Edible Hedges – Plant Hedges With Big Hearts
Hedges can be more than mere barriers. Creating edible hedges can also help to feed and heal you…
Hedges are planted for so many reasons. They can create a boundary between properties, an enclosure for privacy, or be used for screening off different parts of a garden. Clipped hedges consisting of only one plant type are also used in formal garden styles, while informal hedges consisting of different mixed plantings and even small trees are often used to create a more relaxed barrier for security purposes and as wind barriers, to attract wildlife, to curb suburban noise or as a background scene for other plantings. And now that food gardening has become such a vital trend you can create edible hedges to help to stock up your pantry!
Natal plum/ big num-num
A very attractive shrub with glossy, dark green leathery foliage and spiny stems. Fragrant, star-shaped flowers are followed by bright red, quite delicious fruit high in vitamin C that can be harvested from March to October.
- Large evergreen shrub to small tree
- Mature size about 3m x 2m
- Full sun to light shade
- Well-draining, compost-enriched soil
- Sensitive to severe frost and cold
- Drought and wind tolerant
- Can be an informal or formal hedge – responds well to pruning
- Plant 1m apart for fast coverage
- All parts of the fruit can be eaten fresh or used in jellies, jams, chutney, in onion marmalade or, when cooked and slightly dried, in muffins.
Spekboom/porkbush/ elephant’s food
Not really known as a hedge plant, this is nevertheless one of the best indigenous species to use for edible hedges. Apart from its great ecological reputation as a carbon sponge, it has both edible and medicinal qualities for the home gardener.
- Evergreen with small, glossy, succulent leaves and red stems
- Masses of small pink flowers appear in late spring
- Mature size can be 2m x 1.5m or bigger
- Full sun to filtered shade
- Shallow roots and not particular about soil type, as long as it is well-draining
- Very drought and heat tolerant
- Sensitive to frost and cold
- A hedge can be planted from cuttings, which root easily in river sand
- Fast-growing and responds well to pruning
- The succulent leaves are edible and have a tart taste suitable for refreshing summer salads
- Astringent juice in the leaves have antiseptic qualities and can be used for sunburn, insect bites, mouth infections and sore throats.
This tough little tree or large shrub has such sharp spines that it makes it difficult to harvest the fruit the female trees produces. It is, however, worth the pricks and bruises as you will not only have a great crop, but also edible hedges that provide impenetrable security.
- Evergreen to semi-deciduous depending on the climate
- Glossy foliage with a leathery feel
- Small creamy-green flowers in summer followed by fairly large apricot-coloured fruit in late summer
- Mature size about 4m x 3m
- Full sun to light shade
- Sensitive to heavy frost
- Very drought and wind tolerant
- Can be planted close together and pruned heavily to form a thick hedge, or a pleached tree hedge if you want to do some fancy pruning
- Slow to medium growth rate
- Pleasantly flavoured fruit with a juicy acidic taste suitable for jellies, jams and pickles.
The stately bay leaf tree has a long connection to festivities and old rituals and rites of all kinds. Planting it as a hedge will require patience but the result will be spiritual and practical.
- Evergreen conical tree that can reach a height of 20m if left unpruned, or used as a specimen tree
- Dark green leathery, elliptical leaves
- Full sun to light shade
- Sensitive to cold and heavy frost
- Likes moist but well-draining, compost-enriched soil
- Can be used as a rather formal-looking hedge
- The leaves are widely used in dishes such as bobotie, slow-cooked venison and beef stews and pies, and in marinades for chicken and fish (especially curried fish)
- Leaves can either be used fresh or dried (which most cooks prefer)
- Leaves are medicinally used to help with digestion and to treat arthritis pain
- The aromatic leaves are can be used in kitchen cupboards to repel insects like cockroaches and fish moths, and also to keep dried grains and flour fresh.
Australian tea tree
This is the one and only true tea tree from Australia, not to be confused with the many other Melaleuca species found in gardens, and is on our list of plants that are perfect as edible hedges.
- Quick-growing, evergreen tree or large shrub
- Mature size up to 7m tall
- Fine, thinly pointed pale green leaves
- Creamy-white bottlebrush-like flowers in summer
- Good for coastal conditions and can withstand light frost
- Will thrive in any soil in a deeply dug and well-composted hole
- Full sun
- The secret is to cut it back to knee height every two or three years. This is what keeps it soft, vigorous, tidy and attractive
- Fresh sprigs rubbed onto windowsills and kitchen counters help control flies and mosquitoes
- The bark is used medicinally to bind over sores, wounds, corns and cracked heels
- A lotion of leaves, sprigs and pieces of bark is a superb wash or spray for bites, rashes, scratches, heat rash, itchiness, fungal infections, acne and oily skin, and can be used as a rinse for oily hair and athlete’s foot.
Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’
This upright-growing rosemary is a perfect choice as low edible hedges for a sunny vegetable or herb garden. It is also a fantastic barrier plant to repel many insects and critters away from the susceptible – few things go where the rosemary grows…
- The highly fragrant foliage is needle-like, dull-green on top with a silvery sheen on the underside
- Blue flowers appear in summer and autumn
- Mature size is about 80cm x 1m
- Cold and frost hardy
- Fantastic coastal plant
- Low water requirements and also tolerant to brackish water
- Full sun
- Any well-draining soil type
- Neat rosemary hedges need regular and light pruning
- Use sprigs of fresh rosemary for oven roasts
- Use chopped leaves and flowers in salads or as garnishing
- The long, straight stems of ‘Tuscan Blue’ can be used as kebab sticks, which will impart a lovely flavour to meat
- Fresh sprigs can be thrown on the braai for a fresh aroma and will also repel mosquitoes
- Dried rosemary can be placed in cupboards to repel insects.
Punica granatum ‘Wonderful’
Pomegranates will grow basically anywhere but prefer dry or semi-dry climates with cool winters and hot summers. Their attractive and strange fruit is something to write home about!
- Evergreen large shrub or small tree
- Pretty scarlet red flowers in spring and summer followed by fruit that ripens in April
- Mature height about 3m x 3m
- It prefers well-draining soil enriched with compost
- The ‘Wonderful’ cultivar is moderately frost tolerant
- Watering must be regular in spring and early summer and reduced from late summer
- Since the fruit are produced on the tips of new growth, shorten the stems for the first 3 years to encourage lots of new growth
- Annual light pruning is needed afterwards to give the plants an open shape and to remove dead wood and growth sprouting from the roots
- The large fruit can weigh up to 500g and are semi hard with a sweet taste
- Their glossy skins turn bright red when ripe and the arils are dark red and very juicy
- Fruit can be stored in refrigeration for up to 3 months
- They are very high in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Cydonia oblonga ‘Portugal’
Quinces have been around since ancient times and are easy to grow except in tropical climes. They are self-fertile and produce large pome fruit that is strangely not eaten raw.
- Deciduous small trees or large shrubs with oval leaves that are fuzzy underneath
- White or pink open flowers with a lot of stamens
- Mature size is about 3m x 3m
- Frost and cold tolerant
- Full sun
- Shallow-rooted and prefer moist soil
- Tolerant of brackish and clay soils
- Feed monthly from spring to early autumn with a balanced fertiliser for fruit and flowers
- Spray preventatively against fruit flies and codling moth
- Prune lightly in July to open up the centre of the plants
- Spray the dormant plants with lime sulphur after winter pruning
- Large pear-shaped fruit turning deep yellow and with a strong fragrance can be harvested in March and April
- Skins will be smooth with small pips inside
- The fruit, which must be stored to ripen completely, can be used for canning, jellies, compotes and baking.