Fences (and, more so, walls) are expensive to build and maintain – and they are dead boring. It’s time we pushed the boundaries of garden design and encouraged gardeners to plant living hedges.
Hedges are greener than fences, and not just because of their leaves. They provide small birds, insects, reptiles and mammals with safe places to live and reliable sources of food. They reduce the demand for rain forest timber and so help prevent the destruction of valuable tropical habitats. And they absorb CO2 as they grow; whereas transporting the raw materials for fences (including the concrete for posts) increases CO2 emissions.
Hedges make effective windbreaks because, as the name suggests, they break up the wind – unlike fences and walls, which simply deflect the wind and can send it swirling round the garden like a mini-tornado, wreaking destruction on fragile plants. Hedges can also provide just as much privacy as a fence, yet are softer on the eye and so make housing developments look less brutally urban.
Hedges can be kept neat and low enough to talk over, yet high and wide enough for security (prickles also help). And they provide year-round interest, with their flowers and catkins in spring, the changing colours of their leaves through summer and autumn, and their nuts and berries in winter. You can also under-plant them with wild flowers such as Red Campion, Ramsons Garlic and native daffodils (the original Lent Lilly).
If you want an attractive hedge, I suggest you avoid large leaved shrubs like laurel and most conifer hedges because they are just too dull for words (with the exception of Yew, which is beautiful and resilient but very slow growing – however, don’t eat the berries because the seeds are deadly poisonous). Instead go for mixed beech (green and copper) and hornbeam. You could also consider hedging roses, hawthorn, firethorn, hazel, or even box (if you are patient). Failing that, poor old privet still has its place – not least because it plays host to the marvellous Privet Hawkmoth.
PS: If you want to make your garden secure for the family dog – simply double plant your hedge and sandwich a wire mesh fence down the middle (yes I know they aren’t environmentally friendly but sometimes compromise is necessary).