What is a hedge?

A hedge is a row of trees or shrubs closely planted and regularly pruned to restrict their height and width.

Why have a hedge in a garden?

Hedges have various uses in the garden from functional to aesthetic.

Boundaries - Hedges are good natural boundaries in contrast to a wall or fence. They can offer security from their stature and width as well as thorns if you choose something like a Pyracantha.

Wind break - If your garden is in a windy situation, a hedge can act as a good wind break, much better than a solid fence or wall which can actually make the effect of the wind worse. This is because a hedge can filter the wind and reduce its effect whereas a solid structure will create added turbulence.

Screening - A hedge can be useful for screening ugly views or to hide items in the garden you don't want to see like water butts and bins.

Dividing the garden - You may want to divide the garden into different areas for functional reasons e.g. to create a children's play area separate from the ornamental part of the garden, or you may want to divide your garden into different ‘rooms' to create an element of surprise and mystery.

Enhancing views - You could use a gap in a hedge to frame a view or use the hedge itself as a backdrop to a feature, a bench or planting. A dark Yew hedge is a good example as it looks stunning with an herbaceous border planted in front of it.

Noise reduction - Hedges, particularly Conifer hedges are useful to reduce road noise.

Wildlife - Hedges are important to many birds and insects. They are used by birds to build nests in, provide cover from predators such as cats and birds of prey, and they provide food sources as they also attract a wide range of insects.

Some examples of suitable plants for a hedge

Formal Hedges

Buxus sempervirens (Common Box) - a bushy, dark green evergreen hedge which can grow up to 5m in height.

Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) - This is a deciduous plant but if trimmed in late summer may retain its dead leaves through the winter. It has lovely serrated ribbed leaves.

Crataegus laevigata (Hawthorn) - This has deciduous leaves and thorny branches but provides rewards with blossom in spring, and berries in autumn. It is fantastic for wildlife.

X Cupressocyparis leylandii (Leyland Cypress) - A vigorous evergreen conifer which creates a dense hedge but must be pruned regularly. (This is the one that has grown far too large in a lot of gardens and caused neighbourhood disputes.)
In poor soils you can prune it once a year but on richer soils you may need to prune up to 3 times a year.

Fagus Sylvatica (Common Beech) - Like the Hornbeam, if trimmed in late summer it may retain its dead leaves through the winter.

Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry laurel) - A fast-growing evergreen with large glossy leaves.  Good in dry soils.

Ligustrum ovalifolium (Oval-leafed Privet) - A fast growing evergreen, good for a formal hedge. The cultivar ‘Aureum' has yellow margins to the leaves.

Photinia x fraseri - A vigorous evergreen which can grow to 5m. The leaves are bright red when young.

Pyracantha coccinea - A bushy, spiny evergreen with white flowers in early summer and berries in the Autumn. It will grow in shade and is good for security as a boundary hedge.

Taxus baccata (Yew) - An evergreen conifer with dark green leaves ideal as a backdrop to other planting. It is highly poisonous so avoid it if you have children.

Flowering Hedges

Forsythia x intermedia - A vigorous shrub for an informal hedge with bright yellow flowers in early spring.

Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape) - Spiky evergreen leaves and yellow flowers in the spring. This is good for a low informal hedge growing to about 1m high. It is good for areas of dry shade.

Osmanthus heterophyllus - Dark evergreen foliage with fragrant white flowers in summer.

Also, fuchsias, weigelas, spiraea, abelia, myrtle and potentilla all can be pruned to create a hedge.

Low Hedges

Lavandula angustifiolia (English Lavender) - A semi-evergreen shrub with spikes of fragrant purple flowers in summer. Good for a low hedge or edging. You will need to replace them about every 10 years as they become woody.

Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea 'Nana'- A deciduous shrub with  spiky purple foliage which turns red in autumn. Also has red berries in late summer.

Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) - An aromatic evergreen shrub with purple flowers in summer.

Teucrium lucidrys - Small dark leaves with pink flowers in summer that the bees love.

In the south of the UK you could also try Pittosporum for an interesting evergreen hedge, of which there are many varieties.

Purchasing and planting hedge plants

Hedge plants can be purchased as container grown or bare root. Bare root plants are grown in the field and lifted as required. This can only be done between November and March so planting times are restricted, however, they are much less expensive than container grown plants so think about this when planning your garden.

Examples of hedges

Click on any of the images below to enlarge and read more details

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Marston Moretaine

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Welwyn Garden City

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Houghton Conquest

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Welwyn Garden City