Hedges ,time saving wildlife havens,a non gardeners guide

Creating a garden hedge is one of those rare things ,something  simple,time saving and economical for humans yet invaluable to wildlife, insects,butterfly’s ,bees ,birds mammals and amphibians can all benefit yet  its something which needs no specialist knowledge or skills.This is a very long post so its broken up into sections if one part isn’t applicable just skim over it.

butterlfy 1

More remarkable still its the perfect  “fence ” for gardeners or house owners providing privacy and security .

Hedges are time saving, cheap, low maintenance and attractive,many are burglar and livestock proof . A hedge unlike a fence wont need a regular  coat of paint or creosote,it wont need replacing every few years and it wont blow down in high winds but it will shield your garden from them.Depending on what plants you choose it may need a yearly or twice yearly trim ,but if your planting it some distance from houses and want something traditional then after the first  two or three years even this isn’t essential.Creating a hedge doesn’t need any special skills ,knowledge or tools ,nor do you need the expensive services of a joiner or builder.There are numerous shrubs which have  maximum heights of five to ten feet and  after their  first years wont need any attention while many which grow taller can be used and cut back easily to keep them smaller.

This post is designed to be useful to the garden novice ,first time garden owners or the non gardening home owner looking for an alternative to their old deteriorating fence.It will hopefully also help new home owners who have inherited a hedge such a privet.

But if you dont have a garden its still not impossible to provide many of the benefits of a true hedge ,there is an excellent blog on wordpress here


This shows the miracles that can be worked on a tiny  urban balcony several floors above ground level.



Hedges as a wildlife haven,help prevent extinctions 

There is no easier and cheaper way to help prevent the decline of dozens of endangered species than to plant a hedge.All parts of the hedge ,its base its branches and even just its actual existence are invaluable resources for endangered species 130 of of most endangered species are reliant on hedges and any size of hedge in any location can benefit most .You can  even  with very little effort and expense make your garden an actual officially certified wildlife habitat.In its importance to endangered species it will be as locally important as the bigger  famous ones ,your own mini  equivalent of  rainforest or  Serengeti ,its very likely you have as many endangered species in your area which you will help to save as many wildlife reserves have .Its easy to have at least 100 species of plants and animals that can benefit from your efforts


Many of our once common species are now more endangered than  some species of high profile animals such big cats ,elephants or whales but unlike these exotic species you can actually help prevent extinctions directly in your own back or front garden.More British birds are endangered than are doing well ,once common birds ,the house sparrow,Song thrush,swallows ,sky lark,nightingale ,cuckoo,starling ,turtle dove ,willow and march tits,There are 52 British bird species on a conservation red list ,126 species on the amber list and only 62 species on the green list .This means that more of our bird species are in trouble than are safe The system of listing is explained here.


While some of these species need specialised areas many such as the house and tree sparrow can be helped by creating a wildlife friendly garden and especially a hedge.

Further endangered wildlife which may be helped by planting a hedge are British mammals .While some are rare to see in the average garden Even small town gardens may have visiting Hedgehogs . The Hedgehog is now a major conservation concern and if gardeners do not help the hedgehog its likely to suffer further declines .Gardeners can both harm and help the hedgehog,slug pellets kill hedgehogs and bird species that feed on the poisoned slugs,adding fences that go to ground level denies the hedgehog its route to its territory ,Hedgehogs as their names suggests like hedges and can travel up to a kilometre a night finding food ,if they cant get into parts of that territory they may stray into roads or may simply become malnourished and  fail to breed or simply slowly starve .It only needs a very small hole or gap in fencing to let hedgehogs through and the hole wont be big enough to let in cats.If you provide a hedge with a suitable niche a hedgehog may very well build a nest and breed in your hedge or hibernate there.Hedgehogs do no harm to gardens and are quite often happy to feed very close to doors and windows where you can watch them .



Other mammals of conservation concern are Dormice ,red squirrels and some voles.Dormice are not the common or garden mice but specialist mostly hedge dwelling little mammals.



while your unlikely to live in a area where dormice are common they are being reintroduced so  if you have a large garden in a suitable area planting hazel and honeysuckle may be helping create a ready made niche for these animals  as they spread from their initial release sites ,some may even hibernate in your hedge.

Hibernating Dormouse

also endangered are the British hares and several bat species.

Endangered butterflies and insects.

some of our once common insects and butterflies are now endangered species many in very serious trouble,the once common little tortoise shell butterfly overall one third are in serious decline


and more species are  yearly being added to the watch list of conservation concern over all 55 per cent of British butterfly species are threatened and in decline.

butterlfy 1


Unlike animals Butterflies are one of the easiest species to accommodate  in even the tiniest garden.Many easily grown,attractive  and cheap shrubs such as the butterfly bush buddleia can make a huge difference and a well planned hedge make a home for a wide range of beautiful butterflies that may otherwise have so feeding grounds.All the photos of butterflies and bees in this post are taken from my window  during an afternoon and show butterflies and bees on a small buddliea bush

butterly one

for ideas on how to help butterflies try this post


Bees are also in decline both worldwide and in the UK



Two British bumble bee species are now extinct,bumble bees can be helped easily in gardens by planting flowering shrubs or even small plants on patios


Its also worth noting that not all bees necessarily  sting ,many dont and most wont unless provoked .Not all look like the bumble bee ,some can look like wasps and so end up being swatted or sprayed.

heres a bee identification guide


in general wasps are longer thinner and a much brighter yellow .

Bees are not the only species in decline ,some well loved species such as dragon flies and other lesser know species are also in serious trouble.


