5 essential … plants for a flowering hedge

We tend to think of hedges as plain green blocks, made up of plants such as Yew, Beech and Laurel, marking the boundaries of our beds and gardens and providing the backdrop to more interesting planting. It doesn’t have to be this way: flowering hedges can be decorative elements in their own right.  As the traditional hedge planting season draws to a close, there’s still plenty of time to plant a flowering alternative.

Choisya ternata

A hedge of Choisya ternata provides both backdrop and decoration: the glossy, aromatic, bright green foliage provides an excellent year-round background for a mixed border, and in late spring the whole plant is smothered in highly scented, star-shaped white flowers. Other factors that make this evergreen shrub a popular choice for hedging include its fast rate of growth, dense habit and easy-going nature: Choisya ternata grows well on any reasonably well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade, reaching a maximum height and spread of around 2m by 2.5m. Its only special requirement is a relatively sheltered site as it won’t be happy in a very cold or windy spot.

 

Choisya ternata.JPG

The cultivar Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ has the same characteristics as its relative, but the young leaves are a glossy bright yellow in full sun or a more subtle yellow/green when grown in partial shade.  I have to admit I’m not a fan of this variety as I think it looks a bit sick but it does brighten a gloomy area!
Garden care: established hedges should be pruned fairly hard immediately after flowering which may also encourage a second flush of flowering in autumn. Cut out frost damaged stems in early spring.

Hydrangeas are great shrubs that flower all summer and autumn and make highly decorative informal hedges. There a number of different varieties, but Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars make an excellent choice for hedging as they have large, long-lasting flowers and a compact, rounded habit and require only minimal pruning once a year.

Hydrangea, Nymans

Although deciduous, the mopheads in particular retain year-round interest as the dried flower heads persist well through the winter. Which cultivar to choose will probably pose the biggest problem as the flowers come in two shapes – round ‘mopheads’ or flattened lacecaps – and a wide range of colours – whites, pinks, violets, blues and reds – while the stems and leaves can vary from green through red to near black. The final variant is size, cultivars varying from around one to two metres eventual height and spread.

Once the choice is made, all the macrophylla Hydrangeas are fully hardy shrubs that require little shelter and thrive in windy gardens, including seaside ones, and perform well in full sun to part shade, but they do appreciate having their feet in cool moist conditions so prefer a deep, rich soil with plenty of organic matter dug in and a good spring mulch.
Garden care: it is best to leave the flower heads over winter to give protection to the growth buds below. Dead head in spring after the danger of frosts, cutting back the stem to just above the first healthy buds.

Hypericum x hidcoteense ‘Hidcote’ is one of a large genus, commonly known as St John’s Wort, that includes annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs which are all instantly recognisable for their prolific bright yellow, cup-shaped flowers. Of all the family, Hypericum ‘Hidcote’ is the most commonly used for hedging because of its dense, bushy, spreading habit, and its hardiness and versatility.

 

Hypericum Hidcote

This is a very hardy plant surviving temperatures down to -12 degrees centigrade, making it suitable for most areas although it will appreciate some protection from cold winds. It grows well in most types of soil, preferably well-drained, and is happy in full sun or partial to full shade although flowering will be more prolific in a sunny spot. Appearances obviously matter too, and the dark green foliage makes a superb backdrop to the profusion of stunning golden yellow flowers with orange stamens which come in relentless succession from mid-summer until late autumn.

Hypericum Hidcote is referred to as ‘semi-evergreen’ as the leaves can drop for a couple of months in the hardest of winters but regenerate in spring when the whole hedge will benefit from a trim to remove last year’s growth and maintain its bushy habit. Eventual height is 1.5m, but Hypericum Hidcote hedges are best kept to a maximum of 1m high to prevent them getting straggly.
Garden care: apply a good mulch of rich organic matter after pruning.

The relatively recent move towards more naturalistic planting has led to a much wider use of ornamental grasses in planting designs and the introduction of the idea of using grasses as screens and hedges. Although maybe not the most obvious choice when thinking of hedging, grasses lend themselves very well to the job as they add both colour and movement and can be designed to be a textural through-line in a garden, lending themselves easily to straight lines or sweeping curves.

Miscanthus Yaki Dwarf

Of the many grasses available, it’s hard to beat the cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis for their long season of interest, colourful flowers and sturdy ability to remain standing through winter.  Miscanthus ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ has fine textured, silvery-green leaves that form upright, arching clumps up to 1.2m high and in late summer long-lasting plume like panicles of pinky-brown, silky flowerheads emerge and delicately change to silvery white as they mature. The flowerheads and leaves glow with gold and orange when they catch the winter sun and are breathtakingly beautiful with a coating of hoar frost.

