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

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