Creating Living Fences is probably easier than you think, and certainly worth looking into, in creating your garden rooms.
This is an old blog post, from several years back, that I really think is worth reviving as we all think about and plan our gardens. Hedges have so many uses that it makes one wonder why they have rather fallen out of style in recent decades. Thank goodness they are making a comeback.
Hedges of all sizes, shapes, and varieties abound on this planet and have for thousands of years.
They are most often planted for one or more of the following reasons. Ideally, anything you plant or have should have multiple uses.
- Boundaries. Often used in place of fences. They were a low-maintenance way of hedging fields to keep animals in various pastures, keep animals and people out of one’s yard, and delineate different areas of a property.
- Privacy. A nice privacy hedge around the yard makes all the difference in the comfort level of use for the space you have. Now, if you are a total extrovert, having your bbq on your front porch and in close proximity to the main sidewalk on your street might be just what you need for connecting with all and sundry as they go by. My old business partner was like that. There were zero inhibitions to conversations with whoever might come along. However, many of us like to be able to hang out on our porch or in the front yard in nice weather and not have to see everyone who happens by. If you have little kids, a bit of privacy is really good to think about too.
- Food. A nice privacy hedge can be food and medicine for you and the birds and wildlife around. If you are trying to create a balanced ecosystem in your yard, having a hedge that shelters and feeds birds and insects is absolutely essential to think about.
- Shade. Providing shade from the summer sun to your house and various areas of your garden can be essential in keeping a garden producing longer, conserving water, and less watering time and usage.
- Windbreak. Providing a windbreak from winter or summer winds can do so many things. It can cut down on heating and cooling bills in extreme weather. It helps reduce the evaporation of moisture and water resources. A well-placed windbreak can drastically reduce evaporation from a body of water, like a pond, or lake, absolutely essential if you have livestock, fish, or just are wanting to help with water conservation. This is just as important if you have a backyard fountain you want to keep operating in the summer heat.
- Inexpensive fencing. While you may not want or have the budget for a full fence, some hedging can be easily planted and set up as a fence. A really good example of this is woven willow fencing. Look it up. It is crazy how beautiful it is. In the right climate, willow shoots can be taken, stuck in the ground, as they root easily, and formed into a weave, growing into a woven fence that can rival a chainlink, if you pay attention for the first few months and keep on top of it. You want to make sure that you don’t have an invasive species for this, just one that is happy growing in your climate and soil, and will behave itself with some direction.
Some things to check out before your plant.
What is allowed by your city, subdivision, or HOA for your property? This can vary between front and back yards, so be sure to ask the right questions. Many places have certain regulations of what your front yard especially can have to keep streets and properties looking a certain way and keeping property values up. There can be regulations on how high shrubs and fences are allowed, and so on.
Make sure what you are planting is not invasive. Many species of old hedging will spread, slowly or quickly, depending on the type. Some can easily be kept in line with the lawnmower. Think old cultivar lilacs as an example. We had a big old purple lilac bush that was planted by our house when we moved in. It topped at about 15 feet, and sent up shoots every spring. It did not take over the yard, like mint, but was peppy enough we didn’t want it so close to the foundation. So we eventually pulled it out, but a few shoots still come up each spring, which has given me shoots to start a privacy hedge between us and our street. It’s easily kept in check on the lawn with regular mowing. Think of your neighbors before doing this! These types of hedging are great for filling in space to make an impenetrable hedge. Not so great if it starts popping up in your neighbors’ yards. This can, as you might imagine, cause everything from hard feelings, from you being in the not-so-great neighbor department, to legal issues.
Take a look at the maintenance required for what you want. Will it require constant pruning to keep it under control? Can it easily be kept tidy by the use of a hedge trimmer once or twice a year? A prime example of this is some of the David Austin hedge roses. Hardy, virtually self-sufficient, and able to be pruned back by 1/3 with a hedge trimmer once a year, roses do not have to take up a lot of your time to have beauty and value.
Be sure to research the end product of what you are planting. Does it end up at 10 – 15 feet, and not overtake your power lines? Or does it grow at insane rates and cause nothing but trouble? A prime example of this is the Hawthorne bush that was planted on our property before we bought it. Now, Hawthorne is a great shrub, every bit from bark and leaves, to berries, is edible and medicinal. It is very popular in the UK, bordering fields and roadsides. Birds love it and it provides food and shelter for them year-round. The hitch: it grew insanely fast, and had been planted closer to the edge of the property, and quickly overtook the power lines overhead. Cutting it down in the spring to half its height only made it grow faster and by summer’s end, it was even taller than before. Add to this the 1 inch plus thorns that I swear could be used as nails in a pinch, keeping it under control was a painful process, no matter what kind of body armor was put on. (There’s a story to this for sure!) Now, as a boundary and security fence around a pasture, or backyard space with no infringing issues, it would be fantastic. Nothing would get through that hedge once it’s grown and filled in. Anything from burglars to stampeding cattle will have a hard time with getting through that wall. Just place carefully and thoughtfully for a hedge that will last for decades.