Not all insect species are of course harmless or desirable and there’s an good list of those to avoid here,though some will happily visit gardens and stay undisturbed


Just throwing some old bricks at the back of the hedge can create a home for insects ,

The last group of animals to benefit are our British reptiles and amphibians,many of these are also endangered and can be helped by gardeners almost all are harmless and beneficial to gardens.Probably the easiest to accommodate are toads.They just need slightly damp place that are in quiet parts of the garden.



You  may not be a fan of toads ,frogs newts etc but if you place habitats in your hedge its very likely that you will help them survive but unless you go looking you wont spot them They will benefit your garden by eating pests and you can make a huge difference to their survival,gardens can create passage ways or “wildlife corridors”  for species to spread ,perhaps a piece of land nearby  to you is being built on ,the wildlife that lived there will be homeless and may not be able to get to new ground ,,by using gardens these animals will survive and may spread to nearby spaces that lacked them previously helping to repopulate areas


Frogs need slightly more than toads to take up residence but even a very small pound can be extremely beneficial .Theres are other species such as slow worms and newts which need specific habitats and so I have not covered them here as  while can use hedges as pathways to other habitats for maximum benefit you  will need more than a hedge .


Most British reptile species may visit your garden if you specifically tailor it to their needs but a hedge alone while it can be valuable because  they may use to travel to other areas will not attract them to stay if your garden is otherwise inhospitable.Putting your compost heap next to  one end of your hedge,letting large patches of grass grow long  or adding a pond will be much more likely to result in reptiles visiting .Almost all are safe visitors for both humans and pets we only have one species of poisonous snake in the UK the Adder which is easily identified ,quite rare to find in any gardens and its bite while unpleasant is not fatal and unless you stand on one or handle one your very unlikely  to be bitten.Its illegal to harm adders .



Lastly endangered plants

Many of our endangered plant species can also thrive near or in your hedge ,British bluebells are under threat from the introduced Spanish bluebell and from hybrids .These are being grown specially now and can be bought from reputable buyers for very little (around £10 per hundred) .(Its illegal to dig them up or collect seed from the wild).Primroses and cowslips will also grown below your hedge and all of these will self seed and spread  so you can make a difference in helping save these and many other  species.

seed for most wild flowers can be bought here


or for quicker easier results you can buy plants online .If you have a suitable niche that’s very shady and damp you could also grown some ferns,there are a number of endangered species and these can often be encouraged in damp parts of hedges.


or encourage fungi,algae and lichens



Part Two  

Hedges for security .

A hedge can be a great security feature that’s burglar and vandal proof  especially if a good mix of thorn bearing plants is used so its an ideal choice for areas with high burglary rates or problems with trespassers or livestock.There are a lot of prickly or thorny shrubs and climbers and you can have almost year round colour.and an impenetrable barrier.If you need something tidy looking and evergreen try hollies ,or a mix of hollies and firethorns also called Pyracantha (which is just latin for fire thorn).


pyracantha-hedge (1)

For more informal hedge thats completely burglar and animal proof  my own personal choice would be a mix of hawthorns and sloes with brambles, dog roses and sweet briar (a kind of wild rose with scented leaves) and quinces perhaps under planted with gooseberry ,maybe gorse.You could also maybe invest in a climbing rose in your favourite colour for cut flowers Thevery easy to find Golden showers is very prickly but its flowers can be cut and will last a few days,Iceberg is a white similar rose both flower more than once over summer .This mix is cheap ,quick growing low maintenance and will give flowers from early spring to autumn,the dog roses wont last when picked but smell lovely and most of the shrubs provide berries through from early autumn and into late winter you can cook the gooseberries and make sloe gin with the sloes.  Thorny hedges can be  doubly effective if your hedge is somewhere where it can be allowed to develop a under planting of wildlife friendly but people deterring nettles at one or both sides.Advice on plants for security can be found here,this site also gives a list of trees suitable for gardens where security may be a issue .


However before planting prickly or thorny trees or shrubs its wise to consider potential injuries to you and others .Its very unwise to plant plant thorny shrubs where they will grow over footpaths or into neighbours space Lots of minor and some very serious injuries occur  each  year from accidents with thorny shrubs.


The main culprits are Berbris species ,many of which have particularly vicious spiny thorns.


(photo credit Phil Bendle page http://www.terrain.net.nz/friends-of-te-henui-group/weeds/barberry.html which is an exploration of the damage done from garden shrubs which self seed into the wild )

Quickthorn also know as Hawthorn and May.Though these tend to cause mainly superficial scratches but  if  they are grown next to pavements they can be a problem for unwary passers by who might walk into branches .Hawthorn is probably a good low risk thorny shrub for gardens where livestock are causing problems, as long as there are only older children  (I used to climb into  the crook of Hawthorn tree as a teenager to read and despite spending hours up there often in summery clothing I never got scratched)


(photo compliments of the woodland trust site ,an invaluable guide for anyone wanting to plant trees and hedges http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/hawthorn/?gclid=Cj0KEQjwi-moBRDL4Omf9d_LndMBEiQAQtFf8xAZoT1u-tSMJhVDHDrpYldEfRIxaa4wXWtm7ZjvtQEaAmbr8P8HAQ

Sloes also known as blackthorn these also have very  long  very sharp thorns that are quite densely packed together



Sloes are a great wildlife friendly choice providing early flowers and sloe berries ,they grown very fast and form a stock and burglar proof hedge that’s very low maintenance ,but the thorns do cause quite nasty scratches that go much deeper than Hawthorns and the thorns can come off and go into skin so again a bad choice next to footpaths or for gardens with very young children.

