Sunday, 26 August 2012


Hedge Your Bets

There are really very few hard and fast rules about gardening. Take hedges, for example: people think of them and perhaps privet comes to mind, or hawthorn, or beech or..... well, you get the idea. One of the most effective hedges I've come across was in a council house garden in Manchester. Instead of consisting of just green privet (like the rest in the street ) it was a mixture of golden privet and beech. This had the effect of creating a contrast between the yellow of the privet and the green of the beech in summer. In winter the beech leaves die but remain on the plant, giving a new contrast of yellow against a warm brown, so that there is a year-round colour interest combined with privacy. This sort of effect can be copied by planting variegated plants and different coloured conifers. The only thing to beware of is that the chosen plants have similar growth rates, avoiding the creation of something that looks like the North Sea on a bad day.

Yew and variegated holly (click to enlarge)
Purple and green beech
  Another way of adding interest to a yew or Chamaecyparis hedge is to grow a climber up it which will give some colour variation. The classic example of this is the flame creeper (Tropaeolum speciosum), which follows flower colour with attractive blue fruits.

flame creeper

flame creeper fruit

It is worth understanding what is happening when you cut a hedge: put simply, the plants used are trees, and the leading shoot of the tree has the object of competing with other trees for light. To improve its chances of getting above the others, it sends a hormone down to lower laterals which inhibits their growth, enabling it to forge ahead. If you cut the hedge, you remove that leading growth and the supply of inhibiting hormone stops, enabling the lower branches to grow, so that they bush out to give a nice thick barrier.  

We've all noticed the lovely conifer hedge which suddenly goes brown and we come to the conclusion that its got some dread disease. In some cases this is true but often the 'dread disease' is the comedian who has trimmed it back into old wood. Most conifers, yew being an exception, don't regenerate from old, inner wood, so beware of being too enthusiastic with the shears. Beware also of the cowboy who comes to your door offering to 'do the garden'. 'Do' is the operative word in many of these cases, where this so called gardener doesn't know a rare orchid from an oak tree and is destined to devastate your conifer hedge.

Thanks for visiting and I would love to hear your feedback.




  1. I wondered why you often see dead bits on conifer hedges! Love then picture of the flame creeper fruit.

  2. Hi John - thank you for your very kind comment re my small garden harvest in North Wales. I have to admit my photos are carefully edited to hide the overgrown wilderness that the garden has become this year!

    And oh yes that flame creeper is wonderful. Similar to the old man's beard that delightfully decorates the field hedges around here at this time of year. I've a privet hedge outside my bathroom window that I've let grow wild and its covered in fragrant flowers in the summer. Its an absolute magnet for bees and other insects - when I open the window for a closer look its just buzzing with activity. So I'm not going to even try to get it back to an orderly hedge again. Though I do like the sound of that golden privet and beech hedge you found!

    I look forward to more interesting posts to come. :o)

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  3. Hi John
    How i enjoyed your blog ,particularly as I have been weighing up whether to keep this virginia creeper we have inherited at our new home.I think it will stay, determined to keep but you are right in winter ,a miserable sight!
    You ar so right too about just taking time to enjoy the garden not just think about all the jobs to be done and your borders are fabulous ,perhaps mine will be too ,one day
    Great blog really enjoyed it must pass on to friends