This section is from the book "The Florists' Manual", by William Scott. Also available from Amazon: The Florist's Manual.
If you supply shrubs you will be sure to be asked to plant hedges. Some of our American cities have distinctly beautiful residence streets and the uncommon feature always noticeable to Rudyard Kipling and less illustrious " Outland-ers" is the absence of fences or hedges. There is nothing but the well kept lawn, the group of shrubs and trees, or perhaps a flower bed, between the sidewalk and the residence. There is no finer specimen of this beautiful style of street in America than our own Delaware avenue, Buffalo, N. Y. We would never be guilty of advocating any other style, but whether we would or not there is a fast growing tendency to put up iron fences, or plant hedges, and when they are asked for we must be ready.
We will say in defense of a hedge that where an iron fence is used we think a well kept hedge behind it is an improvement. Or where there is a retaining wall a small hedge on the bank is a finish to it. Or where the lot finishes on the street with a terrace we think a hedge is in place. And a well kept hedge can hardly be out of place anywhere near the street. But it is all in the quality of the hedge. We trust for the credit of our city and its pride, the residence streets, that stone walls or Norway spruce hedges will never be built to prevent the passerby from admiring the trees and well kept lawns and flower gardens of our wealthy citizens. A good and happy life on the avenue is not fostered by admiring your own lot alone. You see in a month more of your neighbor's than you do of your own, and a resident keeps his grounds neat and trim and beautiful because others will admire them, the knowledge of which gratifies the owner. It resolves itself, like many other good deeds, into a species of selfishness; by doing good to others you have tickled and pleased your own self.
But let us get back to the hedge. There are very few hedges seen in our cities that are properly kept, either of the evergreen or deciduous kind. The best specimens of hedges I have seen in this country were at Newport, mostly privet. And the finest evergreen hedges I have seen are in Toronto, of Norway spruce. But the perfection of a hedge in every feature was a hemlock hedge (Abies Canadensis) in the nurseries of George Leslie & Son. Hemlock is without doubt the finest and most perfect in form of all evergreen hedges. There are some terrible specimens of privet hedges scattered over our city and others. Before they are three feet high a western hog could run through them without disturbing many of their twigs. When like this they are simply an abomination. The fault is mostly with the proprietor, who insists on immediate effect and says, " No, no, don't cut it down; I want some show for my money; leave it alone, we will trust to its filling out." Which it never does. And a privet hedge is allowed to run up two feet the first season and then be just topped an inch or so.
Hedge of Spiraea Van Houttei Three Years After Planting.
Another reason for the poor hedges you see is that they are seldom trimmed properly. Let it be an evergreen or a deciduous hedge, it should not be cut up square, and sometimes you see them worse than that, even broader at the top than the bottom. If they run up square, how are the lower branches going to get equal light or rains? They soon begin to lose their lower branches and then they are ruined. I would call a fine privet hedge one that was three feet at the base with the sides sloping in till the rounded top was not more than eighteen inches through, and the hedge not over four and a half or five feet high. The same with the evergreen hedges; when broad at the base and narrowing to the top they can be kept for years in perfect health and green to the bottom. Midsummer is the best time to prune evergreen hedges and they look much better cut with a knife than with the shears. Hedges of deciduous shrubs like privet are best and quickest sheared, which can be done in early spring before growth and again in midsummer.
In planting evergreen hedges you must begin with small, compact, perfect trees; if you don't start right you never will have a hedge. The best evergreen for the purpose is first of all the hemlock spruce; it has a grace and droop to it that no other evergreen hedge has. Next the Norway spruce, and then the American and Chinese arbor-vitae.
The deciduous hedges will always be more planted in city lots, and for this purpose are certainly to be preferred. The finest for most purposes is the California and English privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium and L. vulgaris). The California was considerably killed this past winter. If a fine, dense hedge is wanted, a double row of the privet should be always planted, the rows one foot apart and the plants nine or ten inches in the row. For several seasons they should be cut back to within six inches of the previous season's growth, then you will have a solid hedge that a cat would have difficulty in squeezing through.
I am sorry to say that in our locality, and even in New England, the California privet has suffered severely during the past two winters, so, although not so pretty in foliage, the English or L. vulgaris is the one to depend on.
Berberis Thunbergii makes a magnificent hedge. Its habit is spreading and the worst treatment will not prevent it becoming dense and bushy. It can be either trimmed in formal shape or left to grow naturally, when it is one of the handsomest of shrubs. Its small leaves are always handsome, coloring to beautiful tints in the autumn, and covered with its fruit. It is a most hardy, easily transplanted shrub.
There is a hedge of Pyrus (Cydonia) Japonica here and there throughout the country. One I have in mind is on a retaining wall near the home of the late Mr. Parkman, the Indian historian, in the suburbs of Boston. It was in flower when I was escorted that way, and it was gorgeous. It is an admirable hedge shrub, can be cut after blooming to any dimensions, and is simply gorgeous in the early spring, and very hardy.
Hedge of Spiraea Van Houttei Four Years After Planting.
Other trees and shrubs can be used for the purpose. I have only made a selection and my chief object was to tell you that a hedge cannot be made in one year, and will not do unless all parts of the hedge get a share of sun and rain.