Brambles or Blackberries

These are very prickly and in my experience at least thorns seem to come off  fairly easily into flesh on contact ,,though they are usually also fairly easy to remove ,being springy brambles  can easily  flick back and catch your face .Our own blackberries always manage to get me when I prune them  causing  long scratches from their thorns and larger thorns  often end up in my fingers.Though they need to be kept under control and need something to climb over  Brambles mixed with wild rose would make an impressive and productive security feature grown over a wall and provide human and wildlife with food .

Lastly that perennial favourite for garden injuries ,,, roses. The thorns on roses vary from sturdy sharp ones typical of most garden roses to the tiny thorns that completely cover the stems of wild roses and wild  type roses.If you cant risk thorns injuring children or passers by or want something to go over a gateway arch there are a  few thorn less roses the most vigorous and beautiful being Zéphirine Drouhin which is  beautifully scented long flowering and  more or less completely thorn less.I had one for well over ten years and cut flowers from it during the whole of summer and never found one branch with thorns



The Zephirine Drouhin  rose can be bought from David Austen  following the link below but is sometimes  available from garden centres   http://www.davidaustinroses.com/english/showrose.asp?showr=619

Hedges for Privacy

A hedge is  a perfect privacy provider .While all hedges will form a thick visual barrier deciduous shrubs (ones that loose all their leaves in autumn and winter ) only provide summer privacy so if your wanting to shield your house from passers by they may not be a good choice  but evergreen  (green and occasionally other coloured shrubs) provide year round or almost year round privacy .If your house is detached or in a quite area or if you have to come and go very late at night I would personally avoid having hedges that are too high or too deep, too close to doors or gates for security reasons ,tall thick hedges next to a side gate or front door provide potential attackers with the ideal cover to hide privacy can be a double edged sword.

The easiest evergreen hedges are hollys and privet and while hollys have more ecological benefits the one that your most likely to inherit is privet. Though you may not know its name you will definitely have seen privet hedges .

privet hedge

These were  very common in Victorian times and still being planted up to the 1960s. Though  they do have their limitations and are normally clipped to neat dense slabs of green( as above )privet does not  have to be a wall of boring green .It has quite  pretty  white flowers (though some  people dont like the smell I find it innocuous)which are useful for bees and some butterflies  and though for its first years it needs trimming to create a dense base once you have the desired height and shape it can then be cut after its flowers have died .(if your hedge overhangs a pavement you should probably clip back the pavement side to stop it causing problems for people who use the path .

Down sides

Privet is not a particularly  interesting plant and  its wildlife benefits are not as good as many other shrubs but it is infinitely  better than a fence .If you can start from scratch there are better choices of shrubs but if you already own a hedge you are lucky to have some mature shrubs and its probably already  playing home to numerous insects and possible some birds and can be made more wildlife friendly  .On the downside it is poisonous to some livestock esp horses so its not suitable where this may be a problem.Theres also some evidence that privet harbours the disease that is causing our Ash trees to die so if your planting a new hedge in a rural area you might want to use something else instead


If you have privet and want some variety you can grow another shrub such as  low growing versions of pyracantha with them or grow tall flowers in front such as delphiniums ,hollyhocks , yellow loose strife or climbing annuals such as sweet peas and nasturtiums or annual bulbs such a gladioli.There are not really many shrubs or climbers than you can grow into privet hedges as the clipping needed to keep privets tidy will ruin the benefits of other shrubs .Planting things under it works better even though the soil below the hedge is  going to get dry and the privet will take a lot of the nutrients  some plants dont seem to mind this, we have a peony in front of  ours which grows really well produces lots of flowers and needs nothing doing to it.If you want to treat the privet and the plants below you can improve the soil by scattering the compost  from planters and hanging baskets over the base of the hedge when the planters flowers die at the end of summer .

Plus side

Privet hedges are  fairly easy to grow , low maintenance and  can be cut to any height and width so they are suitable for the smallest gardens and all styles of garden.They absorb pollution and some street noise, even left untended most privets wont grow taller than 10 feet ( though  they can officially reach 15 feet we have inherited a few neglected gardens with very old shrubs  I haven’t seen a privet taller than 10ft in any of them .If you can let the privet hedge grow high they will also provide nesting places for birds but privets dont really provide any winter food  or colour.They can easily be used to create toad habitats  by placing some rocks under them ,maybe over an upturned lid or shallow tub filled up with soil to help keep a little bit damp,as a child I saw lots of toads in stony nooks and crannies under the privet hedges

There are privets that have patterned ( variegated) leaves.These create just as good a hedge but wont grow  at the same pace as plain privets so its probably not a good idea to include them  with the standard green ones if you need a uniform height or use them if you need a very fast growing hedge as they grow less quickly .


photo credit Brent Wilson

My front garden currently looks a little bleak as no shrubs or plants are flowering but we do at least have the green privet hedge.In summer I can sit here literally two feet from the pavement and road which goes past our house unseen and with much of the noise blocked out by the hedge and the song of birds in the trees and shrubs

(I will be planting bulbs and tall flowering plants here over summer and give an update on how that has worked )

front garden spring

 Part Three

Other hedging options and their benefits


A mix of Flowering and fruiting  shrubs create the best hedges,these provide free house flowers saving  money and  free fruits .They provide scent and they look much nicer than bare blocks of fencing.If you are careful in your choice you can have some flowers all year around.

