Hedges and Boundaries for Low Maintenance Gardens
Hedges undoubtedly look better than most fences, especially once they have started to age, and they are a much less expensive option than either walls or fences. You may not need a hedge at all, of course, and, as with the other conventional elements of a garden, it is worth analysing what a hedge is achieving.
Many modern gardens lack the divisions that always used to separate front gardens. ‘Open-plan’ front gardens are now widespread, while a compromise of simple low walls or post-and-chain dividers is often used to retain the generally open appearance while giving a sense of territory. Even if you wish to create an old-style garden, surrounded by for- mal hedges, it may be possible to reach a compromise that avoids your garden looking out of keeping with others in the area. For example, you might erect a simple chain-link, post-and-rail or post-and-chain divider, but plant a shrub border against it. If you keep to low-growing, and preferably mainly evergreen, shrubs that have a compact habit, your shrub border can double as a ‘hedge’, whilst taking far less time and effort to maintain.
If you have established hedges, it is probable that you would rather keep them than replace them, even if they need fairly regular trimming.
You can reduce the amount of time spent on trimming by lowering the height of the hedge. Most hedges will tolerate quite severe cutting back, and if you reduce the height of a 1.8m (6ft) hedge by, say, 60cm (2ft), you will have cut the amount of hedge to be trimmed by about 30 per cent, assuming there is about 30cm (1ft) of hedge to trim at the top. There are other benefits in lowering the height of a tall hedge; for example, the top of a 1.2m (4ft) hedge will be much more accessible to cut than the top of a 1.8m (6ft) hedge.
Using a growth inhibitor will cut back the chore even further. ‘Cutlass’ is a growth regulator that you can spray on in late spring, when you have given your hedge one trim, after which it should keep its shape for the rest of the year. ‘Cutlass’ is not suitable for box or yew hedges, but can be used on most others.
A new hedge
If you are planting a new hedge, make sure that it will remain fairly compact (do not plant Leyland cypresses, for example) and that it will require only one cut a year. Avoid privet and shrubby honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) and choose something like Berberis thunbergii (green or purple) or Viburnum Units (you’ll have winter flowers if you prune in spring).
If you simply want a low boundary marker, the choice is wider, and it is worth considering certain pretty flowering plants, such as lavender or some of the hardier hebes (avoid these in cold areas).
If you want a conifer, the traditional yew is a good choice. It’s not as slow-growing in the early years as you might think, but it is easily kept compact with an annual clipping.