Establishing boundaries with living things...

It’s just not possible to escape from hedges. We grow them, we prune them, we rip them up, we demand laws to curtail their growth – but we can’t do without them.

Mixed hedges

A fence may seem the obvious answer to creating a boundary, but it’s nothing more than an instant quick-fix to be followed by years of maintenance. And a fence is ugly.

But although a hedge requires a more patient approach – prepare the site, incorporate loads of well-rotted material, plant the plants, water them, stake them, perhaps even rig up a temporary barrier to protect them from winter winds while they form new root systems – it’s usually a joy to behold.

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It could take several years to reach the same height as a fence, but the end result is a thing of beauty. It too will need care and attention – pruning, feeding, repairing, but it encourages living things into your garden.

Hedges – particularly well-kept, deciduous hedges – are colonised by birds and insects, most of which actually enhance the garden. Instead of a lifeless fence, there’s a world in miniature, a community created and creating – thanks entirely to the gardener who decided to opt for plants rather than wood or concrete.

A hedge can also help to absorb traffic noise, cut pollution, create a windbreak and even act as a deterrent to criminals. Berberis, holly, pyracantha, hawthorn or rose have enough sharp edges and spines to make life painful for the most trespassers. So, for all those who have been toying with the idea of erecting a barrier, consider the merits of yew or hornbeam, shrubby honeysuckle or beech, escallonia or cotoneaster, berberis or box, hawthorn or holly, rose or mixed evergreens, privet or flowering/fruiting plants.

If the soil in not waterlogged or frozen, then planting can take place at just about any time of the year. Remove all weeds and then incorporate heaps of organic material. It’s possible to buy plants in pots or bare-rooted. But whatever your choice, plant them with care. Ensure they go into their new home at the same depth as they were grown in the nursery. Give them a dose of slow-release fertilise, firm them in well, and water. Top off with a mulch to keep in the moisture and to keep out the weeds.