Privet is a shrub that has been roundly abused both in England and America; some people have given up planting it because they consider it too commonplace; others have torn it out for the same reason and replaced it with something not half so good. Nurserymen recommend other plants to take its place, and one that they seem to favour at the present time is Japanese Barberry. Barberry is an attractive, low growing shrub, but as it cannot be trimmed effectively it is useless where a good hedge effect is wanted. Ilex Crenata, Japanese Holly, makes a nice hedge, but it is not hardy much north of Richmond.
Privet Hedge around Garden; Pin Oaks in Background.
California Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) is an effective shrub when used as a specimen. Its colour is good and it holds its leaves so long that it could almost be called an evergreen without stretching the imagination very far. It is of very quick growth and may be shaped readily with the shears into a rotund bush, which makes a very good supplement to a wooden gatepost. Privet is easily transplanted and it is possible to move large specimens without risk. It will do much better if freely supplied with water and the foliage occasionally sprayed, if the hose is handy; in Midsummer it should be mulched with lawn clippings to keep the soil from drying around the roots.
California Privet is of very quick growth and possesses so many good qualities that it should not be ignored. If you have a hedge of it and can afford the room in your kitchen garden, or some out-of-the-way corner of your place, you can propagate good plants from the clippings. These will come in very handy either to set new hedges with, or to fill up gaps that may occasionally occur in the old one. Plant the cuttings with two eyes in the ground and two eyes out, and use the stoutest shoots you can get. Transplant them in the Spring and thereafter prune them into shapely specimens. Although Privet is not evergreen it retains its colour and leaves into Winter, and when once it starts to grow in Spring it progresses rapidly. In fact, one drawback to Privet as a hedge is the frequency with which it has to be clipped in the growing season.
Mature Privet does not seem to be affected much by drought unless planted very near rock, but it can absorb a great deal of moisture and does better when provided with it; young plants should be carefully watered in dry seasons to assure their good health. It will grow in partial shade but will not thrive there; the part of a hedge that is under the trees always looks scraggly and mean. In some parts of New England, in exposed positions, Privet cannot be successfully grown. It will do well apparently in any ordinary soil, but its development is wonderful in light loam. Be sure to top dress the plants in the Fall, and fork in the old manure in the Spring.
If a Privet hedge is used to enclose a garden, have paths parallel it, and leave only a space of two feet or so between the paths and the hedge. The stone filling of the path will keep the roots of the Privet from intruding on the garden, and from sucking up the moisture and substance from the soil. In the bed that borders the hedge you will be able to grow Nasturtiums, but not much else. The tall growing Nasturtium is the best for the purpose, and as it grows it should be trained over the hedge and let fall in festoons on the outside, or along the top. The effect obtained by such a method is distinctly good, as the Nasturtium will be in bloom from the first part of June until frost, and the bright blossoms are well shown off against the dark green of the hedge. In some of the best old gardens of England Nasturtiums are trained in this way up over the high Yew hedges and screens. The seed should be planted about the tenth of April in the neighbourhood of New York, unless the season is very backward. If you would rather you may have the bed between the path and hedge in grass, where you can naturalize clumps of Japanese Iris with Crocuses, Tulips and Narcissi growing between them.
These may be left undisturbed as they will have ripened by the time the grass has to be trimmed.
Nasturtiums climbing over Privet Hedge.
To obtain the best results with Privet as a hedge use three-year-old plants, and set them out in two alternate rows, fourteen inches apart, and eight or ten inches apart in the rows. When they become established in this way the branches interweave and form a compact, sturdy mass, and so support each other that the snow and ice of the severest Winters will not break them down. A hedge may also be made with a single row with less expense, the double row only being used when a particularly substantial result is desired. After setting out Privet cut it back to the height of eight or ten inches, and keep the pruning shears well employed for the first and second seasons at least. Such treatment will make the bushes strong and stocky and cause them to furnish close to the ground, so that in the end it will be possible to trim the hedge square, and produce a clean cut wall of living green. After the hedge is well started you should cut back into the old wood every year, when you first trim it. Beyond the clipping, a Privet hedge takes pretty good care of itself.
Old Box Hedge near Baltimore.
Privet is a very good material for an amateur "topiarius" to practice on. It grows so rapidly that mistakes are quickly covered up, and with a little care it may be shaped into almost any form. Buttresses may be made to hedges, and piers with finials, and the top of the hedge between the columns gracefully turned. Pleaching, however, should be done with a level and a line if you expect to get satisfactory results. This sort of work is very amusing and interesting, and adds to the general effect of the grounds; but a little goes far on a small place.
Box is an expensive plant to use for hedging purposes, but there is nothing so good. The same effect cannot be got with Privet or Hemlock or any other hedge plant. It is not feasible to move an old hedge, as it is almost impossible to fit it together again, although some nurserymen claim to be able to accomplish the feat. Plants of Tree Box can be procured from the nursery fifteen to thirty-six inches in height, and those that have been allowed to grow in their natural way should be selected. They are generally more or less pyramidal in form, terminating in a slightly pointed top, sometimes in two tops. Set these bushes close together, cut the tops off and trim the sides level; they will make a very good beginning for a hedge, but should not be allowed to grow upwards until they have grown well into each other. Such a hedge should be carefully fertilized every year, and if it is in a slightly exposed position it should be protected with a screen of boards until well established. It will not be necessary to board the hedge up, in fact this is really worse for it than no protection at all. Cover the butts with coarse litter or salt-grass, and give plenty of manure water during the Summer, and especially during the growing season.
On the next page there is a photograph of an old hedge in Westchester County, New York, which for many years has been well established on the top of a stone retaining wall, hedging in the yard. It was badly scarred in the Winter of 1903-05, and at present writing there are many gaps in it which have made the heart of its owner sad. A garden enclosed by a good Box hedge, with posts at the corners and entrances, makes an ideal decoration for a lawn.
Old Box Hedge.