Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hedging and other things

A recent discussion I had with a friend revolved around the topic of hedges, what were good plants for the job and how far apart to plant them. Many people plant hedges not only to mark a boundary but also to provide privacy and shelter. Once you know what will be demanded from your hedge you can begin to narrow down the plant choices available. So many times I have heard, I want something for the boundary that will grow quickly, this is usually in an effort to gain privacy. The one problem I have with this idea is the quicker something grows, more often than not the more maintenance will be required to keep it in proportion, trimming a hedge two to t here times a year amounts to being a pain to me, but maybe not to others! In Europe slow growing species such as box and yew are frequently used for hedging and while they take time to reach maturity they require only an annual trim to keep them looking sharp. A species often used instead of box is Lonciera nitida, a small leafed shrub of the same genus as honeysuckle, but not a climber, makes a swift growing hedge, but will need to be trimmed at least twice per year. It also makes a good topiary specimen, easily being formed into whatever folly takes your fancy. English box and yew are also used often for topiary of various shapes and forms. On the farm Mum had used English box to create a small hedge, up to about 40cm in height, around the driveway, forming a border between the garden and the drive. Her argument was, while creating a neat edge to the drive, it also would disguise any weeds errantly charging ahead in the garden beds beyond! I think it worked well.
Of other European species used as hedges is the beech, Fagus sylvatica, a deciduous tree, that in the wild grows to immense proportions. I did see them in the New Forest in the UK where many had fallen in the ’87 hurricane. When juvenile, these trees maintain their brown leaves through the winter until the new ones push the old ones off in spring. When trimmed as a hedge, the juvenile state is kept and so the hedge through winter will brown and maintains a visual barrier. At the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, there is fine example of this tree used as a hedge. It is mighty thing, towering some four to five metres high and only bout one and half metres wide! Naturally specialised equipment is required for such a tour de force in hedging! A hedge of this size would make great shelter but there are many other plants probably less needy in the trimming department. On the farm the larger part of our garden was sheltered from the ‘Old Man Southerlies’ by a huge macrocarpa hedge, trimmed only irregularly by mechanical devices attached to a tractor. This hedge though provided a wonderful place to play as children, not only in the spaces beneath the trees but also tumbling along the tops, leaping from tree top to tree top. This hedge though providing shelter did rob the soil in adjacent gardens of not just valuable water but also nutrients, as they are hungry feeders robbing the soil of available food.
Next time I will write more of spacings and native species appropriate to hedging.

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