The modern gardener has a laudable wish to combine ornament with utility, and even in the case of so plain a thing as a hedge, he seeks to bring in the garden spirit. There are, however, certain practical considerations. Boundary hedges may line public roads, and county surveyors do not care to see hedges grow tall and loose, because of the shade they throw on the road and the check to drying which they cause. Or the hedges may bound fields in which stock feeds, and in this case the planting is governed by the habits of the animals. Horses have no protective instinct which will stop them from eating Yew; although it is poisonous to them. Sheep will desert grass for Privet, and play havoc with a young hedge of that popular shrub if they can gain access to it.
The tall, tangled, mixed hedge of many waysides is a thing of joy. It way be a compound of Hawthorn, Dog Rose, Bramble, Wayfaring Tree, Hazel, Sloe, and Sweetbriar. There will be bloom on it from the earliest days of spring, when
The first green shoots of tender corn
Show on the plough; when the first drift of white Stars the black branches of the spiky thorn.
Throughout the summer it will be alive with bloom and fruit, and in the autumn it may be sprayed over with the profuse feathery achenes of the Traveller's Joy.
These wild and riotous old hedges linger along the countryside, where roads look after themselves, and farming is not keen. They are the development of a century or more, and successive generations cf farmers tolerate them. The birds love them. The village children delight in them. Nuts, Elderberries, Blackberries, and Sloes are gathered from them.
Can we have these grand old hedges in our gardens? We can, with time; but they can never be forced like mushrooms. Even a plain Quick hedge will take ten years to grow into a thick mass four feet high and capable of barring heavy stock. Quick (Hawthorn) is certainly the best all-round boundary hedge. It requires to be protected from cattle while young, but when it has thickened and stiffened it will be hedge and fence in one. A Quick hedge should never be hurried. A good way of dealing with it is to plant it nine inches apart, in a double row, shorten the plants to a foot high, and each subsequent year to shear the annual growth back to nine inches in winter. A hedge thus taken by stages or tiers will thicken at the base and become dense and hard in every part. The farmer's man generally prunes a Quick hedge annually either with a billhook or with a "bagging hook." In the former case, he uses both hands to the tool, in the latter, he has the "hook" in one hand and a hooked stick in the other.
When the Quick is planted, Brambles, Wild Roses, Sloes and other things may be put in with it if desired.
There is nothing in any way picturesque about a Privet hedge. Its great value lies in its rapid growth and great sheltering powers. Even if it does not retain its leaves through the winter (and in hard winters the oval-leaved variety will cast most of its foliage, in spite of the fact that it is nominally evergreen) it will, if well managed, afford a good deal of shelter, because it will be full of twiggy growth. Good management here means hard and regular cutting back, as with Quick. Privet is generally cut twice - in June and in September - and a pair of shears are used. Plant a foot apart. Even in poor chalky soil, a good hedge of Privet may be built up in six years, so that it has at least one advantage over Quick. But it is never really fence and hedge in one, like the latter, for stock are fond of it, whereas Quick, when well hardened, is obnoxious to them on account of its abundant thorns. Animals may nibble at its soft green tips, but will never eat much of it.
The most useful of hedges for giving quick dense shelter is certainly Laurel, for on almost any soil it will be a dense mass five feet high in four or five years, unless the site is very much exposed to cold winds; but it is not suitable for a boundary hedge, because cattle eat it down relentlessly. It has great vitality and growth will spring from hard wood when old bushes are pruned; but it is an advantage to clip it while the growth is young: because the work can be done quicker with the shears than the knife. Young plants about two feet high could be put in four feet apart; they need not then be cut back. In the second year, at the most, they would begin to interlace, and in the third would give appreciable shelter. From this time shearing may begin and the hedge outline formed. Afterwards there will be no difficulty for Laurel is nearly always growing and fresh shoots follow rapidly on the cutting. Prune in early summer.
Yew is suitable for garden, but not for boundary hedges. It grows slowly while young, and ten years will be required to make anything like a hedge. But if Yew is deliberate it is lasting. The plant is both very hardy and very long-lived. And a dense, thick hedge of it, four feet or more through, is a splendid shelter. It should be clipped in late spring. It is poisonous to animals.
There are many other hedge materials. The Myrobalan Plum is excellent, and is largely used as a substitute for Quick and Privet. It has one advantage over Quick in its more rapid growth. It should be treated in the same way.
Beech and Hornbeam are both used, more particularly by nurserymen, who esteem them because they make excellent tall shelter hedges in a few years, and, although deciduous, hold their leaves so thickly and so long as to have almost the value of evergreens.
When inner garden hedges - or even boundary hedges so long as there is protection - are considered, the names of several interesting plants arise. What more beautiful hedge could there be than one of Berberis Darwinii? This splendid evergreen is always attractive, and in spring it is glorious in its mantle of orange bloom. It thrives in most soils, does well near the sea, and bears cutting. And a hedge of Sweetbriar is worth thinking of, because, apart from its intrinsic beauty, it is delicious after rain. The Snowberry (Symphoricarpus) and Lavender are also available.
Fig. The best evergreen for poor chalky soil. A fine bush of Veronica Traversii. Photo by F. Mason Good.
Fig. Dipelta Floribunda At Kew. Photo by E. J. Wallis.
We must not forget Holly, which makes a splendid hedge in its own good time. It will move very slowly for the first four or five years, afterwards much more quickly. Early autumn is a good planting and late summer a good pruning time. Quite small plants, about two feet high, should be put in eighteen inches apart.
We have seen good hedges of the American Arbor-vitae (Thuja occidentalis) produced by sharp cutting back for a few years. By thus pruning them while they are young, before the wood has time to get hard, they can be induced to make dense bushes. Cupressus Lawsoniana is also excellent.
Box is perhaps more used as an edging than a hedge, but for a low inner hedge there are few things better; there will be no dulness if a yellow tinted form is chosen. The Golden Japanese Euonymus also makes a bright, cheerful low hedge. Plant both of these afoot apart.
As between a square-topped and a conical hedge, there is this practical point - the former will hold a great deal of snow and the latter will not. Hedges are generally cut into a conical form. They widen gradually from the bottom to the middle, and then narrow again towards the top. This is merely a matter for judgment in pruning. But there need be no hesitation in having a square-topped Yew or Laurel hedge, for these plants are not easily broken down. When buying Yew stipulate for transplanted stuff.
There is also a practical matter to consider in planting. When plants are to be set fairly closely, say eighteen inches apart or less, it will be better to cut a continuous trench for them than to make separate holes. This may be a foot or more wide and deep, according to the size of the root-ball; but in all cases the under soil should be broken up and manured after the top soil has been cut out and laid in a ridge at the side. In cases where the plants are to go two feet apart or more, holes may be made.
Beyond the annual pruning, there is not much cultural routine with hedges. Such subjects as Privet, Laurel, Beech, Hornbeam, Myrobalan Plum and Yew can fend for themselves. Every two years a dressing of manure may be given to Sweetbriar, Berberis, Box and Arbor-vitae. Quick is benefited by annual digging along it. Privet should not have this treatment, Holly may be dug and manured until well established, after which it will look after itself.
We have seen the monotony of a hedge of common Holly broken by taking up shoots at every twenty-five feet or so, and budding them with a good variegated sort.
The garden-maker who wants a miniature hedge or glorified edging might plant the pretty silvery shrub Euonymus radicans variegata.
It has been mentioned in another chapter that when the Lombardy Poplar is planted closely and headed at about eight feet high, it throws out a mass of side shoots and becomes practically a tall hedge.