Hedges and screens
- A well-maintained hedge is a delight in a garden. Even formal evergreen ones look different depending on the time of year. Birds nest in them readily, so wildlife is attracted.
- There is a very wide choice of suitable subjects for every purpose.
- Hedges tend to filter wind, rather than block it, doing away with down-draughts created by solid screens.
- They are comparatively inexpensive to establish.
- By choosing the right plants, they can be made impenetrable to both animals and humans.
- Hedges of a reasonable height are very effective for absorbing and deadening traffic and other noise.
- They take some time to establish themselves and so often a temporary fence is needed in addition. They require some form of regular maintenance, usually clipping, to keep them within bounds. This also means you have to have a good relationship with the neighbour whose garden is the other side. They can harbour insect pests.
- It is said they absorb a great deal of moisture and food from the soil in the vicinity, though good garden practice should prevent this by regular feeding and providing mulches if the ground seems always dry at the base of the hedge (water the soil first, though!).
- Deciduous ones, especially beech, make a lot of leaves at certain times of the year.
- Tall, thick hedges cast a lot of shade.
Choosing a hedge
The labour involved in maintaining a good hedge might have deterred you from going any further into whether you should plant one or not, but if you look at what is suitable and available you might be able still to have one and not land yourself with a lot of hard work. Hedges can be broadly divided into those which require a lot, some, or minimal maintenance.
‘Cheap and cheerful’ hedges
Into this category come all the well known, and somewhat out-dated, hedges which are inexpensive to buy, quick to establish themselves, and give their owners a lot of work.
Privet. This is semi-evergreen or evergreen depending on locality and hardness of winter. It can be obtained in green and several variegated forms (the latter are more expensive but more decorative). It may be clipped into shapes if required. It is quite dense if planted closely (about 9-12 in. (225-300 mm) apart) but not impervious to small animals. It can often be infested with greenfly and other insect pests. It is quite a greedy feeder so plants nearby should be fed. It is best restricted to about 6 ft (2 m) in height or the top can blow out of shape. It is very susceptible to armillaria disease (bootlace fungus, honey fungus) which lives on dead wood in the soil and can spread to healthy nearby roots by means of black, bootlace-like threads running through the soil. The infected plants begin to die off and eventually the wood rots. There is a white, fan-like growth under the bark, and in the autumn honey-coloured toadstools appear at times. There is no cure. Remove and burn the infected plants and those nearby and treat the soil with a proprietary chemical such as Armillatox. Once a privet hedge is infected, the disease usually spreads throughout the whole of it. Armillaria is not confined to privet but privet is especially prone to infection.
The biggest drawback of privet is that it needs trimming frequently to keep it in good shape. This can be as much as two-to three-weekly intervals in certain seasons.