Conifers and Hedges with Geoff Carr

Award winning Garden Designer Geoff Carr explains to us how to use hedges for boundaries or ornamentation. For more visit www.geoffreycarr.co.uk

Aesthetically pleasing and practical.
I like conifers whether they are upright, spreading, tall, short, yellow, blue, green or orange. Conifers have been out of fashion since the end of the last century but I’ve never been a follower of fashion so I never really noticed their absence at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show garden design cat-walk. I tend to think that if a plant fulfils a design function then it’s just as valid as whatever the current trend might be. Conifers come with some excellent characteristics: – mostly evergreen for year-around interest and structure, just about any shape or size you can imagine, fully frost hardy and hard as nails, easy to look after and finally they look good as either a single specimen plant or planted as a group. Indeed, there are some fabulous examples of entire conifer gardens. The only minor drawback is that they don’t host a very high insect/animal/fungi count. Although their biodiversity credentials are lacking they fulfil many other criteria and I hope they don’t stay in the design prison too much longer. Apart from falling from fashion they have also got a bad reputation via the problems caused by the fast growing and very big Leylandii cypress tree often planted as a ‘quick hedge’. Unless you have a truly enormous amount of space I would steer well clear of using large growing trees as hedging. Laylandii do not regenerate new foliage if pruned back into old wood. This is a distinct disadvantage in hedge plants and one which choices such as privet, laurel, beech, yew and holly do not suffer from. All of these plants can be hacked back into shape in the secure knowledge that new leaves will grow back from bare wood.

Although hedges are most commonly associated with boundaries between properties they also perform a major design function within the garden too. Indeed hedging plants are not restricted to the usual suspects such as Beech, Yew, Laurel, Hornbeam, Privet or Leylandii. More ornate examples could include Choisya ternata, Berberis, Euonymus, Cotoneaster, Hydrangea, Escallonia, Hypericum, Griselinia littoralis, Pyracantha, Hibiscus, Rose, Lavender, Spiraea, Lonicera or Bamboo. If you’re looking for a mixed, native country hedge selection I would recommend Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Dogwood, Spindle, Crab Apple and Wayfaring tree.

If you want to consider any of  the many shapes, sizes or colours of conifers that are available then some research before you buy will help to clarify they will tolerate the conditions in your garden.  Things to take into account are levels of shade, damp, acidity, alkalinity, dry soil, wind, frost or full sun. Check to see if the ultimate spread and height will fit into your garden and also that its shape is going to work positively with everything else occupying the space. Of course, you could always visit some of the fabulous gardens in the Cotswolds that are open to the public and take a look at some mature conifer specimens that were planted back in the 70s.

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