Gardening: At the cutting hedge

By Meg Liptrot

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Define your property with plants you can shape to your liking, says Meg Liptrot.

A Manuka "Karekare" hedge in flower looks like late snow in spring. Photo / Meg Liptrot
A Manuka "Karekare" hedge in flower looks like late snow in spring. Photo / Meg Liptrot

Do you have a relaxed, rambly sort of garden and would like to add a little sophistication? Or maybe you have a fence or street frontage which needs softening and greening up. A hedge could be your solution.

Hedges come in all shapes, heights, widths, lengths and colours, depending on what you plant and how you choose to keep it.

Formal hedges are just that - tightly clipped and under control. Informal hedges can include a mixed planting, follow a softer line, and are trimmed to keep a soft shape, as opposed to the stiff upper lip of a high-maintenance hedge.

Formal hedges add structure to a garden and give the illusion that "you are in control", even if the rest of the garden isn't. I enjoy the contrast of the whimsical softness and natural feel of a perennial flower and tall grass of sedge border. Pair this with a small hedge - the native corokia is perfect for this kind of situation and comes in a range of colour tones, from grey greens to chocolate browns.

I mulled over a number of options for the street frontage at our house. In the past, we had a dreary block wall with timber panels which had a semi-hedged pittosporum planted behind it. I'm not a great fan, as these guys ultimately want to be trees and become very woody and leggy as they get older.

Another reason for revisiting our wall at the front was for better visibility. A tall boundary fence and trees provide plenty of hiding spots for those citizens with less-than-honourable intentions. So we decided to go for a simple, low stone wall, a restored villa gate, and a medium-sized hedge behind that, no higher than chest height and which is easy to clip.

The next question was, what to plant. Although I love griselinia hedges for their hardiness and limey-green lushness, I felt there was an over-abundance of these hedges planted in the past 10 years. Also, I was up for more of a challenge - particularly after seeing them planted en masse around the new office buildings near the viaduct.

I thought about examples of plants that form hedges naturally in wilder parts of New Zealand because of the harsh effects of wind, exposure, and so on. Manuka is a stand out. I'm a real west coast junkie - my favourite spots being high on the ridges looking down on the coastal vista below where you see wonderful sculptural forms of hedged manuka.

Using that plant was a bit of a risk, as Grey Lynn isn't the west coast, and I would be planting this hedge on the south-facing side of our property; but these plants are typically hardy.

On the advice of David Tippet, formerly of Tippet's Garden Centre, I chose to plant manuka "Karekare". This manuka has larger-than-usual white flowers, and is a form discovered in, you guessed it, the Karekare area of the west coast. It grows smaller and is compact, which seemed to me the best chance I had of recreating that natural hedging effect found in these windswept coastal areas.

This hedge has proved to be a real winner, with the added bonus of a flower show that resembles late snow in spring.

* Meg Liptrot studied sustainable horticulture and is a garden designer specialising in organic edibles and natives.

- NZ Herald

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