Growbag Blog

What are your boundaries?


We all need boundaries. E and C regularly exceed theirs, so I’m not sure how much you can trust their judgement even with horticultural ones but I’ve come up with some examples of how we have chosen different plants for different purposes on the boundaries of our garden.

Our front garden borders a busy road so there was no subtlety here, we needed some evergreen heavyweights that were view-screening, noise muffling and fume-blocking: in went a mixed belt of laurel, yew and holly that was left to run riot for 20 years.

A satisfying barrier to the outside world, I may add in a layer of razor wire….

We took a completely different approach on our northern boundary, which backs on to countryside. Here the objective was to encourage wildlife to come closer so we went for deciduous native hedgerow species that bear flowers in the spring and fruit in the autumn. Rather than plant densely with nine plants per metre in a double staggered row as is recommended for farm hedges, we planted the whips individually with ample space either side for each to spread into its natural arching shape. This produces a much less dense hedge which I have to admit is pretty see-through in winter:

Not much to look at now (although there’s often a pheasant or two sheltering in the tussocky grass at the base)

but the spreading hawthorn, spindle, dogrose (see our feature picture this week) and the beautiful guelder rose below have kept bees happy in the spring, are a riot of colour in the autumn and feed the fieldfares and redwings in the winter.

Guelder rose, Viburnam opulis – not seen often enough in our garden hedgerow choices

Show me a person who sticks to their boundaries, Laura, and I’ll show you someone who misses out all the excitement of life! But certainly garden boundaries are a different matter and anyone with a garden has the same questions to ask themselves – where exactly IS the boundary? Who is responsible for its upkeep? What purpose do I need the boundary to serve?

Laura has mentioned the aims of pollution and noise-absorption for a boundary by a busy road, and living as we do here in a town, I would add the need for privacy from all the neighbours! Small town gardens rarely have space for thick hedges, but fences clothed in climbers are a fine solution. We have the luxury of a wall here and it’s smothered in insect-friendly ivies, clematis, honeysuckle and roses.

Honeysuckle and Clematis montana
A pretty mixture of honeysuckle and clematis montana cover a fence between neighbours

Just don’t do what a neighbour of our son’s did and plant a mile-a-minute vine (Fallopia baldschuanica) – within a few years, you could see the wretched thing waving at you from 20 back gardens away down the row of fences…….

If you want to delineate a boundary with something nicely tough and thorny, but not necessarily too dense or high, I reckon berberis is a great bet. Hardy as they come, a great range of foliage colour and covered in tasty berries for the birds, it would work very well as a prickly boundary hedge.

Berberis thunbergii 'Gold Ring'
Berberis would make a cracking prickly boundary – this one is B. thunbergii ‘Gold Ring’

And my beloved rugosa roses would do a similar job, without becoming so tall that they obscure a lovely view. Rosa rugosa ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’ would give you gloriously-scented carmine flowers as well as disease-resistant foliage and autumn colour.

Rosa rugosa Roseraie de l'Hay
Rosa rugosa ‘Roseraie de l’Hay for a beautiful scented boundary hedge

For a country garden, I’m not certain that much can beat hawthorn as a boundary hedge or, given space, a row of small trees. Its blossom, branches and berries provide a haven for wildlife, and we can enjoy their beauty as well as the warm satisfaction of growing a dyed-in-the-wool native of the British Isles.

Hawthorn, red or white, is often a fab choice for hedges or grown as small trees

The Latin name for hawthorn is Crataegus, which comes from the Greek kratos meaning ‘strength’, and akis meaning ‘sharp’ (the wood is a devil to cut, and the thorns are wicked). Sharp Strength sounds like something we could all do with at the moment, beset as we are with weather crises and virus epidemics………………..


Knowing my limit is important (four generally before I’m talking more Latin than Elaine could shake a stick at), but up here we’re blessed with lots of space, so boundaries are more relaxed. Excessive traffic noise or nosy neighbours is almost an ambition for those who work to increase Scotland’s population but what we do have is atrocious weather.

So here we need boundaries for shelter and we need them to be low-priced and fast-growing. I can feel the roots of Laura’s guelder rose starting to quake already. My experience is this:

Beech – Socially acceptable – surprisingly game as far as surviving goes but draughty in winter when its leaves shrivel and it lets the wind through.

Western Hemlock – an ugly beast but wonderfully cheap and forms an impenetrable year-round barrier at warp speed.

Western Hemlock hedge – nae a pretty sight but solid

Griselinia – now you’re talking. Grows like stink, evergreen, really enters into the spirit of a storm, waving around with great enthusiasm and scatters so many seedlings you should never have to buy them.

The prospect of this cheery non-native renders Laura virtually speechless (its leaves are shiny too) but when she came up recently for a talk at the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society by curator Peter Baxter on his plans to replace the phytophthora-ridden trees at Benmore botanical gardens – what was on his planting list? Hmm some uncomfortable squirming in the seat beside me that night I can tell you.

NB If you’re sad about the early end to the snowdrops this year Louise has a great suggestion for a plant that will extend the season as her plant of the month.

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

2 replies on “What are your boundaries?”

Dear Growbags… I think you have your ‘snowflakes’ mixed up! Leucojum aestivum is indeed the summer snowflake which flowers in June/July. However it is the shorter Leucojum vernum which is in full swing at the moment. It is a prolific seeder and it never fails to amaze me how so few of my gardening chums grow it. Pots of it always vanish at our annual NGS March lunch.

Dear Susan

Thank you for commenting and it’s good to know that our readers take such a close and inquiring interest in my plant choices!
I think perhaps that my photograph does not convey the height of Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ which stands at 80 cms as I write, whereas Leucojum vernum is much smaller, but equally pretty, growing to about 30 cms. L vernum is also earlier flowering (but still flowering today in our neighbour’s garden), often simultaneously with snowdrops.
As I said in my piece, the weather this winter has been so unlike a normal one, many plants are coming into flower much earlier than usual and this one is no exception! Geographical locations throughout the UK, and locations within individual gardens of course also influence variations in flowering times.


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