It’s not a fussy creature, apart from disliking winter wet, and grows well in any fairly moist and well-drained soil, becoming drought tolerant once established. Maintenance couldn’t be much easier either: simply cut down once a year before new leaves start to grow and divide every few years.  I like the fact that a hedge of grasses is a dynamic addition to the garden, and changes throughout the year rather than simply being a static object like a more traditional hedge.

Shrubby Potentillas are the victims of considerable garden snobbery: mention their name to many gardeners and what comes to mind is a rather common, ‘old-fashioned’ little plant covered in brash yellow flowers. It’s one of those tough old plants, like Mahonias and Forsythias, that got their unfavourable image largely through being the uncared-for survivors of long neglected gardens and their unfortunate tendency to have unsubtle, unfashionable bright yellow flowers. But times have moved on and nowadays Potentilla fruticosa, the most commonly available species in the UK, comes in a whole range of colours, still including many yellows, but also numerous shades of white, pink, orange and red.

Potentilla Abbotswood

Potentilla fruticans ‘Abbotswood’

It’s a good idea to choose your colour carefully as you’ll be seeing a lot of it – given a sunny spot, Potentilla fruticosa will produce masses of saucer shaped flowers, resembling those of single roses, from May until September and needs very little care or attention to do so. The dainty, deeply divided, deciduous leaves vary in colour from dark to grey/green and the shrub has a spreading habit that forms neat mounds roughly 1m high by 1.5m wide. Potentilla fruticans ‘Primrose Beauty’ AGM is a particularly long-flowering variety with pale yellow flowers and grey/green foliage and Potentilla ‘Abbotswood’ AGM has large, pure white flowers and mid green leaves.

Potentilla fruticans is a tough, resilient, fully hardy shrub that needs no watering once established, thrives in poor, well-drained soils and is pretty much impervious to pests, diseases and deer. All of this makes it an ideal choice for hedging, especially on a hot, dry site and it makes a very good companion for other drought tolerant plants, especially those with silver leaves.
Garden care: trim lightly with shears after flowering.

 

Potentilla Goldfinger

A splash of summer colour from Potentilla ‘Goldfinger’

 

 

Advertisements

5 essential … plants for winter interest

In the depths of winter plants which provide structure, colour and fragrance in a garden are especially welcome. Here are a few easy plants which will offer much, if not all, of that.

It isn’t just leaves and flowers that add colour to the garden – stems can do it too and those of shrubby Cornus (commonly known as ‘dogwoods’) do it in style. Depending on the variety, at this time of year their upright stems provide a stunningly vivid display of dark red, orange, limey green or dark bronze-black, from leaf fall right through the winter.

cornus stems

For maximum impact, go for a group planting of 3 or more and they will look truly spectacular in an open spot where they will literally light up when the winter sun hits them.

Although you could argue its star turn is in winter, Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ also produces small white flowers in spring followed by white berries in autumn and its golden yellow leaves turn red and orange in Autumn.

cornus

So basically it’s a great plant for interest pretty much all year round.  It isn’t fussy about soil, but will do best in moist soil and is a useful plant for wet areas of the garden.
Top tip: Prune hard to 30-40cm above ground in early spring to prevent the shrub getting too large and to rejuvenate it so that fresh coloured stems grow each year.

Hamamelis or ‘witch hazel’ is definitely a wonder in winter when the bare branches are covered in clusters of sweetly scented yellow, orange or red spidery flowers. Plant it on a woodland edge, or in winter border alongside a path, where its fragrance can be appreciated and you can cut the flowering twigs and bring them indoors to perfume your house in winter.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Bernstein'

This large spreading shrub/small tree grows (slowly!) up to around 4m in height and spread, so give it plenty of space to expand in time. Hamamelis prefer a moist, well-drained neutral to acid soil in sun or partial shade.

Helleborus sternii is a very attractive evergreen perennial with pretty creamy-pink-green flowers that will brighten up a winter woodland or shady border from January to March.

 

Hellebore sternii.JPG (1)

Standing about 30cm tall it has glossy, prickly-edged leaves and provides architectural shape in the border all year round, so it’s a great plant if you want some attractive evergreen structure at a low level or to grow under trees and shrubs.  It’s also ideal to plant in a raised flower bed, where the flowers can be seen more easily.  Helleborus sternii likes a neutral to alkaline soil in sun or partial shade and will benefit from a mulch of well rotted organic matter in autumn. Most hellebores are very hardy, but this variety may need a bit of shelter from cold winter winds.

Phyllostachys Aurea is a tall, strongly upright growing bamboo that’s great for hedging and screening, but also makes a very elegant specimen plant whose stems when mature can add a wonderful splash of golden colour to your winter garden.

