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blurring the boundaries



In my life, whatever the question the answer is usually ‘plants’. What should I use to cheer up my lounge? A dwarf mountain palm. What should I have for lunch? Salad. What should I use to delineate the boundary between neighbouring gardens - a hedge.

Fences are a quick fix but if you’ve got the space, a hedge is almost always the better option. They effectively mark boundary lines, provide structure and add beauty to the garden. Fences can break or blow over in strong winds but when chosen wisely and planted correctly, hedges filter wind much more effectively, protecting you and your plants from those unruly south westerlies.

Hedges are a sanctuary for wildlife, often providing food and shelter for birds and small animals. They can provide structure and interest in the winter months when the bare bones of the garden are exposed without the meat of summer flowers. As luck would have it, we are slap bang in the middle of prime hedge planting time. At this time of year, most hedging plants are available as bare root whips. They are cheap as chips and usually put on growth quite quickly in the spring because they’ve had the winter months to put down roots and establish themselves strongly.

My top selections for deciduous hedges are Fagus sylvatica (beech) and Forsythia x intermedia. The former holds onto its coppery leaves until late winter when the fresh, new foliage elbows the crispy old timers out of the way. And you can’t beat the latter for late winter/early spring interest - the whole hedge is cloaked in a bright sulphur yellow flowers.

If it’s an evergreen hedge you’re after you've got the old faithfuls like Yew, Thuja and Privet (though technically a semi evergreen) but I think hollies make great hedges. Try the self fertile Ilex aquifolium ‘JC Van Tol’. Its a cultivar of our native holly with almost spineless leaves and bright red berries on dark purple stems.

As ever with planting, preparation is key. If you’re using bare root plants, make sure you soak them for at least an hour ahead of planting. Dig a trench one spit depth (depth of the spade) and 50-70cm wide. Incorporate plenty of compost into the soil ahead of planting. The spacing will vary depending on species, age and how instant you want the hedge to be but for example for 4 year old beech whips (120-150m tall), you could plant between 3-5 per metre. Mulch well on completion and make sure you keep the area around the new plantings weed free. Young plants will need staking for the first couple of years and watered generously in spring and summer this year and next. So, the next time the need for division arises, forget about fencing. Get ahead, get a hedge. Happy gardening!

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