A garden comes about in many and varied ways.
Usually, there is a house on a section and the garden comes as an afterthought. Plants are placed to fill the gaps in the corners and along the sides of a section. They beautify and soften hard standing surface areas such as driveways and patios.
The choice of which plants to fill these spaces comes about in many and varied ways, depending on the inclination of the person in charge. Some will engage a garden designer to make the choices for them. Others with good plant knowledge will make the same considerations themselves, consciously looking at spatial awareness combined with focal points, colour themes, soil conditions, light etc to gain the desired outcome.
A quite different and very frequent method of gardening is "plonking" – you see a plant you want to have, purchase it, then walk around the yard looking for a spot where it might best grow.
Both these methods result in highly successful and beautiful gardens.
The use of hedges and edges can be a method of connecting different areas in a garden and carrying a theme through.
I have for years been a fan of the use of hedges in a garden. For every situation, there is a hedge to fit the spot. There are so many benefits to planting hedges instead of fencing; they can provide wind protection, the changing colours, food, flowers, and of course they are habitat friendly for birds and insects as well.
I rate the use of small hedges in the garden highly too. Aside from a certain visual appeal, there are a couple of practical bonuses to the use of small hedges (30-50cm high) in the front of a garden.
One I have discovered as my kids are growing is that a small hedge acts as a buffer to the onslaught of a stray football. The hedge may take a few hits but it will save the plants and garden behind from much damage. A second highly practical reason is that a hedge hides weeds – a few weeds that one has not quite got around to pulling will sit out of sight when the busyness of life limits gardening time.
The creating of a clear definition between garden and lawn adds a sense of formality. This style of garden, where a clear definition is formed, can be done with a hedge creating a height barrier as described above or with repeated form and colour of a ground-cover-type plant offers high visual appeal and will draw the eye.
The use of small grasses is highly effective to create this style of border edging. Some of the options include:
Liriope comes in a handful of varieties. Mainly with deep green strap-like leaves, they put on a magnificent display of flowers during the summer months. It handles sun or shade.
Carex Featherfalls has long thin variegated leaves. The colour contrast in its leaves makes a striking display all year round. It maintains a small, manageable clump and has feathery flower plumes in the summer months as an added bonus.
Mondo grass has long been used as a garden edging. It does often look best if it is up against a hard edge such as a driveway, a patio area or garden edging. Otherwise, its creeping nature can result in itself lacking formality. Available in black and green, the texture offers style.
Heuchera are an excellent option for shady areas. The number of available varieties and the diverse foliage colours offers a lot of opportunities for providing contrast. They are neat and contained in their clumping growth habit. Constant foliage colour makes these an excellent choice.
Senecio bella grigio is a more recently available plant in NZ. Its name translates to "beautiful grey". It offers striking silver foliage so bold it stops you in your tracks. Unusual for a silver plant, it seems to survive better in a garden where there is some shade offered. It grows about 40cm high by 60cm wide.
For small, compact hedging, there are several options:
Buxus Koreana we have found to be an excellent small hedge that does not suffer the blight that afflicts the more common box.
Lonicera is a small-leafed, quick-growing hedge. It offers a deep, great colour.
Euonymus has a dense, compact habit that is ideal for hedging between 30cm and 1m high. It is faster than the traditional buxus sempervivans (English Box) with a similar look.
Corokia Frosted Chocolate and Corokia Geentys Green are two native shrubs that make very easy and medium-sized hedges. Very hardy and give a lovely background colour. Strongly upright, they trim well from 50cm up to 2.5m in height.
Edible hedging is another great option. NZ Cranberry (Myrtus Ugni) makes a lovely edible hedge that also produces an amazing fragrance at fruiting time. This can be maintained as a hedge at any height between 30cm and 1.5m.
A larger growing option as a screen or shelter plant is Griselinia, a great favourite and coastal hardy, growing 3-5m or so.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre.