PLANTING a hedge is something that needs to be given thought, particularly for the long-term strategy of maintenance and the ultimate space available, writes TOM ATTWOOD. Often, hedges are seen purely as a functional structure to delineate, screen or shelter. Rarely are they thought about for their aesthetic qualities. Whenever I’m deciding on the choice of hedging plants to use in a design (or in our own garden) I give them just as much consideration as I would a shrub or ornamental tree.

Before you even place a hedging plant in the ground make sure that the preparation you make is thorough. A variable channel of excavated soil with wet, dry and everything in between will result in growth which is less than uniform and in the wettest conditions the dreaded dead patch where the bulk of the hedge works, but for a small and rather frustrating section where poor conditions stunt any progress. If the ground is on the wet side, lay a channel of perforated drainage pipe along the bottom of your trench covered with large grade gravel and an anti pipe-clogging membrane to stop the soil washing down and blocking the pores in the plastic pipe.

A mixed hedge refers to the selection most commonly used to demarcate field boundaries and roadsides. A typical mixed hedge would be composed of something like hawthorn, dog rose, field maple, hazel, wild cherry and blackthorn. Superb for wildlife, these don’t have to be confined to the more rural setting as they can be shaped and pruned just as effectively as more conventional choices.

I’ve always been a fan of yew (Taxus). In most instances people are in my experience put off by the ‘slow growth’ which is a myth as in a good year they will often put on 20cm. Few plants give you the crisp edges achieved with yew, sometimes conifers are used but their long-term aspiration is to grow much larger and they don’t respond as well to being pruned hard in the long-term. Hornbeam (Carpinus) and beech (Fagus), both deciduous, are robust choices and either can be used as creatively or simply as you desire.

The default choice for many gardeners (and its rife in the Lakes) is the use of common laurel, Prunus laurocerasus ‘Rotundifolia.’ I’ve never understood the appeal; its extremely fast growth is initially a clear bonus but in the long term, its bulky, billowing cumbersome frame and constant need to be clipped is relentless. A better option is Portugal laurel (Prunus lusitanica) the rate of growth is less energetic and the denser, smaller leaf allows you to keep the plants at a more manageable size years down the line.

Next week: making a homemade garden gift for Christmas