Choosing the right kind of plants for a hedge which is out of the ordinary

Hedges, clipped and formal or naturally shaggy, provide privacy from passers-by and neighboring buildings and protection from the wind but more is involved than just planting a row of bushes. The usual mistake, according to experienced gardeners, is to plant large shrubs too closely together right from the start. Fast-growing plants quickly get crowded out and need drastic trimming, perhaps even thinning out, so it is extremely important to carefully consider the choice of plants, their requirements and potential size and shape. The next thing to consider is the purpose the hedge is to serve. If it is to block an unsightly view, traffic noise and fumes, or to provide privacy, then taller trees are called for. But beware, they will need a good soil depth to send down roots. In front of one apartment building, a row of 2-meter-tall golden crest conifers were planted in shallow soil along a very low north-facing dividing wall. When the winter winds began to blow in earnest, all of them were nearly bent double. It would have been far better to have planted lower, fuller-shaped plants that would have resisted the force of the wind. Then there is the choice of the actual plants. Plant nurseries these days often restrict their recommendations for hedge plants to the good old standbys, the leafy Photinia or Buxus, but there is a wide range of species that can be used to good effect in creating a barrier to noise or less than attractive views and which demand less water and care, although all need pruning from time to time. A hedge need not be all of the same plant unless you simply want to use the foliage as a background for other plants. Sometimes combinations of contrasting plants are more interesting. A mixture of deciduous and evergreen plants will ensure the hedge is not completely bare in winter. If this is when you want your hedge to be at its best, plant only evergreen species. Hedges used as windbreaks need special attention – taller barriers create turbulence and experts usually suggest multiple rows of boundary hedges for maximum resistance to filter the force of the wind without creating a solid barrier. Piero Canetti, an Italian landscape designer and author of several books, gives advice in two articles in the journal «The Mediterranean Garden» on the best plants to use for windbreak hedges in climates such as ours and the best way to plant them. For taller trees, Canetti recommends Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine, koino pefko) or Pinus pinea (stone or umbrella pine, koukounaria or strofilia), Cupressus sempervirens (cypress, kiparissi), Quercus suber (cork oak) or Quercus ilex (holm oak, aria), Ceratonia siliqua (carob, haroupia) and Olea europea (olive, elia), among others, under-planted with shrubs such as Erica arborea (tree heath, dendroides reiki), Viburnum tinus (laurustinus, vivourno), Rhamnus alaternus (buckthorn, kitrinoxilo), and on the outside of the windbreak, Medicago arborea (tree medick, dendromidiki), Pistacia lentiscus (lentisk, schinos), Quercus coccifera (kermes oak, pournari) or Phillyrea angustifolia. For a taller hedge for privacy, Laurus nobilis (laurel, daphne apollonos) is one of the most versatile of plants, and it can be pruned into the shape of a tree or left to grow new branches from its base as a bush. For variety and interest, use plants of contrasting leaf color. Medicago arborea has small, light greenish-gray leaves and small yellow blooms in winter and spring; the leaves of the smaller Senecio cineraria (cineraria, tsineraria) are light gray, as are those of Teucrium fruticans (germander), which grows into a voluminous bush producing tiny blue flowers and can be readily clipped into compact shapes. For a lighter, looser hedge, Callistemon (bottle brush) produces plenty of light green foliage and bright red blooms that appear in late spring and early summer. It is also a good contrast plant. Low-maintenance, drought-tolerant Choisya ternata (Mexican orange) grows up to 2.5 meters and bears clusters of white aromatic flowers from spring to autumn. Some rose species make good hedges, particularly the hardy and vigorous Iceberg, with its thick glossy dark green foliage and white blooms that appear throughout much of the year in the right conditions. And don’t forget the humble but fast-growing Nerium oleander, often snubbed as a roadside plant, but which comes in several varieties and colors that bloom throughout the summer. It has the added advantage of being a good absorber of traffic fumes. Rosemarinus officinalis (rosemary, dendrolivano) is suitable for lower hedges for Mediterranean gardens, although in the right conditions these shrubs can reach considerable proportions. As an alternative to rosemary, the somewhat similar Westringia fruticosa keeps a more compact shape and produces small white flowers for much of the year. Spartium junceum (Spanish broom, sparto) is an easy plant for a hedge as it grows into dense bushes up to 3 meters high with bright yellow flowers. Instead of box plants, there are hardier, Mediterranean plants, such as Pistacia lentiscus which can be trimmed into neat bushes and hedges that are unrecognizable to the untrained eye as plants from «the wild.»