Unconventional hedging is becoming more common providing colourful foliage and suitable habitat for wildlife. In addition to this, most of these plants offer berries as a food source in the winter period. The overall effect and the purpose of the hedge (a boundary line, a deterrent, providing shelter, a food source, windbreak or winter interest) are certainly important to consider. The flowers, habit, growth rate and maintenance need to be looked at before this is achieved.
Elaeagnus, Photinia and Portuguese Laurel are relatively new to hedging offering colour, fragrance and resistancy – Elaeagnus can cope in very poor soil offering interesting foliage, flowers and fruit. Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese Laurel) is tolerant of almost all conditions bar sitting in wet soil. While these remain popular, they can’t outshine some of the more traditional species.
Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) is undoubtedly the 1st choice. While some may think its blandness offers nothing. It provides effective shelter for wildlife, it tolerates pollution, poor soil, is fast growing, the list goes on. It flowers but only when left unpruned. It’s a winner with its hardiness, ability to regenerate after being pruned quite severely.
Spotted Laurel (Aucuba japonica) (not to be confused with Laurus nobilis – a Bay tree). The shrub offers interesting foliage and a food source for wildlife. The variegated ‘Crotonfolia’ bears berries when a female is located close to a male. A hardy evergreen that effectively acts as a specimen plant or as hedging. It is tolerant of shade and able to cope with demanding neighbours (other large shrubs, trees).
Barberry bush (Berberis) A spring flowering shrub that can be sought in red B.thunbergii Atropurpurea – a decidious variety and green B. darwinii – an evergreen. There is a yellow too. It provides autumn colour but with being decidious, between winter and spring, be mindful it doesn’t offer anything.
Common Box -(Buxus sempervirens). It can be sought already shaped or alternatively as a hedging choice. It’s slow in its growth which is why it is suited to topiary. It’s good in sun but tolerates a shaded position. It does, however, need a well drained environment. Its density thickens the more its clipped.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) offers fragrant flowers in spring to early summer and berries in autumn. It is good in both sun and shade although decidious so lacking interest in the dormant period. A fast growing shrub tolerant of exposed sites. It needs a trim after flowering. If it is done at the correct time this may not need more than an annual prune. It does need some sun so not a shade loving plant.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) a fast growing habit offering flowers and berries. The flowers have no scent and although it offers interest in autumn, it eventually loses all signs of life until the following spring. It is very similar to Hawthorn although can cope in slightly more adverse conditions – this being the soil, air, nutrients and light. It is particuarly resilient in exposed areas with salt laden winds making it drought tolerant.
Pyracantha Saphyr Orange – this shrub flowers in summer and attractive berries are borne throughout autumn into winter. An evergreen, it provides interest at all times of the year including large thorns.
Conifers – encompass a large number of different species with different habits. Chamaecyparis lawsonia ‘Alumni’ – (False Cypress) is an evergreen that can be used as hedging. A hardy choice offering reliable foliage for little maintenance. Pinus and Thuja are conifers but usually used as an accent plant in a sunny border as opposed to a hedge. Cupressocyparis x leylandii ‘Castlewellan’ is fast growing and considered the typical choice for hedging. It does only require a shave to keep in check. A little every so often is key. A mistake that is made is that this hedge is left to get out of hand and then cut back in one go. This is needs to be clipped periodically rather than cut like privet. It doesn’t regenerate the same way and weakens it making it more prone to disease and fungal infection.
Forsythia x intermedia – a spring flowering shrub and Mahonia, an evergreen providing flowers, foliage and fruits in winter have been used but not particularly associated with hedging. Mahonia, a hardy evergreen tolerant of shade. It does need protecting from exposed areas though. It also flowers off last years growth so when you prune it, you pruning all the flowers away. The growth habit of both is informal, these plants shouldn’t be conditioned.