whichever look you prefer, hedges will often need to be trimmed, fertilized and shaped to promote healthy growth and maintain your landscape.

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Whether you can wait years for the screen to grow in place, or need a screen right away, you have many options when planting hedges for screens. 

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