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’

 

 

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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

Last call for hedging!

It’s so nice to have the opportunity to plant hedges along garden boundaries rather than building a fence.  But hedges can also be used within gardens to divide areas or create backdrops for planting – or simply for their own sake.

Box hedging & topiary in a formal setting at West Green House

If you are planning to plant a traditional hedge this winter (be it formal or informal), time is fast running out as it should be done between November and March while the plants are dormant.  Depending on what type of hedge is wanted, plants are available in a variety of forms.

Mixed native hedging which is deciduous (ie the foliage dies back in winter) is planted as bare-root ‘whips’ – these are basically single stems usually available in a variety of sizes ranging from 60cm in height up to about 1.5m, and planted in staggered rows.  Native planting is used where a more traditional hedge is required (especially appropriate in rural locations) and offers interest most of the year round from its mix of leaf, flower and berry.  As a result these hedges are a great habitat for wildlife.  In areas where rabbits and deer are a nuisance, spiral guards placed around the plants (with a cane to hold them up) are invaluable – but there’s no getting away from it, they do look pretty unattractive for a few years until the hedge is established and the guards can be taken away.

Hawthorn blossom in a mixed hedgerow

Traditional flowering hedgerows are generally made up of a combination of some or all or the following – Acer campestre (Field Maple), Crataegus monogyna (common Hawthorn), Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn), Viburnum opulus (Guelder rose), Viburnum lantana (Wayfaring tree) andRosa canina (Dog rose).

A formal beech hedge in winter

For more formal hedging, at this time of year plants are available either as bare-root specimens, or root balled (which means they are dug out of the ground with soil attached in a ball shape around their roots, and then covered in hessian for protection).

Root ball holly hedging in position to be planted, staked & wired

Generally Buxus (Box), Fagus sylvatica (Beech) and Carpinus betula (Hornbeam) hedging is available as bare-root plants and/or rootballs.  Evergreen plants such as Taxus (Yew), Ilex (Holly), Laurels and many conifers are bought as root ball plants in a variety of heights up to 2 metres plus.

Box hedging can be bought at very small sizes but it is slow to grow

On a practical note, here are a few tips for hedge planting

–         check your soil type and take into account other site conditions such as shade and exposure before deciding which varieties to plant.

–         large plants may need staking or tying in for stability (especially on windy sites).

–         avoid planting in frosty weather.

–         if you buy plants and are unable to plant immediately, keep the roots or rootballs moist and free of frost (dig a temporary planting hole to store them if necessary, or cover rootballs and keep them moist).

Please note that Box, Laurel and Yew hedging is poisonous to livestock.

Hornbeam is very tolerant of difficult conditions and creates a good hedge all year round as its leaves hang on through the winter

If you prefer something more ornamental, there are many plants which can be used as alternatives to traditional hedging and which can be bought in containers and planted at any time of the year. Numerous shrubs knit together well to create attractive flowering hedges or hedges with interesting foliage.  The choice is huge depending on site and the desired effect, but whatever the type of hedge, they are a valuable addition to gardens of every size.