Medium height and depth  traditional hedge

Plant  a backbone  of thorny trees /shrubs such as a hawthorn ,sloe and quince ,then fill in with shrubs that flower during different seasons ,the not very dense but  easy going and winter flowering winter Jasmine,winter honeysuckle and,cornelian cherry ,sloe hawthorn ,red current ,raspberry hazel and normal honeysuckle with a thorn less rose and possibly true jasmine.

However hedges don’t have to have the traditional country look of hawthorns and hazels It possible to have a very bright and colourful hedge.The photo below is of a Lavatera  hedge ,some Lavatera shrubs are also evergreen  with soft silvery green foliage  and almost all come with a  long flowering time.The flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies and  its very fast growing so they are perfect for a quick fix hedge ,but they are short lived (our last shrub lived approx 5 years ).They dont grow particularly densely so probably wont keep animals in or out unless you add some hidden chicken wire



photo credit Waitrose garden centre

For wildlife, hedges are a God send as they provide food shelter and a place to nest but if you are a garden bird  and wildlife feeder you can make huge savings by growing a hedge. A years bought feed for garden birds will probably cost  at least £75 assuming  you dont feed many birds or many  different types of feeds or have feeder thieves such as squirrels

hanging and pole feeders/

If you  have a lot of birds visiting  or buy a range of foods it can  easily be as much as £250 or more.After two or three years a hedge can reduce this to less than £50 and its unlikely to attract problem birds such a pigeons or vermin such as rats.Other savings include buying feeders ,buying nesting boxes ,buying special habitats such as hedgehog homes or amphibian  and bee habitats .To buy shrubs for a new hedge will cost around £3 per metre.

Suitable shrubs Price guide 

While almost anything can be used to create a hedge some choices are better than others ,the ideal plants can vary from situation to situation .Hornbeam makes a wonderful hedge but needs to be trimmed regularly as the hornbeam tree grows to over 90 ft .

Here is a  hedging guide


from Buckingham Nurseries, a nursery I use and which supplies excellent shrubs and trees.A cross section of prices shows how cheap it can be to create a hedge

The table below shows blackthorn ,sloe prices

d  16-24ins
40-60 cm
£0.89 £0.39 £0.34 £0.30
 Sd  2-3ft
60-90 cm
£0.95 £0.45 £0.38 £0.34
 Tr  2-3ft
60-90 cm
£1.19 £0.69 £0.60 £0.51
 Tr  3-4ft
90-120 cm
£1.39 £0.89 £0.78 £0.6


d  16-24ins
40-60 cm
£0.99 £0.49 £0.42 £0.36
 Tr  2-3ft
60-90 cm
£1.29 £0.79 £0.70 £0.60
 Tr  3-4ft
90-120 cm
£1.69 £1.19 £1.08 £0.93


Price per plant for
1+ 5+ 50+ 250+
 Tr  3-4ft
90-120 cm
£1.99 £1.55 £1.44 £1.2

Hedging shrubs are not the bushy big plants bought in nurseries ,they come in assorted sizes from 1 ft to 5ft and have been grown to be easily trained into shape.They come bare rooted which means without a pot but with all the soil shaken off their roots,bare rooted plants are only available during the late autumn and  in the winter months when the plants go “dormant” this is when they have lost their leaves for winter ,you can buy bare rooted evergreens but I find these less easy to settle as they need more attention. These bare rooted  plants need planting quickly but grow well and can form a thick hedge in only three years.

If you want a less hedge looking hedge with a varied height To this you would need to add the cost of some special looking or feature trees or shrubs ,these can pay for themselves if you  use them as “posts” to tie chicken wire or trellis to (use ties you can change yearly so they don’t grow into the tree and damage it .These feature trees or shrubs can range from £10 each to £30 depending on the tree.

some trees and shrubs can benefit endangered species that have very specific needs butwhich can be met in small areas  eg the Hazel doormouse ,lives in hazel coppices and used honeysuckle for nesting materials .If anendangered species is being reintroduced to your area you can make a huge difference by creating a habitat for it.

“Dormice are successional feeders and require a range of foods to allow them to feed  while they are active. In spring they will feed on the flowers of oak, hawthorn, sycamore and willow and as the season progresses move onto later flowering shrubs such as honeysuckle and bramble. During the summer they take advantage of caterpillars, aphids and wasp galls and then they fatten up for hibernation on fruits and berries such as blackberries and hazelnuts.”


other trees benefit specific endangered species such as hollys ,which provides food for the holly blue butterfly .While many are beneficial to a wide range of wildlife

cherry (Prunus avium)
crab apple (Malus)
goat willow (Salix caprea)
hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
hazel (Corylus avellana)
holly (Ilex aquifolium)
mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
silver birch (Betula pendula)
spindle (Euonymus europaeus)
wild roses (Rosa)


To create a hedge.

If your starting from scratch your lucky to be able to plan and create your ideal hedge ,on the downside it will take longer to create a barrier ,though this may not need to be much longer.If you want to plant a hedge that includes slightly slow growing shrubs you can plant some short lived but fast growing shrubs such a lavatera (see above) as temporary space fillers ..In the meantime to keep animals in (or out) buy a wide roll of  plastic coated green chicken wire will provide a cheap and effective barrier.Plain uncoated chicken wire is cheaper but less sturdy and more importantly less long lasting and once it starts to rust and the links break it can give nasty scratches to humans and wildlife alike.

Do not run this chicken wire layer to ground level as this will prevent hedgehogs from getting into your garden I leave at least 10 inches above soil level as have some very large hedgehogs.



