From earliest times when man first settled in communities he realized the need for privacy and shelter. To achieve this requirement he built stone partitions or walls to separate him from his neighbors.
Today the basic reasons for planting a hedge remain very much the same. A sense of privacy within our own home and garden is something to treasure, an escape or perhaps a hideaway from the pressures of modern life.
Hedges therefore provide a certain degree of seclusion from other people. In addition, they create a natural backcloth to a garden border of shrubs or herbaceous plants.
Aesthetically where screening is required, they are far more pleasing to the eye than a solid wall or unnatural fencing, and certainly more economic to establish.
Other benefits include protection from neighboring children or invading animals. Always choose a suitable thorny subject like Berberis for maximum protection.
Shelter by forming a screen affords protection of a different kind. Particularly in windswept coastal areas hedges reduce the force of the elements and allow a wider range of plants to be grown in the sheltered garden.
Perhaps the most obvious aspect of choosing a hedge is remembering that although its major function is screening, with care in selection it can be beautiful, colorful and attractive, through flowers, foliage or fruit.
Types of Hedges
The initial major division is in the evergreen types which provide all year round protection, and the deciduous subjects shedding their leaves in autumn allowing greater wind flow through the hedge. Either type can be used successfully for the second major group, this concerns formal, and informal hedges.
Formal hedges are more typically seen in larger, landscaped gardens where internal screens are used to segregate smaller area. Generally they require maintenance on a regular basis and must be clipped or shaped twice yearly.
Plants suited to this system include Buxus (Box), Ilex (Holly) and Taxus (Yew) all evergreens, and among the deciduous, types Carpinus (Hornbeam) and Fagus (Beech). Beech and yew are both ideally suited to chalky soils.
Cultivation must commence in autumn with double digging and the incorporation of organic manure. All perennial weeds must be eradicated before planting commences and soils allowed to weather during winter.
The majority of bare rooted subjects should be planted from October to March similar to the trees. It is however possible to plant evergreens slightly later during April and May. Container grown plants extend the season right through summer provided they are well irrigated after planting.
The principles of planting are similar to that of the tree, a large enough hole, the addition of peat, firmness of planting, correct depth and watering after planting.
Plant spacing obviously determines how rapidly the hedge will link and join to form a barrier. Distances will vary according to species and growth rate of a particular subject.
As a general guide, slower subjects should be planted 38-45cm/15-18in apart while the more vigorous subjects, Conifers and large broad leaved evergreens require 75-100cm/30-40in between them.
During the first 2-3 years newly planted hedges must be maintained and cared for. Mulching with peat or leaf mold does much to reduce weed populations, if weeds do appear hoeing should eliminate these. Irrigation is also vital to assist establishment particularly in hot dry seasons.
Early clipping should be aimed at shaping the hedge rather than drastic cutting. This is carried out using garden pruners for large leaved subjects or hand shears for smaller plants.
Only when the hedge has reached the desired height should the top be removed. The operation naturally encourages more lateral shoot development and a thicker hedge.
As the hedge develops, training will determine the type of hedge produced. In general it is wise to keep it broad at the base and taper it to a narrow top. Yew and box lend themselves to this type of management, which often produces strange shapes as seen in the art of topiary.
Where hedges have shown reluctance to produce noticeable new growth, an annual dressing of a compound fertilizer may prove beneficial. This technique is often used to stimulate old neglected hedges.
Plant Selection (Evergreens)
Hardy, pollution tolerant shrub to 2m/6ft, tolerates sun or shade, most soils. Female plants with red berries, leaves yellow spotted green.
A rather loose spiny hedge. FIs orange-yellow April. Berries blue-black. Shoots thorny with short thin leathery leaves. Most conditions and soils. Height 2-3m/6-10ft.
Common Box (Buxus sempervirens)
Small slow growing, bushy shade-loving evergreens. Tolerates regular clipping twice yearly and thrives on shallow chalk soils. Many good yellow and variegated forms available. 1m/3ft.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Hardy, long-lived pollution resistant slow growing evergreen. Leaves deep green leathery with spines. Flowers white insignificant, berries red round. 6m/20ft.
Plant Selection (Deciduous Types)
A slow growing upright shrub. Flowers white in summer, berries red in winter, leaves turning rich red in autumn. Bees attracted by flowers. Height 1.5m/6ft.
Golden Bells (Forsythia intermedia)
Sturdy early spring flowering shrub, flowers yellow in March before Ieaves. Prune after flowering April. Will reach 2m/6ft in 3-4 years.
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
Tough upright deciduous hedge, buds long pointed, Ieaves veined bright green, autumn brown hanging on until spring. 3m/10ft tall.
Excellent summer flowering shrub for milder coastal areas where it is widely used. Flowers from pink through to blue in conspicuous round heads. Plant March, April in sunny situation.
Plant Selection (Conifers)
Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana)
Useful hardy subject for colder areas where taller screens are required. Most exhibit a characteristic concial habit and show a very wide range of foliage colors among the cultivars and varieties. 12m/40ft.
Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa)
A very quick growing subject exceptionally useful in coastal areas. Tolerates strong salt laden winds. Subject to frost damage when young especially northern areas. Various selections of yellows and golds available.
Leyland Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii)
Reputed to be fastest growing of all conifers—1m/3ftper season. Very quick shelter from 2m/6ft spacing will reach 15m/50ft in 15-18 years.
The only disadvantage is the shallow root system which may lead to ‘wind blow’ on shallow soils. A relatively recent introduction equally as fast growing and hardy is the yellow form C.L. Castlewellan’ found in Ireland, now much sought after.
Yew (Taxus baccata)
Easily the best conifer for formal hedging. Slow growing, long lasting, tolerant of chalk soils, regular clipping. Only problem is the foliage is poisonous to cattle, and the seed is also poisonous. Height 3m/10ft.