Planting privacy

By Tamsin Westhorpe

During the spring and summer of 2020 our gardens have been so valuable to us.

Those lucky enough to have an outside space have exercised, sunbathed, cooked and even slept in their gardens. Our gardens, however large or small, continue to be a place of safety and happiness but how private is your space?

Are you watched over by neighbours? Can your garden be seen from the road or do you have those waiting at the bus stop peering over the gate? If the frustration of being in the eye-line of others is getting you down, then it’s time to hatch a plan. There is nothing more wonderful than being able to walk into the garden and enjoy privacy.

Evergreen Portuguese laurel offering a living support to a clematis proving that you don’t need fencing to grow climbers.

The go-to solution for privacy is to put up a fence. Yes, this is the answer if your home is temporary and an instant solution is required but a hedge offers so much more in the long term. The advantages to a hedge are endless; they filter strong winds, reduce noise, offer a nesting place for birds, keep a garden cool, create a boundary through which hedgehogs can travel and if chosen wisely they can offer fruits, flowers and seasonally changing foliage. In contrast a fence is a fence and only has one look and limited uses (harsh but true).

The outlay for hedging plants is often far less than fencing, especially if you buy in autumn when hedging plants are sold very reasonably as young bare root plants in bundles. For those in a hurry, buying mature hedging is an option but you’ll pay far more handsomely for these plants and you will need to keep a close eye on watering. If this is out of the question don’t despair as younger plants establish quickly and require very little care. Add up the cost of quality fencing panels, the price of fence preservative and the occasional replacement panel and you might find that a hedge is far more cost effective. Afterall, with the right care you’ll never need to replace your hedge and you can choose what height you keep it at.

Box hedging is often used as a low-growing partition within a garden rather than as a boundary hedge.

When it comes to plant choice there’s plenty. Don’t jump straight to the evergreens. A deciduous hedge, if kept well clipped can offer privacy and beauty as it changes from season to season. Consider a mixed hedge for a more informal garden. Why not plant dog roses with hawthorn and holly? Choose plants wisely and you’ll enjoy flowers and fruits for weeks. If you are concerned about the security of your property then plants with thorns are a wonderful deterrent – hollies, berberis and blackthorn will do the trick.

Those gardening in a coastal location where winds are high and fence panels get battered should focus on plants such as griselinia, escallonia and elaeagnus. Hedges filter the wind and create a warmer, more sheltered growing environment.

An edible hedge is perfect for a family garden. Blackberry jam anyone?

In a family garden an edible hedge is a great way to encourage children to take a closer look at nature. Crab apples, blackberries, hazel and blackthorn will create a wonderful hedge for wildlife and foragers.

In a more formal setting evergreen hedging plants offer a sharper look if kept well clipped. Yew is a favourite but should never be used if livestock or horse are able to reach it as it is poisonous.

Beech and yew hedging working together to offer a formal look.

Box is perfect for low-growing hedges but there is the risk of box blight. For an evergreen with attractive red and green leaves I favour Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ and for reliability look to Lonicera nitida, laurel, escallonia or pyracantha. Although leylandii is tempting for speed avoid it unless you are completely committed to keeping it tightly clipped and to a reasonable height (you don’t want to fall out with your neighbours!)

Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ is an easy to grow hedge suitable for most soils in sun or part shade.

Now’s the time to see which hedges grow well in your area and then in the autumn at planting time head to a specialist hedging nursery with your desired hedge height, width and length requirements, your soil type and aspect. Just think what planting a hedge will do for your home environment and the wider environment as a whole.

Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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