Yes we’re on hedges this week. Not only is it coming on the perfect time of the year to plant them, but also they’re in the news because apparently they ‘suck up’ a good deal more pollution than trees in our cities. I like this no-nonsense approach to their role.
It chimes with our attitude to hedges in Scotland. We generally grow them for one purpose – wind protection. And don’t imagine I’m talking about the scented, excitingly bird-nest laden mixed hedging of our West Sussex childhood (well Laura and I found the birds’ nests exciting – Elaine had her nose stuck in Jackie magazine).
Up here we get turned on by the dead weight of Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) which, although slightly less attractive, is an affordable alternative to a concrete barrier. It lives happily in Alaska (no really it does – so if you want pretty, I’d divert now to Louise’s Great Plants this Month). And if introducing a salt wind into the mix, Griselinia littoralis is more than a match for Hurricane Dorian, and seeds so freely you shouldn’t really need to buy it.
I don’t want to be too gloomy about the utility required from Scotland’s coastal hedging challenge. I’ve been impressed/green with envy by the success of our neighbour’s Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ which has produced huge white, fragrant blooms all summer long despite being flattened every other day. This being September, the prefect time for cuttings, I’ve taken to meandering past their house with my secateurs just as dusk is falling. I know, I know, but it’s a vice I learnt from Laura….
Ah yes, Jackie magazine! I’ll have you know I learnt quite a lot from that particular publication – at 14 I needed to mug up on more pressing topics (boys) than ornithology. Ironically, I had a ‘nest-off’ just last weekend with Laura who was cooing about her occupied barn-owl box to our Cottage Garden Society group in Sussex. Impressive, but frankly not a patch on the stork-nest that is nearing hot-tub proportions on our telegraph pole in Normandy.
We too have planted a long R. rugosa hedge, and it certainly gives handsome if very informal protection from the prevailing westerlies. Having bought the plants bare-rooted, it’s possibly a bit more informal than we had planned, because a handful of the plants unexpectedly sport cerise flowers rather than white, and we now have a stupendous Japanese wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius (lovely red stems, delicious fruit, readier to romp than Rev. Richard Coles in Strictly sequins) looping its way along the row. The rugosa flowers don’t last long, but the hips are fabulous (like mine) as is the butter-yellow of its autumnal leaves. We chop it down with a hedge-trimmer to half its height in February to keep it dense.
The lovely David Austin ‘Alnwick’ rose has also made a beautiful scented hedge, and only requires a regular dead-heading commitment to keep up the supply of blooms going until October. I would have thought that Tamarix tetrandra (= four-stamened, if you’re interested) would be a good choice for Caroline – a shrub whose feathery branches and pretty flowers cope extremely well with salt-laden winds, at least here along the Southern UK shore-line.
The beech hedge is full of nests, and we are hoping that the non-migratory birds will also approve of our latest plans for a low-ish hedge of snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus – pink flowers in summer and then glistening white berries until they are all eaten by grateful robins and blackbirds in January. Sounds all right. We’ll see. Presumably all FAR too commonplace for Laura, who is clearly going to recommend hedges of rare Venezuelan bog-wurtle or something.
A snowberry hedge – are you absolutely sure darling? At least I now know what my allotted task will be when next visiting Normandy – weeding out the blasted snowberry – it spreads like wildfire ……If only she hadn’t had her head buried in the Jackie problem pages whilst C and I were out learning about nature.
In general though, Elaine has scored more points here than Caroline as she has at least mentioned one native hedging species, and does acknowledge their role in the garden wildlife ecosystem, compared with the plethora of imported bouncers that Caroline employs to buffer her existence on the sea board of East Lothian. For once, I am not seeking out the eclectic and obscure, but waving the flag for home grown British natives.
So why not do your bit for British wildlife and plant a mixed hedge of field maple (Acer campestre) – colours up beautifully in the autumn; hawthorn (Crateagus Â monogyna) – scented white flowers in spring; followed by hips in autumn and spindle (Euonymus europaeus) – our feature photograph at the top–stunning pink berries splitting to reveal orange flower parts.
Throw in some guelder rose or the wayfaring tree (Viburnum opulus and V. lantana respectively) and some native honeysuckle for good measure. And if you trim only a third of the hedge each year to create a varied structure, you may even qualify for a Defra Basic Payment Scheme handout and your hedge could become a sound financial investment as well as an ecological one.