The Casual Gardener: A hedge is a safe bet, be it for boundary, windbreak or beauty
As the season opens for planting bare-root trees and shrubs, it's the ideal time to think about creating a hedge
ECHOING the prevailing political sentiment across Ireland, I’m using this week’s column to highlight the advantages of a soft boundary over its hard counterparts. Wooden fences, stone walls, gabions, block walls, etc all have their place but every gardener will you that a hedge is hard to beat.
Formal or informal, a ‘soft’ living boundary is good for wildlife and also better for ameliorating the effects of the wind. In addition to these great selling points, there is of course a hedge’s attractiveness. What sort of hedge you opt for depends on the its function – is it a perimeter boundary that requires in-built security features like thorns or is it an internal screen that is able to shed its foliage in winter?
As well as providing privacy and protecting homes and gardens from the effects of wind, hedges also muffle the noise of passing traffic and form an effective barrier against particulate pollution.
Formal hedges are usually made up a single variety though it is not unheard of to mix green varieties of holly and privet with variegated types to produce something more eye-catching. You may even choose to include flowering shrubs that provide colour and latterly berries.
Hedges don’t have to be formal to work well and can be highly effective in wilder contexts as natural windbreaks and stock-proof boundaries. Deciduous hedges reflect the passage of the seasons whereas evergreens provide colour, shelter and texture all year round.
In the coming weeks, bare-root hedging plants will start appearing in nurseries as the window opens for tree and shrub planting while saplings are dormant. Buying your hedging plants bare-root makes economic sense as each can cost around a third of what you’d pay for their potted counterparts, whose price includes the obligatory pot and the compost that fills it.
Before you buy your cost-effective, bundled 'hedgepack', ensure you have prepared somewhere at home where they can be heeled-in – ie put in temporary hole or trench where the roots are protected until you have time to plant the young trees.
Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) and box (Buxus sempervirens) are the classic hedging choices. The cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus 'Rotundifolia') is a vigorous plant that will thrive in almost all soil types. It can grow about 30cm per year and does need to be pruned twice annually to promote bushy growth and to keep it in check.
Evergreen holly (Ilex) species open up a new world of foliage and berry options including variegated or single colour leaves, prickly leaves (great for deterring unwanted visitors) and attractive fruits.
Ilex aquifolium 'Pyramidalis' is a faster growing, self-pollinating variety and produces lots of berries. Holly hedges can be maintained at a height of about 1.8m and plants should be placed about 45cm apart at when planting. Ilex crenata is another faster-growing holly. It is similar to box and is a very tough and disease resistant variety.
Yew (Taxus) provides a classier alternative to the much-maligned Leyland cypress (x Cuprocyparis Leylandii), though is slow growing, while beech (Fagus) is deciduous but holds on to its foliage for much of the year.
Nurseries specialising in native trees are the place to pick up traditional farmland hedging such as hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle and hazel.