I recently took the opportunity to visit some spectacular gardens that were part of the Taranaki Garden Festival and Fringe Festival.
One aspect of many of the gardens was the use of hedges as landscape features, purely as n aesthetic function to draw the eye along a certain way, offer a certain look or give definition to a garden edge that allows the plants behind to steal the show. Hedges can be a feature themselves.
Many think of hedges as being screen plants for privacy or wind protection, and this is a highly recommended practice. However, today we are looking at the use of low hedges as accent plants.
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 use to fill these spaces comes about in many and varied ways, depending on the inclination of the person in charge. Some will engage with a garden designer to make the choices for them. Others with good plant knowledge will make the same considerations themselves, consciously using their spatial awareness in combination with focal points, colour themes, soil conditions, light etc. to gain the desired outcome.
A quite different and very frequently utilised method of gardening is “plonking” – you see a plant you want to have, purchase it and 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 through a theme.
I have been a fan of the use of hedges in a garden for years. 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, changing colours, food and flowers and, of course, are habitat-friendly for birds and insects.
I highly rate the use of small hedges in the garden. Aside from a certain visual appeal, there are a couple of practical bonuses to placing small hedges (30-50 centimetres 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 an onslaught of stray footballs. The hedge may take a few hits, but it will save the plants and garden behind it from much damage. A second highly practical reason is that hedges hide 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 creation 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 using the repeated form and colour of a ground cover-type plant offers a high level of visual appeal and will draw the eye.
The use of small grasses is highly effective in creating this style of border edging. Some of the options include:
Liriope comes in a handful of varieties. Mainly with deep green, strap-like leaves, it puts on a magnificent display of flowers during the summer months. It can handle sun or shade.
Carex Featherfalls has long, thin variegated leaves. The colour contrast in its leaves makes a striking display year-round. It maintains a small manageable clump and, as a bonus, has feathery flower plumes in the summer months.
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 or patio area. Otherwise, its creeping nature can result in a lack of formality. Available in black and green, the texture offers style.
Heuchera is an excellent option for shady areas. The number of available varieties and the diverse foliage colours offer 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 New Zealand. Its name translates to “beautiful grey”. It offers striking silver foliage so bold, it stops you in your tracks. Unusually for a silver plant, it seems to survive better in a garden where there is some shade. 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 which offers a deep great colour.
Euonymus has a dense compact habit that is ideal for hedging between 30cm and one metre high. It is faster-growing 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 medium-sized hedges. They are 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 which also produces an amazing fragrance at fruiting time. This can be maintained as a hedge at any height between 30cm to 1.5m.
A larger-growing option as a screen or shelter plant is Griselinia, a great favourite which is coastal hardy, growing 3-5m.
There are some good flowering hedge options.
English lavender (such as Munstead Dwarf, Dilly Dilly, Hidcote blue, Grosso and Thumberlina Leigh) put on a good show, with flowers flushing intensely in November and carrying on through the summer months.
Escallonia Fields Scarlet and Escallonia Red Knight are highly attractive flowering hedges with red flowers that are produced pretty much throughout the year, with stronger flushes during summer. These are excellent at recovering from hard pruning and form a dense hedge.
For more gardening information, visit www.springvalegardencentre.co.nz.
Gareth Carter is the general manager of Springvale Garden Centre.