On the cutting edge
A low evergreen hedge is more than a barrier – it’s also a great design element!
A hedge is a row of dense vegetation planted for specific reasons, such as creating a boundary between properties or an enclosure for privacy, or for screening of different parts of a garden. Large formal hedges consisting of only one plant type are also used in classical and formal garden styles, where they are a very strong element in the overall design. Large, informal hedges consisting of different mixed plantings and even small trees are often used to create a more relaxed barrier for security purposes, to attract wildlife, to curb suburban noise or as a background scene for other plantings. But if you create low hedging, a whole new world of designing possibilities opens up.
Edging perennial and shrub beds
Even the most beautiful and artfully combined border of flowering shrubs, perennials and graceful grasses needs to be finished off with a neat border to tie the whole look together. You can use pretty groundcovers, masses of annuals, or even hard landscaping like cobble edging in the foreground, but a lush, neatly clipped formal miniature hedge will supply a neutral but strong framework to show off the other plants, lending a professional touch. Another advantage of using a low hedge to ‘formalise’ planting beds, whether square or with relaxed and informal curves, is that your lawn edges tend to stay in the same place and don’t widen every time they are neatened.
Creating a strong floor pattern
A network of low hedges can be used to create a fairly formal layout that includes gravel or paved pathways, not unlike the old Elizabethan knot gardens. Beds formed between low hedges can then be filled with other massed plantings of a limited plant choice. Such a simple design plan is perfect for any size garden, or a gardener who is perhaps fond of a minimalist plant choice and layout. When using low hedges as a design tool you are not bound by only one shape – think of triangles, squares, circles and narrow rectangular beds, which can all be bordered on all sides by low hedging.
Directing foot traffic
Even the most informal pathway leading from one section of the garden to another can be enhanced with low hedges on either side. The beautiful Lavandula x intermedia var. ‘Margaret Roberts’, which has a neat rounded growth habit, comes to mind for a fragrant walkway to a front door or leading to the herb and vegetable garden. In very formal garden design most pathways would be bordered by low hedging – always neat and always good looking, no matter what time of year
Boxing the roses in
Roses, although the queens of all flowering plants, can sometimes be barelegged at their bases, and even when covered with healthy foliage are not the most attractive of plants when not sporting a full seasonal flower flush. Low hedges surrounding beds of roses – especially with the same flower colour – create a dramatic effect. Using a pattern of low hedges with pathways between them also makes it easier to design a cutting rose garden with more of an edge. Standard roses, other standards and large topiary plants planted together will also look much better if surrounded by a low, neatly clipped evergreen frame at ground level.
Accentuating garden art or focal points
A low evergreen hedge around a raised pond or classic element such as a classical urn or old-fashioned birdbath or fountain supplies a classy finishing touch. You can even surround a gracious specimen tree in the lawn with a low evergreen hedge to highlight it.
More hedging ideas
• Soften the lines of a dry-packed stonefwall with a dark green low hedge at its base.
• Plant a low hedge on top of a low wall as an extra barrier.
• Low hedges can be used to define the borders of terraces against a gentle slope.
• Low hedges can be planted at the top of cement-block retaining walls.
• A low hedge doesn’t have to be a solid row of plants bordering something else. You can create green art by using shorter lengths of hedging spaced behind each other, creating a type of domino effect against a gently sloped lawn – a wild idea, but certainly worth trying!
• You can build a labyrinth, maze or even a simple spiral garden by using lowgrowing hedge plants.
The following plants are not necessarily dwarf plants by nature, but they don’t seem to mind being drastically bladed into a compact height and shape. Most of them are tolerant of full sun and light shade as well – always a handy bonus, as a little hedge might have to thrive in differing sun patterns during the day.
Botanical name: Buxus microphylla ‘Faulkner’
Common name: Box
This very compact plant is probably the most popular hedge and topiary plant on the globe! It has small, glossy, light green oval leaves with a tinge of bronze in winter. This is not a fast grower, but it is extremely hardy against cold and frost with medium to quite low water requirements when established. It will grow in full sun to light shade. Mature size is about 1m x 90cm.
