Want to cut down pollution and boost wildlife at the same time? You might want to consider planting a hedge.
Hedges can not only absorb fumes from cars, cut noise pollution and keep nosy neighbours at bay, but they also act as a magnet for wildlife – both in terms of shelter and food. And urban gardeners in particular could do their bit for the environment by planting a hedge or two.
Research by CPRE, the countryside charity has found that hedgerows must increase by 40% to help the UK reach its net zero target by 2050.
“Hedges can play a valuable role in urban gardens. They are aesthetically pleasing living structures lasting far longer than any fence, and provide a home to so many kinds of wildlife, not to mention the gentle filtering wind protection, noise suppression or the reduction in particulate matter brought about by an established beech hedge,” says Morris Hankinson, director of plant specialist Hopes Grove Nurseries (hopesgrovenurseries.co.uk), which grows around a million hedge plants in 50 acres of land in Tenterden, Kent.
What is the best time of year to plant a hedge?
“This depends if you are planting hedging that’s already in pots or bare root ones,” says Hankinson. “If you are planting bare root hedging then the season to do that is November, as the soil is still warm and the roots start growing straightaway and then when they leaf up in April, they are already established.”
Just think carefully about the type of hedge you want and the space you have. Here’s Hankinson’s advice on growing a hedge in an urban garden and enjoying the wildlife it will attract.
Firstly, don’t buy plants that are huge, go with smaller plants as they are easier to look after, cheaper to buy and need less water, he suggests.
Secondly, choose hedges that are in proportion to the size of your garden.
Thirdly, do some research. Have a think about what you want your hedge to do – is it to bring wildlife in, has it got to be evergreen to prevent neighbours peering into your garden, or do you want to help prevent noise and pollution?
Finally, have patience and accept it may take a little longer to get to the finished product. Hedges should be pretty low maintenance unless you’re aiming to have a garden with absolutely perfect box hedges to look like a show garden, which will be harder to maintain.
Best hedges for small spaces
Caucasian laurel – Prunus laurocerasus ‘Caucasica’ – This dark green cherry laurel has longer and narrower leaves and more upright growth, so is easier to keep narrow than the usual type where space is limited. If you can allow the plants to flower they will be very attractive to bees, while the cherry fruits will make a welcome meal for hungry birds later in the year.
Hicks yew – Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’ – Another more upright version of a favourite hedge species, Hicksii yews grow reasonably quickly when young and the upright habit makes them easier to keep narrow.
Smaragd thuja – Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ – These plucky conifers are always keen to please and easy to grow, and deserve to be far more popular. They make a great alternative conifer hedge, upright habit and moderate growth, great for a town garden.
Cotoneaster lacteus – Of all the hedging cotoneasters, this one is more reliably evergreen when the weather turns cold in your small but perfectly formed garden, has a moderate growth rate and a cheery show of flowers and berries.
Green and purple beech – Fagus sylvatica/atropunicea – No introduction needed here, beech hedges look great all year thanks to their leaf retention. Keep them as small as 60cm tall and 30cm wide. A staple of gardens large and small everywhere.
Best hedges for biodiversity
“Hedges of just about any species will make a haven for wildlife, whether it’s a home for nesting birds, flowers for pollinating insects or fruits nuts and berries – any established hedgerow will be home to a fascinating variety of life,” says Hankinson.
Species Roses – Rosa canina, R. pimpinellifolia, R. rubiginosa, R. rugosa – Species roses are great for bringing wildlife into your plot, their nectar and pollen-rich flowers are far better for pollinating insects than more modern double-flowered varieties and the hips will be popular with birds.
Escallonia – These are great nectar plants when in flower, perfect for bumblebees, moths and butterflies.
Pyracantha – A firethorn hedge will make your garden very popular with birds when the berries become colourful later in the season, especially the red ones.
Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia, L. intermedia, L. stoechas – One of the very best plants if you want to attract bees and butterflies, plant a variety of types for a long flowering season to keep them coming.
Privet – Ligustrum – The nectar-rich flowers of privet can attract more than a dozen butterfly species. Later in the season, the fruits are popular with a wide variety of birds.
Snowberry – Symphoricarpos – The insignificant flowers are a good food source for the holly blue butterfly.
Flowering Currant – Ribes Sanguineum – An excellent early season nectar source for solitary and bumblebees, and butterflies too.
Berberis – Berberis darwinii and B.thunbergii varieties – These are first-class bee plants and a nectar source for moths and butterflies, while providing shelter for many caterpillars.
The barberries are popular with thrushes, waxwings and blackbirds.