Hedges for gardens should be more than a utilitarian addition to your garden.
“Should I plant a garden hedge?”
is one I’m less frequently asked than
“I’d like a garden hedge, what should I plant?”
But once I start the conversation with the client in order to answer the latter question, the former question comes up very quickly.
Choosing the correct plants for our hedge involves practical considerations, visual requirements, benefits, and of course, budget.
But the question as to whether a hedge is the correct answer to your gardening problem needs to come first. This is to establish that the reason why you want to plant a hedge in your garden is actually resolved correctly. Helping you to clarify this is a garden design issue or a gardening advice query. As with any project, the planning stage is important, or your time and money could well be wasted.
So, let’s look at some of the questions you need to ask yourself
Why would you plant a garden hedge?
- To define your property boundary
- To provide privacy
- To break up / hide from view different parts of your garden
- To hide an unsightly view
- To act as a windbreak to give shelter from prevailing winds
- To provide a secure barrier to contain dogs and children
- Security – to keep intruders out, by using thorny and prickly plants
In some ways these are all negative reasons; they are reactions to an existing situation. So ask yourself whether a fence or wall could work as well, or better than a hedge for your needs.
A garden fence or garden wall will: –
- Define your property boundary
- Provide privacy
- Break up / hide from view different parts of your garden
- And it may hide an unsightly view if positioned correctly
- Neither a solid fence nor wall provide an effective wind break as the wind is best slowed down by filtering it through a more open structure, such as trellis fencing.
- However, the wall and fence will provide a secure barrier to contain dogs and children, where a hedge may well have gaps.
- Keep intruders out if planned and built for this aspect.
Garden Hedges – what else do we need to ask?
Other considerations will include checking for any planning conditions and discussion with your neighbour, as whether you choose a hedge, fence or wall, you’ll need access for maintenance.
You also need to ask yourself what else is going to grow in the border with your hedge. Generally speaking, your ‘average’ fully mature privet hedge will be 8 foot high and 4 foot wide. In a small garden, that’s quite a bit of width lost to a hedge.
A narrow border such as is frequently seen in front garden boundaries will only have enough space for the hedge, if you wish your hedge to be healthy. A slightly wider garden border will allow you add small, shallow rooted perennial plants such as Cyclamen and Bergenia, or annual summer bedding and winter bedding, pansies for example. Remember you will need to feed these extras plants as well as your hedge.
In a narrow rear garden, a hedge, if unsuitable plants are chosen may end up being the only plants in your garden, apart from the lawn. You may consider this to be a good or a bad thing, of course. And it can be a good thing if the hedge plants are chosen for their attractiveness, perhaps offering flowers and berries as well as foliage, for example, Hawthorn (Crataegus).
There are the initial costs to compare plus the ongoing maintenance costs and time required.
Prices will vary depending on where you are in the country, on the plants and size of plants, on the type of fencing and brick; how and where you dispose of waste, whether you do the work yourself or get someone into do it. (For both the initial works and the maintenance).
You may need to spend a few hundred pounds or a couple of thousand pounds on your new garden boundary, so it makes sense to get it right in the first place. Personally, I think the finished project should also give you pleasure, which is why the design and planning is critical.
For example, in initial costs, whatever boundary you’re having, the area will need to be cleared as the first stage in the preparation for the new hedge, fence or garden wall; waste will need to be disposed of.
Garden Hedge – new top soil, soil improver, mycorrhizal fungi need to allowed for in the price as well as the plants themselves. Your hedge plants may be bare rooted or container grown. They may be young plants, or whips; or they may be a couple of feet high; or larger, established plants known as an ‘instant hedge’.
Garden fence – posts should be the correct size for the height and style of fence; these will need to be concreted in; you may choose a feather edge fence, hazel hurdles, oak panels and more besides.
Garden Wall – footings will need to be dug; these extend beyond the width of the wall; the wall could be built of breeze blocks then rendered; salvaged old bricks; new stock bricks, or be a dry stone wall.
Garden Hedge Maintenance
- Depending on the plants chosen, this will require pruning 1 – 4 times a year.
- Watering regularly whilst the hedge plants are establishing; during the first 1 -3 years depending on the initial size, plant species, soil type and weather conditions.
- Mulching, or the addition of organic matter to the soil, is advisable yearly.
- Sweeping up of a large amount of leaves during the autumn if a deciduous hedge is planted.
- Sweeping up of small amount of leaves continuously throughout the year if an evergreen hedge is planted.
- Weeding, especially whilst the hedge is establishing.
Right, so you’re happy with the comparisons, let’s look at some more positive aspects of garden hedges.
Would you like your hedge to be: –
Formal hedges, can be planted with either evergreen for example, Yew (Taxus baccata), or deciduous, for example Beech (Fagus sylvatica), trees and shrubs. These hedges do take more maintenance to keep them looking neat and formal. They look good in the front gardens of town houses, new and old, for example, and could be an alternative to a wall where the house architecture is classical and formal.
Informal hedges can also be evergreen or deciduous. If you want to provide a habitat and shelter for wildlife, then an informal hedge is a good choice, and you can ensure the best plant species are chosen and planted. For example, a mixed native species hedge, with hazel (Corylus avellana), dog rose (Rosa canina), and hawthorn (Crataegus).
Combining hedges with garden walls and fences
The best of both worlds in some ways, combining living hedges with brick and wood adds a whole new dimension to your garden, both from the practical perspective of keeping children in and intruders out; plus visually and aesthetically.
A few garden design examples –
A low, double sided garden wall with room for planting an aromatic hedge of clipped Santolina would be a delightful addition to a sunny, formal front garden.
Raised beds made with oak sleepers and filled with Rosemary would be tidy, yet slightly informal, depending on whether you clipped the rosemary to a neat shape or let it grow naturally.
Trellis fencing that forms a barrier to escapologist children and dogs, but planted with a mixture of evergreen and deciduous climbers such as clematis armandii and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) to create interest in a narrow back garden.
The plants that you choose for your garden hedge need to be the correct ones for all the above reasons and also be the best for your soil type and location. For example, a coastal garden needing some security may find gorse (Ulex europea) a good choice with its many prickles and yellow flowers.
Choosing the hedge plants that best suit you and your garden is not easy to do in a general blog, but I will look at some ideas and suggest possible hedging plants in later this month as the autumn is a good time to be planning to establish certain types of hedges, particularly bare root hedges.
For help and advice on whether a hedge, or a fence, or a wall is the best choice for your garden, and more ideas to help you choose the best hedging plant or type of fencing and wall for you and your garden, why not get in touch? We can design and advise with an on-site visit, but also long distance.
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