Phyllostachys

For maximum impact, plant in full sun and prune the lower side shoots away to reveal the canes in all their glory.  If you’re not too keen on the yellow colour, opt instead for Phyllostachys nigra which has very attractive black shoots.  Plant in moist, well drained soil in sun or partial shade, and protect from cold, drying winds.  Top tip: if you don’t want to find this plant running amok through your garden (and the garden next door!) surround the roots with a non-perishable barrier that will restrict the plant’s spread. You have been warned!!

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is a tall, imposing and highly architectural plant that will add year round structure and winter interest to a shady area of the garden. Despite its large size and prickly leaves, this plant has one of the most delicious and delicate of scents, very like that of Lily of the Valley, which makes a wonderful surprise in the winter.

mahonia charity

The spikes of fragrant pale yellow flowers are held above rosettes of large dark green, holly-like leaves from November to March and provide a valuable source of nectar for pollinating insects in winter while the blue/black berries that follow will attract birds into your garden.  This hardy shrub will be happy in a moderately fertile moist or well drained soil.

Mahonia

 

You can also find more plants for winter interest in my previous blogs:

5 essential … plants for winter seedheads

5 essential … small evergreen plants

 

Photos:  Janet Bligh

 

 

5 essential … trees for spring blossom

Nothing lifts flagging winter spirits like the first signs of blossom on the boughs, the clouds of pink and white that follow bringing with them the first true promise of spring and a new gardening year. While the iconic blossom trees are April’s ornamental cherries, the blossom season lasts from February to early May, moving through the Prunus family (from blackthorn, apricots, plums and cherries) and then on to the later crab apples, apples and Hawthorn.  And right now it’s the perfect time to be planting trees so get busy and ensure you have lots of beautiful blossom to look forward to!

One of the earliest blossom trees to flower is Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidore’, a dainty Japanese apricot that grows to only 3 metres and produces deep carmine pink, almond scented flowers on bare stems in late February to March.

Prunus Beni-chidori ©Ornamental Trees

The yellow fruits that follow are edible, but not pleasantly so as they are very bitter. It prefers a moist, fertile, well-drained soil and is best planted in a sunny, sheltered spot next to a path in order to catch the scent. It also makes a good container plant.

For something a little bit different, ornamental pear trees flower ahead of most other blossom trees and are usually easy to grow, tolerant of most soils and conditions and disease resistant. Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ is one of the best. It is an upright, compact tree to 7-10m in height and carries large white flowers on bare stems in March.

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer © Marc Deraeve

The fruit aren’t suitable for human consumption, but make useful late season food for birds and the leaves take on fiery tints in autumn, later than many other trees.

Amelanchier lamarkii is another early bloomer, smothering itself in delicate, star shaped white flowers in March to April. In early summer these go on to produce edible purple/black fruits that are a particular favourite of blackbirds. The small leaves provide dappled shade in summer and turn from striking bronze when they emerge to green and then brilliant red and orange in autumn.

Amelanchier. © beechwood nurseries

It is a slow grower and makes an excellent choice as a specimen for smaller gardens. It can also be grown as a multi-stemmed tree, providing additional structural interest in winter. Happy in sun or partial shade, this tree tolerates extreme cold and wet, but does need a lime free soil.

The real stars of the show are the ornamental cherries, many of which have Japanese names as they were bred from Japanese garden cherries by the famous plantsman, Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingrams. Amongst the most unusual of these is Prunus ‘Ukon’ as its clusters of large, semi-double blossoms are neither pink nor white, but pale sulphur yellow. These open from pink buds in mid to late April and are perfectly complemented by its bronze/brown young foliage. It has an attractive, spreading habit and umbrella-like canopy and is altogether a beautiful tree for any garden. (Ultimate height and spread approximately 8m x 10m).  Prunus avium Plena (AGM) is not Japanese, but the double flowered version of our native cherry and is covered in a profusion of pure white drooping flowers in late April to May. Its young bronze leaves turn to dark green and then a rich, vibrant red in autumn. At about 10m x 10m it makes a spectacular specimen or avenue tree in a large garden.

Prunus avium plena ©RHS plants

 

If it’s pink that takes your fancy, Prunus ‘Ichiyo’ is a lovely, dainty tree (up to 6m tall) with neat, shell-pink blooms set off by bronze-green foliage.

Prunus Ichiyo ©rhs
Ornamental cherries grow best in fertile, well-drained, soil in sun or partial shade. They will not tolerate water logging.
Late bloomers, but no less beautiful for it, the crab apples see the blossom season out in style. They are related to our domestic apple (for which they make excellent pollinators), but have much smaller fruits which can only be eaten cooked and are mostly made into jellies and jams. In late spring, they have pretty, scented, usually single flowers, ranging in colour from pure white to deep pink, depending on the variety.  Some cultivars have purple leaves.  In autumn, they have small, attractively coloured red or yellow ‘miniature apples’ and they often have good autumn leaf colour as well. Most crab apples do not grow to more than 6m tall, and take quite a long time to get there so they are excellent trees for small gardens.  Malus hupehensis is an exception to this rule and, at up to 12 metres tall, makes a wonderful spreading specimen tree.

