Tag Archive: hedges


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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hedge archwayThis week’s Gardeners’ Question Time looks at how and when to trim hedges. The question comes from Anne Elk who lives in West Devon:

‘I never seem to be able to get an even, level cut on my hedge when I give it its annual trim. How can I achieve a really neat appearance?’

Well Anne, first you need to check on whether in fact your hedge is of a variety that does just need only one clip, or whether it should have several (see below). If it’s the latter, it will be difficult with only one cut to keep it smooth and sharp as so much material will have to be removed, so you should perhaps be trimming it more frequently.

In general though, to get a sharp, level shape when cutting, stretch a string line tightly between two posts along the top, at the height you want the hedge to be, and clip exactly to this level – however, be prepared to repair any accidental cutting of the string! For the sides, put in canes vertically at intervals along the hedge, and sight along these as you cut. Alternatively some people can do this by eye and achieve a satisfactory result, especially if the hedge is fairly low.

Lowish hedges can eb trimmed by eye as long as a good original line has been established

Lowish hedges can be trimmed by eye as long as a good original line has been established

So how and when should you cut different types of hedge?

Established deciduous hedges that are moderately fast growing (e.g. Beech, Hornbeam, Hazel and Tamarisk) should be trimmed once in August – however, if they are growing particularly well, they might need two trims – one in late July the other (lighter trim) in early October.

Deciduous hedges which tend to be fast growing (e.g. Blackthorn, Myrobalan Plum, Hawthorn) will need about three clippings at about six weekly intervals during the summer- this also applies to some fast growing evergreen hedges such as Lonicera and Gorse.

Some slower growing evergeen hedges such as the various Laurels, Elaegnus and Sweet Bay require just one cut in early autumn, though faster growing evergreens such as confiers are best trimmed once in August – or possibly twice if particularly vigourous (once in July and then again in early October). For Yew, trim once a year in the summer.

For slow growing, smaller – leaved evergreen hedges such as Box, you should be cutting in early summer (June- July) and again in late summer/early autumn (including topiarised shapes).  Box hedges should be cut in overcast weather as if they are cut in the hot and dry their half cut leaves will desiccate and turn brown. For Privet (Ligustrum) you will need at least two and possibly more cuts in a season to maintain its shape.

Mazes are often created from Yew hedging - usually an annual cut will keep it looking trim

Mazes are often created from Yew hedging – usually an annual cut will keep it looking trim

If you have an informal flowering hedge, in general this should be pruned rather than generally cut over. This is best done in spring if it flowers in between mid summer and autumn and in mid summer if it flowers in the spring or early summer. In both cases take off the shoots which have flowered, thin out the growth if it is crowded and remove completely any old growth which is straggly and flowering badly.

For most hedges try to establish sloping sides with a taper inwards towards the top (known as a ‘batter’) – this encourages growth lower down the hedge which if the sides were vertical (or even worse sloping inwards towards the bottom), would result in thin growth at the base where less light reaches the leaves.

Not all hedges are meant to be level and straight- 'cloud pruned' forms such as this are more a work of art than a geometric challenge!

Not all hedges are meant to be level and straight- ‘cloud pruned’ forms such as this are more a work of art than a geometric challenge!

I hope that you find this of help, and if you have any gardening questions that you think I might help with, then please email me at nbold@btinternet.com

Old School Gardener

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PicPost: Globe Theatre

PicPost: Great Garden @ Thames Barrier Park

‘Thames Barrier Park

Who is it for?

The Thames Barrier Park was opened in November 2000 and provides a new focal point for Newham residents and attraction for visitors to south-east London

How are we doing it?

The riverside area was redeveloped and landscaped with fountains, family areas, flower gardens and tended lawns.

What are the benefits?

The park has helped to significantly regenerate the area.

When is the project happening?

The project started in 1995 and was completed in November 2000.

How can I get involved?

The award-winning Thames Barrier Park is situated in Silvertown on the north bank of the Thames and has stunning views of the flood barrier. Set within 22 acres of greenery, this unique urban oasis features fountains, gardens, wildflower meadows, a children’s play area and a 5-a-side football/basketball court.

The history of the Thames Barrier Park

In 1995 the London Docklands Development Corporation launched an international competition to create a new riverside park. The winning consortium was architect Patel Taylor in collaboration with Group Signers and engineers Ove Aarum.
Lord Mayor of London, the Rt Hon Richard Nichols planted the first tree in January 1998 and the park was opened by the Mayor of London in November 2000.

The Green Dock

One of the park’s most imaginative and attractive features is The Green Dock which was created by renowned horticulturalist Alain Cousseran and Alain Provost.

A 1km circuit of the boundary paths takes you to the Visitor Pavilion Coffee Shop where refreshments are available.
Thames Barrier Park is accessible to those with disabilities.’

