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Hedges: Lines first, Color later

Carpinus hedge in winter

Ho Ho Ho! January 2012 began with bright sunshine and 55 degrees here in Massachusetts. It was hard not to feel giddy. But as the old saying goes about weather in New England, “Wait a minute, things will change.” And so it will, with the arrival of an arctic blast predicted for this evening.

So, no, it’s not spring yet. Which is good. We need to indulge in the luxury of spending lazy Saturday mornings with coffee, catalogs, and laptops at hand to start planning for the garden year ahead. One goal we have is planting more hedges. This may sound dull, but every time we visit a garden with good walls or hedging it makes us realize their importance in defining the shape and personality of an outdoor space. Hedges bring a sense of order, whether they are neat and tidy (think Boxwood, Holly, Yew) or slightly more casual (a wall of Viburnum, Weigela and Spirea, or even Clumping Bamboo).  By defining the lines of garden space, we can allow distinct personalities of each outdoor room to develop, and these lines provide the structure that will then allow us to get a little out of control later.

Buxus ‘Green Mountain’

So many plants make good hedges.  First you need to decide whether you’re in the need for one that is evergreen or deciduous, and also the height/width you’d like to achieve and maintain. There are so many new cultivars of common hedging plants that don?t take on giant proportions. Consider Thuja ‘Holmstrup’, ‘Yellow Holmstrup’ or ‘Yellow Ribbon’, forms of Arborvitae that stay in the 8-10′ range in height and 3-4′ in width. Buxus ‘Green Mountain’ is a hardy box with an upright habit of 4-5?. The Japanese Hollies Ilex ‘Sky Pointer’ and ‘Sky Pencil’ have narrow shapes as well, and will not need big equipment to keep them in bounds. On the other side of the coin, very low hedges are useful for defining edges. Think dwarf Boxwood, Germander, or dwarf Yew.

Fargesia robusta hedge

Fargesia ‘Green Panda’ and ‘Green Screen’ are 2 forms of Evergreen Clumping Bamboo that grow quickly and provide a soothing back drop of foliage, and will not run amok in your beds. Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’, with it’s upright shape reaching between 6-9′ in height and only 2-3′ in width, has fine textured foliage that drops in the fall to reveal an equally attractive winter silhouette. Trees with fastigiate habits such as the tall 40? Columnar Beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’  the 20′ Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Twombley Red’or the 8′ Carpinus betulus ‘Nana Columnaris’ create natural fencing with the interplay of their branches, plus their foliar presence changes with the seasons. If you really like to play with pruners, consider subjects that lend themselves to espalier, pollarding or coppicing.

Color inside the walls, outside the lines

Winter is a good time to study where you could use walls in your garden, whether it is to separate space, create vertical planes or enhance views by creating openings in walls that lead you to a horizon. Get out the graph paper and start planning. And remember, you have to have lines to color outside them.