Malus-hupehensis ©rhs

It has profuse clusters of pink-budded white flowers in spring, followed by cherry-shaped, deep-red fruits, and red and yellow autumn tints to the leaves.
Crab apples are very hardy, and happy to grow in almost any soil, provided it does not dry out easily in summer. They like a sunny position, but will tolerate some shade.

 

Photos credits:  Ornamental Trees, Marc Deraeve, Beechwood Nurseries, Royal Horticultural Society.

 

5 essential … plants for a relaxed country look

As much of my work is in country gardens around Hampshire, Surrey & Sussex, I often need to find ways to blend the plants inside the garden with those in the wider landscape beyond the garden boundaries. There are a number of plants which I use for that purpose, and also where the planting needs to transition from cultivated flower beds to a wilder look in the further reaches of a garden, where wildflowers such as daisies and cow parsley may be growing for example.

With millions of people watching Country File on the TV every week, there’s no doubt that an awful lot of us hanker after the Great Outdoors and yearn for a touch of countryside in our lives, so even if you have a small suburban plot by choosing the right plants to put in it you can bring a flavour of country life into your own garden.

You can’t get much more ‘relaxed country look’ than Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. Romantic as the name sounds, this is in fact a rather more sophisticated and elegant form of the very familiar cow parsley.

Anthriscus AS

 

The difference is in the foliage, still deeply cut and lacy but a wonderful deep purple/black in colour that perfectly offsets the umbels of delicate creamy white flowers appearing from May to July. Rising to a height of 1m, but with a dainty spread of just 30cm and happy in sun or partial shade, this short-lived perennial or biennial will self-seed freely and makes a perfect companion for ornamental grasses in less formal or meadow areas of the garden. Fully hardy and prefers well drained soil.

Foxgloves are a wonderful addition to natural planting schemes, providing vertical interest and self-seeding freely. And bees love them too! Digitalis ‘Pam’s Choice’ is a particularly attractive form, its nodding white trumpets of flowers heavily dotted and splashed inside with deep maroon.

Digitalis AS

The flowers last from May to July on stems that reach 1.5m high and the basal rosettes of soft green leaves spread to about 45cm. They like a moist, humus rich soil and full sun to partial shade, but don’t worry too much about positioning – once you have them in the garden, one of the joys of foxgloves is watching them pop up each season where they know they’ll be happy.

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘TE Killin’ has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit for consistent and reliable flowers of great beauty. The large, white, semi-double, daisy-like flowers have golden yellow centres and are held on sturdy stems with dark green leaves from July to August.

Leucanthemum ©RHS

With a height and spread of 80cm x 60cm this makes an excellent mid-border plant and gives a relaxed, meadow-like feel to any summer border, looking especially effective when planted in large drifts. An easy-to-care-for, free flowering and fully hardy perennial happy on any reasonably moist and fertile soil in full sun or partial shade.

Viburnum Opulus ‘Roseum’ (also known as ‘Sterile’ which doesn’t sound half as nice!) is a beautiful large shrub which is covered with snowball-like white flowers in May and June. Berries follow the flowers and later in the year, the fresh green leaves turn a beautiful purple-red colour before dropping. This is not a fussy plant, thriving in sun or some shade, and any reasonably fertile soil – just give it plenty of room as it could potentially reach a height and spread of up to 4 metres.

Vib opulus Roseum RHS

A smaller variety of this plant is Viburnum Opulus compactum, at approximately 1.5m height and spread – making it a much more manageable shrub for a smaller garden.

Viburnum Opulus (commonly known as ‘Guelder Rose’ even though it isn’t a rose!) is often used in native mixed hedges and is a magnet for wildlife as well as being hardy enough to cope with exposed positions.

Everyone loves honeysuckle don’t they?! I do anyway, and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ is a climber I plant regularly when I don’t need something neat and well-behaved!

Lonicera AS

This is ideal to plant on a large pergola structure or to scramble over walls or through trees. The flowers are a pale creamy yellow and are at their most fragrant on a warm summer evening. This is a vigorous twining plant and it will get up to 6 or 7 metres high, so it needs a lot of space as well as sturdy support.

It’s an easy plant to grow, tolerating most soil types plus some shade, (although it’s at its best in a sunny position for maximum fragrance). It’s also a valuable plant for wildlife with nectar and berries attracting bees, butterflies and birds.

Other plants which I like to use for the country look include the ornamental grass Deschampsia ‘Goldtau’, the brilliant red poppy Papaver ‘Beauty of Livermere’, Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) and the wild rose, Rosa rugosa.

Photos:  Firgrove Photographic, Royal Horticultural Society