Make sure its at least 12  inches above ground level if you have cats so they can also squeeze through  if you want to prevent cats entering you can try doing this by keeping the wire lower but its unlikely to be an effective barrier against a determined cat .If like us you like us have a small dog who likes to escape you will need to put canes at intervals to stop it also getting under the fence .Not everyone may be as fond of  your pet or be happy having a muddy little dog in their garden or house

tilly dirty

Around the hedge base  if you want a better barrier you can plant some low growing shrubby plants such as heathers or slow growing  hebes at intervals .For a quick easy and cheap fix you could buy the small little roses used for bedding or as pot plants ,these will usually overwinter fine and spread to create a pretty low barrier that  you can leave gaps for the hedgehogs to get through by just cutting bits of the rose back  .Its best not to be tempted to run the chicken wire to ground level then cut holes as many hedgehogs die or are badly injured because they become entangled in garden wire.


A hedge by its very nature is a two sided  feature.If your planting at the end of your garden and it backs onto wasteland fields or other non inhabited space then the choice of trees and shrubs depends entirely on you,though if there is livestock in the fields then be careful to plant non toxic shrubs and plants as horses especially will snack on your plants.(Buckingham nurseries has a livestock friendly hedging guide and another guide can be found here   http://www.ashridgetrees.co.uk/hedging/hedging-packs/hedging-plants-stock-friendly)

little wooded corner iona

However most hedges are likely to be dividing you from your neighbours either as a stand alone feature or in conjunction with pre existing fencing.Its only fair to discuss your planting plan with them .All trees and shrubs will be tall enough to create some shade while some shrubs only reach five feet in a small garden this can cast a wide shadow,Your neighbour  may lose some of their sunlight and you may affect plants they are growing  on their side of the hedge.Most importantly some shrubs have unpleasant or even dangerous side effects .Many can irritate skin ,some can produce toxic berries poisonous to pets and children ,others have be less serious problems ,many shrubs produce more plants from their roots  ,these  smaller plants that grow up to three or more feet away from the tree itself ,willow is the most serious offender but even the beautiful lilac can be a problem.Some plants are also notorious for spreading or self seeding.Loose strife ,teasels and ornamental thistles are notorious offenders.If your planning on planting anything described as “vigorous ” or has “self seeds freely” in its description its probably a good idea to check your neighbours a fan of it as its almost certainly likely to end up in their garden .

Hedges have been the cause of many disputes especially with regard to the infamous leylanddi trees and there are several laws concerning hedges


Decide on the kind of hedge you want.

The easiest hedge to create is an evergreen hedge made from traditional hedging shrubs such as privet or yew  as discussed earlier in this post .These are trimmed to the traditional rectangular hedge shape  These should be planted quite close together the planting distance will vary depending on what shrubs you choose but most nurseries have a planting guide on their site.If you need a wide hedge you could plant a double row and space the second row so that each plant is sited in the gap  between the shrubs on the first row.The most popular  easy to grow deciduous hedge is copper beech as it has interesting clour is dense and keeps some leaves through winter.The traditional hedge will need trimming at least once a year and some more .This should be done after any nests have been abandoned if you have nesting birds ,its illegal to disturb a nest or birds who are building nests .

A  traditional style evergreen hedge should be cut so it narrows slightly towards the top so that snow is less likely to lie heavily on it .Hedges such as this are more wildlife friendly than fences but provide few benefits compared to a wildlife hedge

The “fence postsand the illusion of space 

If you want a natural looking hedge rather than a traditional straight  line and straight top and sides hedge you will need to spend ,much less time cutting and tending it .It will also provide more colour and scent . For an interesting hedge its best to vary the size of the shrubs and add some trees if you have space and they wont cause too much shade to either you or your neighbours garden. This will give a varied height of planting  and make the hedge look less like a boundary. A few narrow trees  and shrubs are  a useful way to avoid adding fencing posts.To give an impression of space try adding some shrubs further forward than others to give a meandering rather than straight line or if you have to grow the hedge against an existing fence or wall  sink some garden mirrors far back into the hedge attached to the wall or fence to give the impression of a gateway


,,this “gate really is just a mirror  with wood front  it can be bought here http://www.garden-mirrors.co.uk/decorative-mirrors/Garden-Mirror-Illusion-Open-Garden-Gate.html.

smaller mirrors will give the impression of a further garden beyond



You can place a statue in front as below


or hide statues inside the hedge,


Less traditional uses for statutes can include half emerging ones



Alternatively use feature plants and trees Plant some mature shrubs or trees four to five feet apart ,trees are best and small versions of most trees can be bought if you want to include fruit trees such as apples.Flag pole cherries are an excellent choice if your planting in a medium sized garden as they give height but dont grow wide.

flag pole cherry


.Slow growing or short growing  small semi dwarf  Conifers are perfect for most gardens they are upright narrow and  easy to work around with other plants.They wont loose their leaves in winter so they give privacy  all year around .Some have aromatic foliage.Junipers are a good choice and come in all shapes and sizes.



If you plant two of these slightly further out from the rest of the hedge you can create a small hidden space for an arbour ,bench or tables.Arbours are useful for providing height and an anchoring point for chicken wire ,climbers etc,the arbour below is mine it cost only £50 pounds off ebay and  I assembled it  in approx one hour .It will eventual form part of the hedge and possibly eventualy have a mirror behind it and a climbing rose over it

garden top progress 1

You could also semi hide a fountain in your hedge,though this may take more skill as unless its self contained and solar powered  it may need to be wired in .



