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How To Plant A Country Hedge: Choosing Your Plants, The Magnificent Seven

Sep 10, 2008
My last article on how to plant a country hedge covered what is involved in preparing the ground. This concentrates on helping you choose your hedging plants. A typical country hedge fulfils one or more of four purposes; it is a boundary marker, it is designed to keep live stock from wandering, it is a screen and it can be a wildlife habitat.

A stockproof (which includes people and dog proof) hedging needs a good proportion of hawthorn - about 50% is good - and it should not have anything too poisonous in it - so no wild privet, yew or laurel. If all you want is to keep animals or people in or out, then pure hawthorn is the cheapest way. Hawthorn is pretty - it flowers, fruits, has attractive foliage in summer and good autumn tints, but a whole hawthorn hedge is a bit 'samey'.

Why not have a bit of fun and mix it up a bit? And not only more fun; in the most literal sense, variety is the spice of life. You will be amazed at the range of wildlife that will be attracted by a few additional plants in your simple country hedgerow.

So we have hawthorn as the base - the cheese and tomato in the pizza if you will. Hazel is also an excellent hedge plant. Good leaves - strong and broad that contrast well in shape and texture with hawthorn and that colour well in the autumn. Nuts that the squirrels get long before we do. Hazel also lays well, which means your hedge can be regenerated every 50 years or so. The crowning glory of hazel however is its flowering. Hazel carries catkins in very early spring, on bare wood. Not only are they a sight for winter-sore eyes, but they are heavy with pollen which is essential for bees when they come out of their hives and nests on warm days in late winter. Without that pollen they struggle to survive and your fruit and veg suffer as a consequence.

Every fence (man-made or natural) is strengthened with the addition of a bit of barbed wire. Nature's barbs are found on wild roses. Put some dog rose or sweet briar into your hedging. Both are rambling roses with well barbed shoots that can grow 8-10 feet in a year. These shoots run through the hedge, helping to tie it together. They also carry pretty leaves (wild briar leaves smell of apple when crushed), single flowers in clusters - generally white and pink and bright red hips held well into winter make roses a visual highlight of your hedge as well as being one of its 'enforcers'.

The most beautiful native shrub of all is the Guelder Rose. It is actually a viburnum, not a rose at all, has no thorns and most un-roselike leaves. In summer it is covered in cream coloured puff ball flowers which are followed by cherry red berries and the most magnificent autumn foliage in shades of red.

Field maple is also truly beautiful. Little, glossy green maple shaped leaves with red stalk and veins. Helicopter fruitlets in autumn and then leaves turning in colour to what can only be described as Benson & Hedges Gold.

Dogwood is an everyday sort of plant in summer. Rather non-descript leaves and flowers that are over in seconds. It does carry berries in autumn, but you really grow it for its bark. The new growths of dogwood, in winter light up your hedge when all leaves have fallen. Depending on the variety, you can pick your colour, red, yellow, lime green, purple even black.

Last and by no means least is Blackthorn. Dense growing, viciously spined, blackthorn is an essential ingredient in any hedge that is needed to keep sheep in or vandals out. First to flower in spring, a blackthorn bush can be completely hidden by its blossom. In late summer, pick the sloes to make your sloe wine, brandy, vodka or non-alcoholic jelly. And all through the summer listen to the birdsong - for no other hedge plant brings in the birds, including nightingales, like Blackthorn.
About the Author
Anna Stenning is an expert on planting hedges and putting up good hedging, in order for it to grow in the way it should.
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