Timeless and classic, hedges look attractive and can serve several functions in a garden
Hedges were probably one of the earliest forms of living walls in the garden. They look attractive and play a functional role. Hedges can help to define property boundaries, create privacy, screen out noise or act as a windbreak. They may also be used to emphasise art or a particular feature in the garden.
“Hedges are a traditional and practical way of providing the structural backbone to a garden’s design,” says Athol McLaggan, head gardener at Stellenberg Gardens in Kenilworth.
“Hedges can be used to create privacy, divide a garden up into rooms which allows you to develop a theme or story within the room or to screen off an unwanted view. These principles apply to a large garden or a small townhouse garden. Hedges remain a timeless and classic element of good garden design.”
Formal hedges, with shrubs planted closely together, are regularly clipped to maintain a geometric shape. Informal hedges are more natural and are only clipped a few times a year. Lavender makes a pretty and fragrant informal hedge.
Low-growing hedges help define the edges of pathways. Tall, thorny hedges provide a level of security.
Best shrubs for hedges
Evergreen shrubs which are fast growers, with a dense growth habit, make the best hedging candidates.
At Stellenberg, plants used for hedges are the brush cherry (Syzygium paniculatum), myrtle (Myrtus communis), dune crowberry (Searsia crenata), the Cape leadwort (Plumbago auriculata) and a number of lesser-known plants. These include weeping sage (Buddleja auriculata), Chinese plumbago (Ceratostigma willmottianum), spekboom (Portulacaria afra) and the African boxwood (Myrsine africana).
Dune crowberry, a hardy shrub, is a fast grower, able to reach heights of about 3m and is suitable for coastal or inland gardens. Older leaves are dark green with scalloped edges and new foliage has a reddish hue. It can also be grown in pots and rounded into spheres. It’s drought-resistant and able to grow in sun or semi-shade. And it’s fruit attracts birds.
African boxwood, also called the Cape myrtle, is a tough, water-wise, compact shrub that makes a good hedging candidate. The purple-red berries attract several bird species. Plant in full sun or partial shade.
Spekboom is a water-wise and drought-tolerant plant that can grow 3m to 5m high. The plants are hardy and evergreen and absorb carbon.
Common box (Buxus sempervirens) is a popular plant for low, formal hedges or topiary. It is often seen along pathways and/or in knot gardens. It grows well in different soil types and tolerates both sun and full shade. It’s a slow grower.
Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) is a versatile plant in any garden. In the height of summer, it is bathed in orange, coral or yellow flowers, with luscious green leaves. It is water wise, drought tolerant and able to withstand coastal winds. It thrives in full sun but will tolerate semi-shade. Its blooms attract butterflies.
Five tips for growing a hedge
What should you consider when planting and maintaining a hedge in your garden? Athol McLaggan provides the following guidelines:
1 When planting a hedge, trench the line and then place small plants close together (rooted cuttings are best) to ensure a full and tight hedge. A good hedge is always grown from small plants planted into well-prepared soil.
2 Clip regularly and lightly. The “often and little” approach creates a sharp and an attractive defined look. At Stellenberg the hedges are always trimmed twice a month.
3 Using a water hose, spray the inside of the hedges to prevent problems like scale and red spider from hiding and getting too comfortable. With water restrictions in place, only use harvested rainwater or water from a borehole. Using a mixer nozzle, feed your hedges with an organic liquid feed, like Seagro, once a month.
4 Shape your hedge at a slight angle, with the base wider than the top. The sun will then reach the lower section of the hedge and this will ensure that you do not end up with a hedge with an exposed bottom.
5 Choose a mild day to trim your hedges. You do not want to do it in the blazing heat or the freezing cold. Hedges pruned around the full moon will grow back slower. Clean your pruning equipment blades during and after you trim your hedges to prevent the spread of disease from a sick plant.