beech hedge

Living edges

Not every garden boundary needs a fence or a trellis to delineate it. Sometimes you can use plants to create a soft screen between garden areas.

You might want a living screen for just the summer to create a little privacy for your garden or terrace. Some plants can be trained to create permanent fedges (a cross between a fence and a hedge) for an attractive alternative. I’ve even seen a ‘hedge’ of mint used to delineate a bed or two in a kitchen garden. It’s not the greatest hedge and of course it spreads too but it makes an attractive and bee friendly edge to a potager.

Here are five ways to use plants to create a living screen.

1 Espalier fruit

You can use apple and pear trees and train them so that they create a living boundary between areas of your garden. In some formal kitchen gardens they are trained along pergolas and archways to create a winter structure, but with a little care you can actually train them as espaliers so that they stand-alone and reach across to each other. The added bonus is that they bear wonderful spring blossom, provide food for pollinators and will also have a crop of fruit in the autumn.

2 A rose hedge

New rose from David Austin 'James L Austin'
New rose from David Austin ‘James L Austin’

There was a new rose launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year called James L Austin (Auspike), which has a neat and tidy bushy, upright habit just perfect for growing as a hedge. With deep cerise pink flowers, with a rich fruity fragrance, the plants are ideal for a low garden divider, an edge to the veg garden, or just a pretty way to divide parts of the garden. This new English Rose will be available to order as bare roots or in pots after its launch at the Chelsea Flower Show.

3 Sunflower trellis

If you’ve ever grown giant sunflowers you will know what a sturdy plant they make, topped with the huge sunny faced flowers that we know and love.

You can create a summer screen by planting young sunflower plants in a row along a boundary where you want to create some privacy. Planting them 10 -12 inches apart, with a second row 10-12 inches away and by staggering the second row so that each new plant sits in the middle of two plants in the first row. As the plants grow skywards your living sunflower trellis will fill out, creating thick upright flower stems and a sunny, sunflower top. Remember to keep your plants well fed for the best results using a plant food high in potash such as Richard Jackson’s Flower Power. And when the flowers have faded you can feed the seeds to the birds.

4 Edible divide

runner beans
Runner beans make an edible living screen

Divide up your veg plot, or grow an edible living screen using runner beans. These will need something to support the clambering stems, but you could use pea and bean netting secured to a framework, or a loose ‘trellis’ of bamboo canes.

It’s another summer screen that will grow and develop throughout the season but the added bonus is that you get beans. Remember that runner beans are frost tender, and as there is still a risk of frost in the UK and the nights are still very cold, it’s best to plant them with some protection. Or you can sow direct where you want them to grow after the last frosts. Your plants will flower first, and when the flowers have been pollinated you will be able to harvest a crop of fresh and tasty beans and enjoy the junglesque foliage screen that you plants will provide until winter.

5 Fedges and hedges

Portuguese laurel hedge
Portuguese laurel hedge

There are lots of great plants to grow for a hedge, by choosing a mixed variety of native hedging plants you can provide a rich variety of food sources (berries and nuts as well as pollen and nectar), a safe nesting site for birds and a habitat for wildlife such as hedgehogs. There are lots of great hedging plants for a uniform hedge, such as beech holly or cherry laurel or Lonicera. Alternatively you can plant a living trellis out of willow and allow the stems to fuse together to create a living fedge, half fence, and half hedge.

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