Botanical name: Westringia fruticosa
Common name: Australian rosemary
A compact plant with very small, greyish-green leaves that are white-felted underneath. It produces small white or blue flowers, depending on the form. This is a fast grower that is also hardy to cold, with medium to low water requirements. It is ideal for dry and windy coastal gardens. Plant it in full sun only. Mature size is about 1.5 x 1.5m.
Botanical name: Duranta ‘Sheena’s Gold’
Common name: Duranta
This duranta has a dense and compact growth habit and is much loved for its yellow to lime green leaves. It is a fast grower but will not tolerate extreme cold and frost. It performs well in subtropical and windy, coastal areas. A great advantage is that it will grow in full sun to light shade. ‘Sheena’s Gold’ can grow as large as 2m x 1.5m but can be pruned into a low hedge with great success.
Botanical name: Searsia crenata
Common name: Dune crow-berry
A dense and compact indigenous plant with bright green, small leaves. This is my favourite of all hedging plants because it is a fast grower that with frequent pruning will quickly form a dense, low hedge. It is tender to heavy frost, but very wind resistant and very water-wise. Don’t be fooled by its mature size, which can easily reach 3m x 3m – it loves to be tamed into a smaller size. Another advantage is that if you have been lax with pruning and might have allowed it to grow out of shape, you will be forgiven for drastic measures by fast regrowth that will quickly cover bald spots. This plant grows equally well in full sun to light shade.
Botanical name: Carissa macrocarpa ‘Green Carpet’
Common name: Dwarf Natal plum
Very dark green leathery foliage and spiny stems. This indigenous variety is normally used as a groundcover as it only grows about 30cm high with a spread of about 60cm, but it works extremely well as a neat though informal little hedge. It can be pruned to a formal shape, but you might forfeit the star-shaped, white and fragrant flowers and edible berries that follow them. Plant in full sun to light shade. It is not hardy to extreme cold and frost, but very adaptable to windy and dry gardens.
Botanical name: Escallonia ‘Pink Princess’
Common name: Escallonnia
A very neat shrub with glossy leaves and masses of light pink flowers that appear on and off during the year. This means that you can sometimes allow it to grow out a bit in order to flower for you. It is, like all other escallonia garden hybrids (which are equally great hedging plants), cold and frost hardy and a fast grower, with medium to low water requirements. Mature size is about 1m x 80cm.
Botanical name: Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’
Common name: Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’
This upright-growing rosemary is a perfect choice as a low hedge plant for a sunny vegetable or herb garden. The foliage is needle-like and fragrant, and the plant is cold and frost hardy with low water requirements. Mature height is about 80cm x 1m.
Botanical name: Portulacaria afra
Common name: Pork bush or spekboom
Not really known as a hedge plant, spekboom is one of the best indigenous plants to put to this use as it does not mind being pruned frequently. It is extremely drought resistant and fast growing. A pork bush hedge can be
planted by simply sticking unrooted pieces in welldraining, moist, sandy soil. Once established, it will basically look after itself as far as irrigation is concerned.
Botanical name: Abelia ‘Lemon & Lime’
Common name: Abelia
All abelias are perfect hedge plants, but this compact newcomer with its lime foliage that turns into a rich golden yellow with a reddish tint in winter is sure to be a winner with its glowing shades. It is happy in full sun or semi-shade, fairly fast-growing and frost hardy.
Botanical name: Einadia hastata (Rhagodia hastata)
Common name: Salt bush
In the parched Western Cape this plant has reached iconic status as it bravely graces very dry gardens where it’s widely used as filler plant and for hedging. The beautiful silvery-grey foliage, which can sometimes turn a rusty shade of red, and white stems always attract the eye, especially if a little rain has fallen and new growth is produced. This is a fast grower and a hardy coastal plant that can be pruned into virtually any formal shape. Mature size is about 0.5m x 2m. Mature size is about 1.5m x 2m.