Hedges have plenty of appeal, Gillian Vine says.
They can't be scribbled on by graffiti artists, don't need
painting, are excellent for shelter (and don't blow over in
gales), prickly ones can help deter burglars, they look
better than concrete blocks - and are a greener alternative.
What's not to like about a hedge? The main drawback is the
need to mulch or fertilise it annually, and trim it twice a
year, something that can actually be quite therapeutic as
long as you take care if using electric clippers.
Hedges can be formal, where every line is perfectly straight
and each stray twig trimmed as soon as it appears, or
The formal hedge is usually evergreen, with yew being the
traditional European choice.
Its small leaves give an added advantage, as they look better
after trimming than the chopped remnants of large leaves like
laurel. Holly and pittosporum come somewhere between the two
and, like barbary (Berberis), holly can be used on a boundary
to help deter burglars.
The most structured are the little hedges used as edging and
in knot gardens. When well maintained they look splendid but
there is a lot of work to keep them at their peak year-round,
especially as Buxus and Lonicera are prone to blight. Native
Lophomyrtus bullata is an attractive alternative.
With informal hedges, plants do their own thing in a more
casual way. They can be as simple as a row of roses (rugosas
are good for this) used to divide two flowerbeds, or climbers
like wisteria or clematis trained along wires. Although
overall they require less work, just because they are
informal does not mean total neglect is possible.
Native trees and shrubs are being increasingly used for
hedging. Top choices are totara, coprosma, corokia and hebe.
Most coprosmas are tolerant of a range of conditions but on
windy or coastal sites corokia may perform better.
New Zealand broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) has become
popular as a hedge but has some drawbacks.
Being mid-sized, its leaves tend to look ragged after cutting
but more serious is its tendency to die in drought
situations, as many Auckland gardeners found out last summer.
Leaf blight and die-back can also be a problem and because
hard cutting exposes unsightly bare branches, over time
broadleaf hedges can become very wide.
For those who want lots of colour, camellias, usually the
sasanquas, are popular. They have the advantage of glossy
foliage all year round but need cool roots and are best in
In full sun, japonica or forsythia are spring-flowering
hedging options. They are also good where space for flowers
is limited, as the blossom of both these hardy plants can be
picked for the vase.
Other colours come from leaves. Silver germander (Teucrium
fruticans) is a fast-growing grey-leafed species; cultivars
of corokia, hebe and coprosma have good colour options and
native golden totara is an alternative to the green form.
Fruit trees are useful hedges for small gardens: apples,
pears, quinces, feijoas plus plums and other stone fruits can
be espaliered; currants and gooseberries can make an informal
hedge to hide compost bins or other utilitarian features,
while blueberries and New Zealand cranberries (Ugni molinae)
are excellent lower-growing plants for edging a vegetable
Pleaching, sometimes called ''hedges on stilts'', is an
ancient practice that involves growing a hedge with the lower
part of the trunks left bare. Pleaching lets in more light
and makes it possible to grow other plants underneath the
Finally comes the ''no trim'' hedge. Dead hedging is another
old European technique where a double row of posts has
flexible material like tree trimmings woven around them
before the centre is filled with twigs and leaves which are
left to break down. It doesn't look elegant but if all else
fails, it's worth considering.