The long overdue return of the hedge

By Richard Wright

Published on Friday, January 11, 2013 - 11:12


The long overdue return of the hedge

Unshaped buxus or box at the front of this border.

GARDENING EVERGREEN hedges started to become unpopular in the 1960s — and the trend of grubbing them out and putting in fences that blew over in the wind accelerated in the next decades.

Leylandii, that quick greenery fix, did little to help the reputation of the humble hedge, growing out of control to such a degree that lawmakers stepped in to prevent them being used as sticks with which to beat a neighbour.

But, as it does, the clock has turned full circle and people are planning for the long-term future of gardens, not just a stark boundary, which needs softening with plants which will, ultimately, lose their support.

There are three great evergreen hedging favourites of mine.

Ligustrum ovalifolium, which adorns many British gardens, is normally used to act as a barrier or as a privacy hedge, which possibly gave rise to its common name of privet.

To my shame, when I was a lad I helped my old father grub out an old privet hedge, which was probably planted in Victorian times and had main trunks like trees.

We replaced it with larch-lap. It looked smart and took up much less room for all of its five years — at which point it started to become an expensive, troublesome eyesore as posts rotted and panels unraveled.

Privet is now increasingly used in the garden and I love it, not least for its off-white blooms, the smell of which transport me back to the days when the hedge stood as an 8ft tall, out-of-control monster, which needed a fair bit of attention but was worth it.

A second favourite is buxus.

Commonly known as box, buxus is commonly used for hedging and considered the topiary 'king’.

Even if not used en-masse as a hedge, a single specimen can be fashioned into whatever you want. Buy a moderately mature plant in a pot and you will have a big box in five years or so.

Clipping box is a joy, too, which is why it was such a favoured decorative divider of the Tudors in their formal knot gardens.

In my garden, a single specimen provides interest but, as yet, it has not been fashioned into shape.

Another great garden choice is taxus or yew.

In recent years, taxus has had a bit of a reputation makeover.

Traditionally, yew was synonymous with sorrow and called the Tree of Death — often being found in graveyards and churchyards — perhaps a reputation also, in part, due to its toxic properties. More recently, however, taxus is better known for the successful anti-cancer drug Taxol that was originally manufactured from a product of the yew tree.

Taxus is planted commonly as an ornamental, spreading to gardens, including mine, from the super-gooey seeds transported by birds. Just recently, it provided useful material for the Christmas wreath.

It is the common yew, taxus baccata, which is particularly of interest for hedging and topiary.

The wood of the yew was used for making longbows back in the 15th century and famously helped the English win the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Yew trees are renowned for being long lived with some specimens believed to be more than 2,000 years old —proof, perhaps, the Yew is much better called the Tree of Life.

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