Holly Kerr Forsyth and the beauty of the hedge.
Hedge your bets with living walls that can create connections or set boundaries between neighbours
There are many elements in landscape design that add structure to a garden. Walls and paths, pergolas and evergreen trees are all useful in anchoring a garden in the bare months of winter. Hedges also have many uses: they are marks of civilisation, a polite way of delineating my land and yours. They mediate and divide, providing a framework and a sense of character. Living walls create a connection between architecture and nature. And they provide a frame on which to grow climbing plants.
Few gardens, no matter how small, avoid including a hedge of some size in their landscape plan.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) politician, author, inventor and diplomat and one of the founding fathers of the US, wrote: “Love your neighbour, yet don’t tear down your hedges.”
If you want to remain on good terms with your neighbours, however, think carefully about what you plant as your leafy barrier. Tall-growing hedges that block out neighbours’ light and rob their soil of nutrients will not make for friendships. As with all decisions that have lasting consequences, consider carefully. Certain species are not friendly: cypress, privet and bamboo can be among the unwise choices.
Among the best species for hedging must be our own lilly-pillies (now all included in the genus Syzygi
um) with their soft form, dense growth habit and fresh pink tips on new growth.
There are several possible choices to employ instead of buxus, from Syzygium australe with its dark glossy leaves and white flowers to the-small growing ‘ Tiny Trev’. Its bronze new growth teams well with a second hedge of the small-growing Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’, with its burgundy foliage. Or add a low hedge of the native Austromyrtus ino
phloia ‘Blushing Beauty’ with its mulberry-coloured glossy foliage. You could allow it to become a taller hedge in the background and enjoy its small white flowers and black fruit.
Mock orange, also known as orange jessamine ( Murraya paniculata) forms a scented hedge, although in warmer parts of Australia it can become a pest. If you trim it after flowering, berries won’t have a chance to spread into the surrounding landscape. A tapestry hedge of different species that colour well in autumn can be fascinating. While beech most often forms the backbone of the tapestry hedge in northern hemisphere gardens, hornbeam ( Carpinus betulus) is easier to grow here. Add the green or purple-leaved berberis and an evergreen such as holly, well clipped of its berries. Add myrtle ( Luma apiculata) or the red-leaved pittosporum.
Hornbeam is used at Jardin de Bois Richeux in France’s Loire Valley to create a stilt hedge. The stilt hedge — where a thick head of foliage tops a bare stem —divides any garden into compartments while allowing tantalising glimpses of what lies beyond. And it invites several layers of underplanting.
The Manchurian pear also lends itself to the stilt hedge and the smaller growing Magnolia grandiflora, ‘Little Gem’ looks wonderful used in this way, with the bonus of gloriously scented, huge cream flowers for months during summer and autumn.
A solid green hedge can be anything but plain. It can provide a perfect backdrop to a single piece of sculpture
If you want to remain on good terms with your neighbours, think carefully about what you plant as your leafy barrier
or may become a coathanger for clematis and other climbing plants, ensuring colour and excitement when the hedge has finished flowering. If you have a hedge that is thinning at the bottom (perhaps because, despite the best advice, you didn’t prune it from infancy) try planting some hardy climber such as Chinese star jasmine at its base. It will climb through the leggy lower branches, thickening up your screen and providing you with delicious scent in spring.
Think a little beyond the usual and create a hedge of different bougainvilleas to provide an annual flash of sunset colours in creams, oranges and pinks.
Hedges of roses can create impenetrable barriers that will deter the most determined livestock. The cluster-flowered ‘Heidesommer’ is one of the prettiest and is also useful to stabilise a bank.
Rugosa roses will thrive on almost no water or fertiliser and reward you with constant blossom in summer and brilliant hips in autumn. Hard prune annually or every second year. You’ll find hedges of the tough, thorny Cherokee rose ( Rosa laevigata) in outback Queensland, where it provides an effective stock bar- rier. From China, it naturalised in the south of the US, after being introduced there in the 18th century. Similarly, hedges of the spiny Osage orange ( Maclura pom
ifera), still found in some Victorian colonial gardens, create an effective barrier.
New Zealand native the kapuka ( Griselinia littoralis) clips well for a salt-tolerant hedge: use it as a first defence in a seaside garden that must cope with salt-laden winds.
Hedges, like stone walls, can be cultural mediators, providing information about their creators and about the history of the property they adorn. The laid hedges of Tasmania, for instance, speak of that state’s colonial past and of the British settlers who established expansive estates in what was then called Van Diemen’s Land. One of the most popular forms of enclosing stock was through the various forms of the laid hedge. That’s a fascinating story, but one for another day.
Always trim plants from the get-go, creating compact, dense hedges rather than tall, sparse plants.
Hedges of Chinese star jasmine, above; bougainvillea, top left; and roses, bottom left