It can be a confusing affair deciding what varieties to use when planting hedges in your garden and the myriad of different species and their attributes can daunt the inexperienced gardener – we’ve all heard the nightmare stories of Leylandii disputes!
The first point you should consider is the purpose of the hedge itself - is it to provide shelter and privacy, or merely a neat border to the edges of your garden? Having decided that, what kind of environment does your garden enjoy? And what kind of events does it entertain that might dictate the formality of your hedge?
If the purpose of the hedge is to provide security, then you will probably require an evergreen species, because let’s face it, security that’s only part time is not worth having. Unfortunately, now that we are getting into the spring season, the optimal time for planting root-balled evergreens has passed - late autumn to late winter is best for these. But, fortunately, most hedges are quite easy to grow, so while February cannot provide the ideal conditions you can still persevere with a little extra work and pot-grown specimens can be planted at most times of the year. Excellent evergreen hedges can be provided by both Taxus baccata, or Irish Yew as it is otherwise known, and Prunus laurocerasus (Laurel), but if you want the added security of thorns and prickles, try Pyracantha (Firethorn) or Ilex (Holly). Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) and Rosa rugosa also make for thorny hedges with the added attraction of pretty flowers, but they aren’t evergreen.
Let’s next consider the location of your hedgerow and, if it is in a coastal region, then you should focus on plants that will withstand the salty air and exposed position. For these purposes I would recommend either Ilex or Escallonia, for formal and informal gardens respectively. Each of these cultivars can be expected to reach heights in excess of 3 metres and fortunately both are fairly hardy and should stand up well against the exposed conditions of a coastal situation and will be particularly grateful for the unadulterated sunshine that such a region promises. Another possibility, if you want an informal hedge that’s not too tall, is Fuchsia magellanica, which bears its pendant flowers all summer long.
Taxus baccata are extremely durable evergreens and are actually often sighted in urban churchyards. This cultivar is ideally suited for a city garden due to its versatile soil tolerance and its high resistance against urban pollution. As such, it can provide a reliable and secure boundary to your garden not to mention a dramatic backdrop upon reaching full maturity. For the most secular gardener, I could recommend no hedge more highly than the ‘Aureum’ variety of Ligustrum ovalifolium. Due to its broad leaves, dense foliage and erect habit, it can provide an excellent level of security and privacy as a border. For a more decorative boundary you might consider Ribes sanguineum which will show tubular, rose tinted flowers as well as aromatic, soft green foliage.
Shade or Sun
Depending on your garden’s climate and also the desired position of your hedge, you’ll need to adapt your choices to how much sunlight will be available to them. As has been previously mentioned, Escallonia prefers a sunny spot, as does Pyracantha, in order to produce its masses of berries, and the brilliant yellow-flowered Forsythia. Buxus and Ligustrum will tolerate shady areas and other shade-loving cultivars include Aucuba japonica and Symphoricarpos, which are evergreen and deciduous species respectively.
Formal vs Informal
Buxus is perhaps the most commonly chosen variety for formal garden hedges and will tolerate most soil types, showing curved elliptic foliage in emerald green - its lack of flowers making it an ideal candidate. Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’ is another option - whilst deciduous, it does hold on to its leaves after they turn from purple to brown and for most of the winter, until the new leaves come in spring. Prunus laurocerasus, Ligustrum and Taxus are good for the formal garden too and are all durable and quite low maintenance. If, however, you’d prefer a less formal, flower based boundary then Crataegus monogyna will show small white blooms in the early summer followed by dark red fruits in the autumn. Escallonia is a vibrant plant that in summer will show rich crimson flowers and for the rest of the year will provide dark green foliage. Rosa rugosa has large white or pink blooms and red fruit in summer and autumn and Symphoricarpus has small flowers in summer followed by large white or pink berries in autumn.
So, while establishing a hedge can seem a daunting prospect, it is only as easy a task as you make it, through your preparation and research. Obviously, the better suited your cultivars are to their environment, the greater your chances of success and I hope you find this a good starting point for your venture in hedging!