If you don’t want or don’t have space for mirrors ,fountains etc an excellent choice  to add interest  is to buy some “ballerina” fruit trees these are trees which have been developed to grow only straight upwards and will do so without  needing to be trimmed to shape.The maximum height for most of these trees is 6 ft  to 8ft with a spread of around 3ft.(Make sure you are not buying dwarf versions .)


You can have a whole range of these ballerina  fruit trees in a very short hedge ,plums ,apples ,cherries Its also possible to buy Espalier trees  (though they are expensive)which are pruned in assorted shapes these are perfect for hedges but to keep this shape need pruning carefully ,though you could of course just let the tree revert to a more natural shape as the hedge grows.



Ant trees will be your “feature” shrubs but they can also be  used  like an arbour to secure your chicken wire.These will cost around the same price as hedging poles  which would to have installed and maintained  ,they look much pleasanter and can if you buy ballerina trees pay for themselves within a few years  by supplying fruit .Unlike posts the amount of skills needed is zero ,dig a hole and put them in then use cable ties to secure your chicken wire to them ,these cable ties will need cutting off each year and for the first year or two replacing with new ones so they dont grow into the trees but after the second year other shrubs should be growing through the wire and it wont require any more support or the trees will be large enough for you to nail a couple of tacks into the trunks.You should treat these newly planted trees to watering when you have planted them and ideally water them if the weather is dry for the first few weeks .Its not essential but they  will settle faster and grow better if they have a helping hand.

Wire fencing

Plastic coated Wide mesh chicken wire is a good choice as its likely to be invisible after the first spring ,wide mesh wire will also allow the widest range of  birds to move around freely in the hedge .As the hedge matures a further wide mesh layer of green fencing wire  added in spring and placed across the top of the hedge pushed slightly down into foliage will provide a cat proof barrier from the ground and a magpie and crow proof layer from above protecting nesting birds ,this will look messy until the new growth starts in spring but will eventually be absorbed into the hedge. This upper layer barrier can also be used on existing hedges .The width you buy will depend on how high you need your initial barrier to be ,I bought 1.5 metre wide wire as I find it easiest to work with ,wider is harder to handle ,two runs of this width will give a high fence one width is high enough to keep most pets in ,or out

If starting from scratch or if you have existing hedges with huge gaps at ground level  such as this.

arbour Iona

You can easily add a fast growing tree such as a buddleia or lavatera .If you want to add more habitats for wildlife however  you may wish to dig out a small trench and line it with  pond liner with one or two tiny holes,,refill with a layer of soil and put a mound of  stones set well back this will give a dark damp patch for amphibians ,it may not be enough for frogs but should be ample for toads.Small or  large water features can also be partly set into Hedges.The ones below are self contained so don’t need holes digging etc but they do need a power source,while solar fountains are available these probably wont work too well in the shade of a hedge


if your keen on DIY you can try more complicated options



If you dont want a fountain you could add more wildlife habitats more easily by adding a small stone trough or barrel even an old sink ,


If doesn’t need to be the traditional Belfast sink some modern ones can also look good as they will be almost hidden by the hedge but ,make sure one side slopes slightly so anything that cant swim can get out if it falls in .

Theres a good blog here on wildlife and water features


To plant your boggy bit or to make a hedge in slightly boggy soil you can use a few assorted trees shrubs and plants .Some shrubs and trees will tolerate  slightly damp (but not boggy )soil. Alder ,willow and some species of birch all are trees that grow in damper soil but they also grow quite fast and will grow tall unless trimmed back regularly .Willows also produce suckers which means new plants will pop up feet from the original plant which may make you unpopular with neighbours.You can prevent this by covering the soil around the willow with plastic sheeting then covering it over with more soil . Smaller shrubs  that are slightly damp tolerant are Hydrangeas,Kerria and Weiglas. A small  damp area will also add to the variety of plants you can use ,wild plants such as cowslips prefer slightly damp soil.



Garden plants such as astilbe also like moist soil.



If you want to ensure this remains damp use a small piece of black pipe set into the soil .When you water the plants you can pour some water down this tube to channel water into the soil .You could also or instead  dig a similar hole  ideally with a slight incline upwards add a bottom layer of small stones ,slightly refill with soil then place a flag stone over it ,,this will give a possible hedgehog nest or hibernicula at least until roots start to impinging  on the space when it will still be useful for small mammals.

The remaining choices of planting I will discuss further on in this post

when is a hedge not a hedge ?

Hedges do not just need to  be wide and tall  dividing “fences” between gardens.In a tiny  long garden or as part of a larger garden you can create a two part hedge.Treat the garden itself as the hedging space and make two small narrow lines of shrubs either side of a narrow lawn then add taller shrubs at each end this gives all the habitats of a traditional wide hedge and the narrow strip of lawn isn’t a problem for wildlife,If you use gravel then only use small pea gravel as stone shards ,bigger chunks of gravel or slate pieces can be too sharp for hedgehogs to walk over .

