A rose trained along a rope 'swag' between posts provides a permeable divider in the garden

A rose trained along a rope ‘swag’ between posts provides a permeable divider in the garden

Regular readers may recall that I recently mentioned my plans to run a second Garden Design course at Reepham, here in Norfolk. I’m pleased to say that this has now begun and I’m looking forward to working with the 8 enthusiastic participants over the next few weeks to come up with designs and ideas for their gardens.

Coincidentally, I was also contacted recently by one of the students on the first course, Angela, who lives in a village nearby. She updated me on what she’s done in her garden since the course and was trying to arrange a meeting with her fellow students to share progress and ideas. She also asked for some advice. As this raised an interesting issue, I thought I’d share it with you as this week’s ‘GQT’. Her question is:

‘We took out a hedge last year between our vegetable garden and the lawn.  Most of the hedge area plus a bit of lawn is now a border, and we’d like to put in some sort of screen where the hedge was.  We don’t want a solid screen and were thinking of espalier fruit trees.  However, we do not need any more fruit trees and I think something of winter interest would be better.  Thoughts so far include Pyracantha or maybe Cotoneaster.  Do you think Pyracantha would work?’

A Pyracantha hedge

A Pyracantha hedge

Well Angela, Pyracantha makes a lovely informal hedge, with spring flowers and autumn berries as well as evergreen foliage (see the picture above).

However the ones suitable for hedging can grow to 2 – 3 metres high (and can also be quite wide), so unless you keep it cut back it will provide a pretty dense and high screen, perhaps not what you were looking for? The Cotoneasters suitable for a hedge (e.g C. lacteus) have similar range of interest to Pyracantha and are also pretty dense and tall, unless kept in trim. But doing this rather defeats the object of an ‘informal’ hedge, unless you keep trimming to a minimal tidy up of loose ends!

If a more permeable screen is what you’re after, you could go for a backdrop of grasses that would add a lovely golden colour to a border at this time of year.

If they are in a sheltered spot they will stand tall and provide some winter interest (cut them to ground level in the spring); an example is Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. You could of course mix these along the line of the old hedge with evergreen shrubs (themselves with a variety of interest through the seasons). This would once again define the back of the border in an informal way, leaving ‘peep holes’ through the grasses into the garden beyond.

If you’re looking for something to provide a strong linear backdrop to your border but still give views through to the next garden, another idea might be to go for some sort of post and rail/rope structure (the latter is known as a ‘swag’- see the picture at the top of the article), or even a series of wide – opening trellis panels.

This then gives you the option of climbers to train up and along the wood/rope, but gives you views/glimpses through to what lies beyond. You could go for a mixture of climbers to give you a range of seasonal interest. Clematis of different varieties will give you flowers throughout the year, including winter flowers (e.g C. cirrhosa and its cultivars have winter flowers in creamy/ freckled shades and evergreen leaves). And some varieites give you other sorts of Autumn/winter interest. For example C. tangutica and it’s cultivars have some lovely ‘hairy’ seed heads that last into winter. Rambling/ climbing roses would also provide summer/early autumn flowers, followed by hips on some varieties. However, some of the Clematis (e.g cirrhosa) can get quite bushy so will need to be kept in check if you want to have views through – and the roses will also need pruning. Another option is to train a Pyracantha along a post and rail barrier to give you that ‘espalier’ effect you mentioned (see picture below).

Pyracantha coccinea trained along post and rails

Pyracantha coccinea trained along post and rails

Alternatively try one of the above options, but additionally introduce some winter interest directly into your border – e.g colourful stems from the various Cornus (Dogwoods), or foliage, flower and fragrance from any number of shrubs; e.g Daphne, Winter Jasmine, Eleagnus, Euonymus, various Viburnums etc.

Further information:

Hedge selector

10 AGM variegated evergreen shrubs- RHS

Hedge planting- RHS

All about Pyracantha

Related article:

GQT: Climbers as clothing… and as heighteners and dividers

Old School Gardener

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