Source: Greater London Authority website

Where trees for climbing aren't readily available these wooden climbing structures provide a great alternative

Where trees for climbing aren’t readily available these wooden climbing structures provide a great alternative

“I prefer climbing trees than climbing frames because they are quite different and there are many ways to climb. I can climb up quite high. My mum is worried but I’m not. I’m quite good at it. I’ve never fallen off a tree because I climb in the quite safe places of trees. It’s quite thrilling being up there. My clothes get messy though.” Christina (aged 11)

So, where did you play and what were your favourite sorts of play places? I bet that some of you (most perhaps) will mention bits of wasteland, parks, on riverbanks, in other people’s derelict gardens and up trees…

It’s likely that most outdoor play happens in ‘natural’ places, but that’s not to say that this is any better than playing on play equipment or in conventional, designed playgrounds. These defined ‘children’s spaces’ make children feel they have permission to be themselves, have fun and are valued – however, they are usually adult- created places. Equally we don’t need to think that every aspect of the playground needs to be ‘manufactured’ or protected; sand or bark are as effective as rubber safety surfacing. And perhaps we don’t need to fence everything in – though this probably gives a sense of security to parents of the youngest children.

A 'Nectar bar' of insect- attracting plants

A ‘Nectar bar’ of insect- attracting plants

There is now a wealth of evidence to suggest that children benefit from being outdoors and in ‘natural’ places – especially if we want them to grow up with an understanding of the natural environment and take a responsible attitude towards it. In 2006, Playday focused on Play in the Natural Environment. Key findings were:

  • Children will naturally gravitate to natural places to play; they are seen as more likely to be free from an adult agenda, free – creative – self-directed.
  • Natural places create a sense of wonder and awe
  • These places link to an appreciation of the natural world as adults
  • Barriers to play in the natural environment include adult worry of danger – fear of strangers – bullies – quality – and the sheer lack of them in towns and cities
  • ‘Nature deficit disorder’ = a disconnection or aversion to nature
  • We need to understand the importance of the natural environment and be prepared to protect, expand, leave it alone and ensure variety. There is a need for specialised/dedicated training.
A 'Giant's Causeway' provides a challenging ascent

A ‘Giant’s Causeway’ provides a challenging ascent

So, can designed play spaces be in any way ‘natural’? There is scope for bringing together the best of  ‘off the shelf’ play equipment and those which use natural materials, objects and environments – or perhaps are an artful interpretation of these.

The best play spaces are unique and valued by their community. A design -led approach which combines play features custom-built for their location, with ‘off the shelf’ play items like slides, climbing frames, swings and zip wires is a key interest of mine. I’ve included a few pictures of some of my own work in creating these  ‘play landscapes’.

Some of the ‘natural’ ingredients which can feature in designed ‘play landscapes’ are:

1. Making the most of natural features– fallen trees to climb, clumps of tough plants for building dens, slopes to roll down, small things like piles of grass clippings and places that encourage insects and other critters (e.g. the ‘nectar bar’ shown in one of the photos).

Earth sculpting

Earth sculpting

2. Land sculpting – do you live in a pretty flat landscape? Introducing some variation in the play area by sculpting the land into ditches and hills provides endless fun for children of all ages.

3. Boulders – these are becoming a feature of many play areas, but often lack the size and careful placing to make them a good play feature (as stepping-stones, or for clambering up for example). Ideally they need to be of a smooth granite for ease of climbing and to avoid dangerous sharp edges.

4. Sand – there is an ‘urban myth’ that sand pits attract cats and other animals who use it as a toilet. Though there are examples of this as an issue (and possibly also from vandals leaving cans, bottles and other rubbish in them)- the benefits of sand as a play medium usually far outweigh the possible risks, especially if they are inspected daily to remove any offending items. Sand can be used as a safety surface also though not where rubber or other matting is more practical or where children playing in the sand risk being knocked over by those using some equipment (e.g in the area at the end of a slide). And why not go one stage further and create/designate a muddy/digging area?

A notched pole climber with sand under

A notched pole climber with sand under

5. Trees– either naturally fallen or imported, dead trunks provide great climbing, sitting and ‘hang out’ areas. Some larger living trees are suitable for climbing or having rope swings attached.Planting groups of new trees is also a good idea, but these should be out-of-the-way of key play features, in areas where the temptation to uproot them is minimised! Where you can’t have natural trees, it’s possible to create tree-like structures to climb (see pics).

Long grass and hedges create places to hide

Long grass and hedges create places to hide

6. Hedges– mixed native species hedges are, once established, a wonderful habitat for many different insects, birds etc. and can include blackberries etc. as a fun source of food in the autumn! Don’t worry about thorns and prickles – once ‘bitten’ children, like adults, will be careful what they touch…

A woodland pond and climbing tower

A woodland pond and climbing tower

7. Water– surely a no go for children’s play? Well, once more it’s easy to over react and miss what can be a wonderful play opportunity. Rather than ban any water we should think about how it can be safely included in a play landscape – from a hand pump combined with sand play/mud perhaps (see pic), or in a shallow canal or stream….

8. Grass– introduce areas where the grass is not cut as frequently so as to vary the play landscape. Children love long grass –  it seems more  ‘jungly’ as one youngster commented to me!

A sand and water play feature aimed at younger children

A sand and water play feature aimed at younger children

So there are practical ways of creating interesting, naturalistic ‘play landscapes’ which avoid the one size fits all mentality so often applied to play areas (or ‘KFC’ = Kit – Fencing – Carpet).

In tomorrow’s post – how to secure more natural play for your children- ten tips for parents.

Further information: Play again film

Old School Gardener

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