All the shrubs below  short and tall are left to grow their natural height and shape with just a few branches trimmed where they are growing over the lawn.Under the shrubs there are assorted low growing dwarf shrubs and easy to care for flowering plants

middle lawn path

This effectively creating a “garden room”. If you are planting this close to a house then rather than a further side of shrubs it can be  three sided with the last side being a  deep flower bed of high perennials .This “garden room” can be seen as an interrupted hedge,with the exception of the narrow strip of lawn all the components  of a true hedge are present ,there are mature assorted flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs in a continuous run and wide range of flowering plants .In addition what cant be seen here is the flower bed is actually a rockery which contains a lot of large stones which create a haven for toads ,this is a delightful place for humans and wildlife alike

middlev lawn path towards flower bed iona

If you have a tiny garden consider it as  space to create an interrupted hedge and create a wildlife haven while also creating a delightful space that seems much larger than it is .By adding a mirror at one end you can give the illusion of further space. Ideally if your planning this type of “hedge” try to choose at least some scented plants and some evergreens ,,I would personally avoid flowering current which has a distinctive smell that not everyone finds pleasant and any thorny shrub such as pyracantha or Berberis

An espalier “hedge”

This a a project for a skilled gardener or someone keen to start gardening and willing to put in some time and effort,though compared to the time outlay on maintaining fences the time is still minimal .Its possible to plant overlapping Espaliered trees then plant climbers in between growing them around the espalier trees branches,this will not make a wide deep hedge and wont be dense but if your creating an internal hedge  or perhaps need to work around and existing wall or solid fence then this would be a good choice.I have maintained but never created espalier trees so I  will leave instructions on their creation to those gardeners more skilled than myself.



,it would also be an imaginative alternative to fixing trellis to walls.


or as a garden divider .



While creating a trellis from trees would be difficult you could achieve a similar effect by using very wide wire fencing and wrapping climbers around it.

If you want to be even more adventurous  then you could provide some shelter with a garden structure made from a tree or shrub.



Improving an existing hedge

If you are lucky enough to move into a house where there is a mature hedge full length which has only narrow gaps at ground level ,gaps  were conifers have been cut back leaving dead tall trunks.

table and seat garden

or  where the hedge is quite shallow then you have the very best of both worlds.You have mature shrubs to give height and depth but also the space to create a more low flowering and more fruitful ,wildlife friendly hedge by adding fruiting shrubs such as raspberry’s or redcurrants,you can add compact thorny shrubs such as gooseberry’s or Berberis  to make the ground level secure  from dogs and foxes (these will also be an unpleasant shock for young children so its best to plant other less thorny dwarf shrubs such as hebe or heathers in front of these if you have toddlers living with or visiting you  or the shrub is likely to spread into neighbours gardens.) Again to act as a temporary barrier use wide mesh chicken wire,,this can be attached to the shrubs using cable ties so avoiding any joinery .If you moved in late summer or in winter if you can possibly bare to  do so it best to have a summer in the house before making major planting choices rather than  planting shrubs that will clash with your colour scheme especially if you have distinctive coloured shrubs such as this pierris.

Garden  the pierris spring

Waiting will also give you an idea of times when the hedge has flowering gaps and you can choose shrubs accordingly .If like us you are lucky to live next to good neighbours this wait can be avoided as you can ask them what is in the hedge and when it flowers .As with a new or mature hedge with a gap you can add specific habitats.Though it will be easier to do this by adding height to the soil level rather than digging ,digging under mature shrubs will be hard and cause root damage.Most older hedges in houses are likely to have soil which would benefit for some compost or new soil.I usually empty old planters onto the bottoms of hedges ,this soil is usually fairly empty of most of its nutrients so it wont upset the plants who prefer poorer soil but does add texture and provide a mulch over tender perennials as winter sets in.

Planting ,choosing your shrubs.

I am not an expert in shrubs or trees so I have posted links to sites ,mostly the RHS which provide more detailed information of the shrubs below,I merely provide as full as possible guide to the choices available.

garden blush rose


All year around flowers or colour.

wildlife friendly


All year around berries

Bee and butterfly food plants

provides flowers ,seed heads or foliage for cutting to put in vases in the house.

Provides human food .

Non toxic .

There are a great many plants which will fulfil several criteria and a few which will only provide one .

I have been replanting our current garden with shrubs I made my first priority winter colour and interest ,either flowers ,berries interesting stems  or unusual shapes .I also wanted any flowering shrubs to be scented.Winter flowering shrubs are  often scented so its not as difficult as it might sound .However several of the most scented and attractive shrubs have highly poisonous berries to avoid tragedy they are best avoided if either you or your neighbour has young children or pets.Daphne Mezereum is the worst offender while also being the most beautiful and most pleasantly scented.



Holly also produces toxic berries but will only produce berries if make and female plants are grown or exist close by .Holly berries are not fatal and a large number need to be consumed to cause serious harm.


Many plants toxic to humans can be checked on the site above.

Plants toxic to pets can be checked here

for dogs




for cats here

molly 1



I have inherited gardens which contained many of these plants and my pets have never had any problems ,however I now own a spaniel which eats the most unbelievable things so I am much more careful now in my planting choices.How careful you decide to be will depend on how many pets or children visit or live with you and how likely they are to eat berries ,roots etc.


winter flowering shrubs.

Winter shrubs are  the hardest to plan and source ,Winter flowering shrubs mainly benefit humans and insects but they will often produce berries in spring which is a time when birds are raising young and most winter berries are gone.

Winter jasmine ,is a perfect addition to a hedge as its very early flowering,it has narrow thin branches and is not either invasive or space consuming.It grows fairly slowly and does not reach a very great height ,My friends 10 year old winter jasmine is 5 ft high and approx 3 feet wide but is not dense enough to block our other plants.Its fairly unexciting for most of the year so in a hedge it can merge into the background during summer and autumn .Though some are described as scented I have never noticed any particular scent

winter jasmin

Another good choice is witch hazel,these are scented ,slow growing and variety’s  can be bought which are  fairly compact.It should be noted however that it is a tree and some versions can reach upto 15 ft

witch hazle


Also winter flowering ,

sweet box  which is both evergreen and scented ,these can be cropped to stay small but most variety’s if left unchecked will still only grow up to a maximum of  6 ft .



