Group Discussions > Advice on choice of hedging plants

In Fitzroy Square we are considering planting a hedge around the perimeter of the garden, and I am looking for advice on suitable plants.

Although Fitzroy Square is currently completely open and exposed to outside view, this design dates only from the 1960s, and our historical research has revealed that the square was originally enclosed and planted with a perimeter hedge of "whips" in the early 19th century. There is no more information about what plant species the whips were, but they are likely to have been beech, hornbeam, hazel or hawthorn. These deciduous species are unsuitable for the current growing conditions under fully mature plane trees, and we are likely to need an evergreen hedge, which will be better able to endure the drier growing conditions. From past experience I would not expect yew to do well under the mature trees, and I am therefore considering box, which I have found will survive in these conditions, and holly, which I notice several other garden squares and the Royal parks use in similar situations.

I would be grateful for any advice based on other garden squares' experience - or for a recommended consultant who could provide advice.

Many thanks

Edward Turner
25c Fitzroy Square
Mobile: 07768 890299
June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEdward Turner
The choice of a perimeter hedge is a monumental decision for any garden committee or manager to make. It’s the first impression you give to visitors and passers-by. It can be too tall, too dark, too thin and wispy, but nevertheless you are judged by it. Evergreens may not always be the answer, a magnificent Beech or Hornbeam hedge is judged by many as hard to beat with its foxy russet brown leaves all winter long making way for the most beautiful of all emerging baby green leaves – they are stunning.

You said that you didn’t think an indigenous hedgerow would work in your situation but depending on the mix you can achieve some very attractive hedges that are both good for security and wildlife (and, of course, sloe gin production) so don’t dismiss it out of hand, especially with the wildlife bias.

It does rather sound as though you favour the more formal look, which in my opinion narrows it down really to three choices – that of Holly, Yew and Box. I assume there is no history of problems in the soil such as honey fungus as this would have to be dealt with prior to planting.

All three evergreen options will tolerate almost identical growing conditions but starting them off properly is very important. Adequate trenches should be dug and no expense spared on organic matter, such as well-rotted horse manure. This cannot be over emphasized even if financially the project has to be spread over several years. Preparation cannot and must not be undervalued.

I was again surprised when you felt Yew would not be an appropriate choice. Yew is one of our three indigenous conifers and was awarded the AGM by the RHS in 1969. It tolerates most soils and heavy shade. Its ability to be topiarised is legendary and it lives for many, many decades once established.

Buxus is a more unusual choice, a luxuriant hedge that takes close clipping. More usual in a shorter parterre form, it does make a handsome hedge of 1 – 1.5 meters. Buxus sempervirens is the common choice but for your requirements varieties such as Arbourescens and Handsworthensis would be worth researching. Again, they all tolerate most soils, sun or shade but it is a slow grower. The disease ‘box blight’ does seem to be on the increase and is devastating, killing tracts of box hedging very quickly, so bear this in mind. Even if a few were affected it can be very expensive to replace mature specimens.

Holly, in my opinion is your best option. The indigenous aquifolium is good for wildlife, excellent with regard to pollution – something you must be very aware of – and of course seasonal berries are produced to compliment the waxy, thorny foliage.

One variety we have used with great success is the holly, Ilex cornuta ‘Dazzler’ which, being polygamous bears fruit regularly, is foliated right to the base and the flowers are slightly scented. The leaves too are a very unusual shape which adds to the interest.

Whatever option is chosen, this undertaking is an expensive project so don’t skimp on preparation and also install a leaky hose, ideally with a timer. If a timer is not possible then use a leaky hose which one of your gardeners can regularly attached a hose to and leave.

Finally, even when you source you required plants, get your gardeners to plant them, not external contractors. Your gardeners need to bond with the plants and get them to take responsibility and a sense of ownership which will ensure your hedge a happy future. Good luck.