Pushing the boundaries: How a hedge acts as a border while enhancing the garden

Pushing the boundaries: How a hedge acts as a border while enhancing the garden

A hedge acts as a border while enhancing the garden, says Peter Dowdall

Only about a month left to get any new hedges planted — well, that is if you are using bare-root plants, potted specimens can, of course, be planted all year round.

Bare-root plants are grown in a nursery field and lifted during the dormant season, November-February and sold in garden centres and nurseries during this period. There are several advantages of using plants grown in this way, one of which is that they will establish quickly in the ground as they get settled in their new home before growth starts with the rising temperatures in the spring.

There is also a far greater variety of species grown in this way than what are available as potted plants and perhaps one of the biggest differences is that bare-root plants are much cheaper than potted plants and that is because they are much cheaper to produce. They are grown from seed or cuttings planted outdoors, pruned each year and then lifted when ready for sale. Potted plants have the added expenses of starting off in one size pot, then being moved into larger containers along with the cost of compost and fertilisers.

There was a time when all plants were grown in this way, nurseries of old which were open as retail outlets before the advent of the modern-day garden centre grew all their plants in nursery beds and this is where the old expression that you should only plant during a month with an “r” in it comes from. To be more accurate about that statement, it should read you can only lift plants out of the ground during such months. Nowadays nearly all plants are available during each month of the year as they are grown in containers. Along with the financial cost there is also an environmental cost associated with growing plants in pots, namely the plastic used for pots, chemical fertilisers and the peat used in compost mixes.

Planting a hedge provides the obvious boundary demarcation but will also bring so much more to the garden. A good, dense hedge provides a substantial sound buffer along with working as a windbreak to create shelter in the garden. All hedges will work to remove carbon and pollutants from the air and return clean oxygen back into the environment. Perhaps one of the most important roles that they play in the natural landscape is to provide refuge, a safe haven and a source of food for wildlife.

A single-species hedge will provide all of the above but a mixed hedge containing several species will increase the amount of wildlife that benefits along with providing more visual interest with different plants flowering at different times and offering different forms of seasonal interest such as autumn foliage colour and winter berries.

In a coastal situation, Elaeagnus ebbingei makes a great barrier, putting up with the harshest of conditions and providing beautiful grey/green foliage during each month. The creamy yellow flowers which emerge during early winter are an important food source for any bees out foraging during the winter months. Walking near an elaeagnus hedge on a calm, sunny day during the winter months will fill the nasal passages with a lovely, honey-scented aroma.

Prunus laurocerasus, perhaps better known as common or cherry laurel, does exactly what it says on the tin. It is the fastest-growing of all commonly used hedging plants, growing into a dense, evergreen wall in no time at all. As a result, it does require quite a bit of maintenance as it won’t stop growing just because it has reached your desired height. It’s quite an attractive dark green hedge but it does tend to be a bit of a bully, forcing out any other species that may try and grow alongside or beneath it. If that’s not a concern and you want a two-metre or higher screen quickly, then this is one to consider.

A mixed hedge allows us to be more creative, mixing deciduous specimens such as beech, the Guelder rose and dog roses, whitethorn, blackthorn and fuchsia in with species which will remain evergreen such as holly, evergreen oak, pine and yew.

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