Winter  scented  evergreen or deciduous shrubs




These are always evergreen often but not always scented ,this is a larger growing plant with quite big leaves which are slightly prickly but not as bad as holly .Its very good addition to an informal tall and wide  evergreen hedge (a losely arching high evergreen hedge can be created with laurels and mahonia .Mahonia   provides winter flowers and if you choose a scented variety very pleasant scent .Both Mahonia and Laurels need pruning rather than clipping or trimming so take longer to maintain if you plan on keeping them to a certain shape



Winter honeysuckle

winter honeysuckle

Sweet scented climber not as fast growing as the spring and summer honeysuckles.


Winter flowering dog wood ,cornus mas also called cornelian cherry.

cornus mas

and the winter flowering cherry.



Many  viburnums flower through winter and many are evergreen ,some flowers are scented.Viburnums come is assorted sizes

viburnum tinus



winter flowering evergreen and most are scented ,Daphnes are slightly harder to grow than the other shrubs ,heavy frosts can damage young shrubs .They will not thrive and may die in damp or very dry soils

Daphne bholua 'Limpsfield'

Also winter flowering are many camellias but these are often not winter hardy in some parts of the country and are not by nature hedging plants .

If your hedge is too small for winter shrubs or you want something to climb through it then there are several winter flowering clementis



Suggested planting for an easy care  short hedge,  the winter honeysuckle ,winter clementis and ,winter jasmine and one other shrub from the flowering group perhaps an evergreen such as a viburnum or if you prefer something that flowers on bare stems the cornus mas or winter sweet ,A pyracantha for winter berries .under planted with  both species of Iris ,grape hyacinths and primulas ..If you have enough space and want some interesting shrubs to provide shape and interest in winter there are several options such as the red ,black  or yellow stemmed dog woods

red yellow dogwood


These are probably not ideal for a hedge plant unless the hedge is long enough to plant at least two and has other more interesting plants such as evergreens and summer flowering shrubs as the dogwoods are fairly are unremarkable for most of the year .These would also work as mid way or end of hedge plants .

Cork screw hazels, these are again unsuitable hedging plants but a perfect shrub to create interest part way along planted well out from the main hedge or at one end of the hedge also planted far out from the main hedge,giving a focus to the end.Or plant one in front of a mirror to double the effect of the twisting branches .If you are planting an “interrupted hedge”then this would be a good plant for the end or even for in the flower bed as its slow growing.It can theoretically reach 20 ft however it takes 50 years to do so and after 25 years will only be around ten feet  and may never reach larger than 15 feet .There was a corkscrew hazel in our Pennine village which never reached more than  6ft  by approx 4 ft for the 17 years we lived there.Its a very useful plant to cut for floral arrangements  so this is a simple way to keep it under control.It is  early to mid spring flowering .

corkscrew hazel



While these are not winter flowering their buds form over winter




These grow best with support so are ideal to grown into hedges,they have quite long and sharp spines ,their name is fire thorn .they will add security as well as winter interest and food for birds.



These are a mixed blessing ,they grow quickly form a dense hedge and produce witner food for birds,they are easy to propagate from cuttings I have cut cottoneaster twigs and stuck then in the ground and a least 90 per cent take.However also spent two weeks sawing back a cottoneaster that had  gone feral and taken over an entire side of the garden it had engulfed two lilacs an elderberry and a weigla  .Cottoneaster spread quickly and easily,They  may self seed but also sucker .They are now an invasive species spread by birds to areas were they cause problems in the wild



Other invasive shrubs and plants are listed here


To complete the winter flowering phase of the hedge it would be handy to plant winter flowering primulas and perhaps pansys. Other.Other flowering plants for height are the evergreen green  winter Iris,Iris Unguicularis which grows to around 1 foot ,30 cms

iris 1


Winter Iris ,Iris  danfordiae

A dwarf iris which flowers in late winter,Iris  histrioides which flowers in January

Also worth a try are hardy cyclamen

These will  all quickly spread and create winter colour and food for bees and other insects.Spring bulbs are also best planted before the hedge becomes established.The easiest of these are daffodils both spring flowering and the miniature daffodils which often flower late winter. Daffodils  multiply quite quickly and for less than ten pounds investment you can have drifts of daffodils with enough depth to pick bunches for the house.Another great plant for hedges is the grape hyacinth which again multiplies and spreads  quickly .This can become invasive.Winter iris are also a beautiful fairly easy to grown bulb which is also scented.Snowdrops will multiply fairly quickly once established but can be harder to grow as they may not grown well or at all from bulbs ,its better to buy them “in the green” which means as plants before they die back after flowering.Though they are spring not winter flowering now would also be a good time to plant English bluebells and anemone blanda.

I hope this post has given  people some ideas on how to create a hedge or  how hedges can be adapted to different locations.

here are more helpful links

heres a guide on using rubbish such as pellets,while the example below is quite large you could use one pellet chopped up and hide it behind shrubs and it will still be invaluable.






About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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2 Responses to Hedges ,time saving wildlife havens,a non gardeners guide

  1. Hi Admin, 

    I have been just watching your blog, It’s really Impressive. Just loved the information and content of this blog. Most excellent types of hedges for a low maintenance hedges is a mixed shrub border with a couple of fake plants artfully placed. Carefully decide shrubs that need no pruning if planted with room for their growth.

    Keep writing the stuff like this.

    Designer Plants

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