Life Gardens

Friday 18 October 2019

Diarmuid Gavin: From brick walls to green hedges, a boundary defines your garden

From brick walls to green hedges, a boundary defines your garden

Viburnum tinus
Viburnum tinus

Diarmuid Gavin

Garden boundaries are often an integral part of the overall design. They help to define your space and provide backdrop and colour to planting. They can offer shelter and help create micro-climates, enabling the cultivation of more tender species.

It may be that you are lucky enough to have inherited beautifully kept hedges or a lovely brick wall, but equally you may find yourself having to start from scratch with broken-down wooden fences and scrappy, overgrown hedges. But consider all your options carefully before making decisions on what to build or plant. For instance, a hedge will take time to establish and a brick wall will be a costly choice if you change your mind.

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The green choice is a hedge and there are many options available in local nurseries. Think about what's important for you - evergreen, good autumn foliage, flowers, berries, and the ultimate size you require. There is a huge difference in growth rates and eventual heights so gather all the facts before you make your choice.

There have been many neighbourhood disputes in the press about leylandii hedges growing out of control, blocking the light and destroying surrounding gardens. This type of hedge is best restricted to larger park areas as they would outgrow most residential sites.

Along with the overall aesthetic value, consider any privacy requirements, security and, if you are near a busy road, noise pollution. There is no doubt that a plant boundary at the appropriate height will help to cut out noise.

How much maintenance are you prepared to do? An informal hedge may require only an annual trim but a formal hedge will need clipping two to three times in the growing season to keep it looking great.

Early autumn (as in right now) is the best time to plant evergreen hedges. Potential choices for great evergreen hedges include yew, box, holly, escallonia, euonymus, osmanthus, Portuguese laurel and photinia. However, bear in mind that yew and box are very slow-growing and many gardeners are shying away from buxus because of the fear of box blight, which I wrote about last week. Lonicera nitida, ilex crenata or some of the smaller-leaved hebes can make good alternatives. Photinia and laurel can grow to good heights more quickly and provide a glossy foil; the laurel bears small white flowers in June, and the photinia has distinctive young foliage in reddish bronze. Viburnum tinus (pictured) is an evergreen shrub that produces clusters of pink buds that open into scented white flowers late in the year - if trimmed regularly it makes an elegant hedge.

If you don't particularly require an evergreen hedge, you have a lot more flower opportunities among the deciduous plants such as scented viburnum farreri, roses like Roseraie de l'Hay, spiraea and weigela. Classic deciduous choices would be beech, which hangs on to its coppery autumn foliage through winter, hawthorn, which is an excellent choice for a wildlife corridor and carpinus - well, that's just a great favourite of mine. Deciduous hedges are best planted in the dormant season, from leaf fall in November through to early February.

Bamboos create soft but definite garden boundaries. There are so many wonderful bamboos to choose from. The most important consideration is how much space you have and how invasive the individual bamboo species is - choose clump-forming varieties that won't invade your neighbour's plot. Bamboo canes are available in green, black, and golden yellow. They have varying eventual heights and different leaf proportions give each plant a very different feel. They rustle in the wind and create a wonderful feeling in the garden. But they won't thrive in dry situations, they are thirsty plants and love water.

If you opt for a wall, look at the colour and texture of your house and its locality and match the materials as closely as possible. Reclaimed brick and stone is widely available and is worth the extra investment as it will truly unify the space. If you want the formality, but still need some green, the combination of brick walls with a neatly clipped hedge on top is great. A wall in bad condition can be rendered to give it a new lease of life; rendered walls will look great in most style of gardens and the paint colour can be matched accordingly.

Wooden boundaries have really moved on since the classic upright timber fence. Wooden walls constructed with solid horizontal decking can finish the look of a house and garden beautifully and last much longer than the traditional fence. They have strong architectural value and offer a greater sense of security.

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