Some great examples of hedging – with research for your climate and space, of course!
Evergreen shrubs are popular for a reason. They grow quickly, and versions like Siberian pea shrub grow quickly in pretty drastic climates and are very tolerant of poor soil and salts, which can be an issue with planting along roadways. Cedar shrubs also grow quickly. These can provide good windbreaks and privacy.
Another great hedging is holly. Yes, that stuff you use at Christmas time. The only thing is, if you use it along a public space, you will probably have a lot go missing come Christmas time. What can I say, some people are jerks and will steal your Christmas holly. So plant it along a back fence or portion of the yard where it’s protected. It gets bright red berries the birds love, and the thorns make great security once they are established.
Really fantastic fencing that is not used much anymore is lilacs. It used to be that you could drive through the country and find lilac hedging almost everywhere, surrounding fields, and perfuming the air in the spring.
There were a couple of reasons for this. The old style of lilacs sent up shoots and would create an impenetrable hedge after a few years that was kept under control by mowing, haying, or livestock. They provided shade for livestock in summer, windbreaks in winter, and shelter for birds.
Growing to only 12-15 feet, they weren’t difficult to deal with if the occasional pruning was needed. They were hardy once established and needed very little care.
Newer varieties don’t send up shoots like the old style, so it should be easy to find something that works for your space, and won’t turn it into a jungle.
Plus, did you know that lilacs can live about 300 years? That is a long-lived fence to be sure, with virtually no upkeep.
Roses have come a long way from the prairie roses we used to pick in Alberta when I was a kid. They grew along gravel roads and marshes, and despite the thorns, we picked them all the time, sucking the slivers out of our fingers. Or we went home and got mom to pull the slivers out if that failed.
But more cultivated types abound, and while some have been around a long time, I have to say my faves are David Austin roses. They just have a certain look about them. Don’t worry, I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I just think the genetics and stamina of these plants are amazing.
Get whatever kind of roses you like. Now it is easy to get roses that will thrive in almost any climate, any soil, any area of the yard from part or mostly shaded, to hot and desert-like.
You can get hedge roses that are two feet tall for more formal hedging in your yard to create garden rooms, or you can get hedge roses that grow sturdily 5-6 feet tall, will form a thick hedge, and can be pruned back by 1/3 with a hedge trimmer. Seriously there is no reason you cannot have roses that are easy to care for, and that are reblooming and provide you with shade, privacy, and shelter. And bees! OMG the bees looooove them!
Do note that you will want to set up a drip hose on a timer for irrigation through drought conditions. Although there are varieties that do very well in the hot and dry, extended periods of heat do require some regular moisture to the roots.
You can save and dry the petals to sell online, create your own lotions and potions, tea, and whatever else you like. You can save the rosehips for winter for a vitamin C boost.
Woven Willow Hedging
Willow comes in so many varieties I doubt anyone can keep track. Some are super invasive, some are tidier and will cooperate with you. Find something that fits your zone and climate of course, but also that has the uses you need. The amazing thing about willow is it’s ability to root quickly just from cuttings of branches, and grow quickly to good heights. Check the height of your end product and make sure it agrees with your powerlines.
With some attention the first few weeks after sticking the whips in the soil and starting the weave, you can have a fence that will keep your pets in, and other critters out, plus keeping your place cool in summer.
You can use the shoots for making baskets, furniture, and garden teepees. Click on the photo to take you through to the blog this photo came from for some amazing ideas.
Make sure to choose a type that produces good straight rods for this purpose.
Yes, here comes the story I promised earlier.
When we moved to our property a few years back, some industrious soul had planted a hawthorn shrub in the front yard. Right under the power lines.
Hawthornes have many purposes, medicinal, food, shelter and food for birds. All parts are edible from the roots and bark to the leaves and berries. It was a great idea as far as ideas go. The reality proved a little different. Keeping that thing from overtaking the power lines and bringing down the wrath of the city on our heads proved to be an onerous job. As fast as one trimmed it down several feet, seemingly overnight it would spring to even greater heights.
Finally, my partner had enough. That thing was coming out. It got chopped down to a couple of feet high and set on fire. Still, it popped out leaves and shoots. So, one day, the old 12 valve Cummins deisel pickup was brought out to rip the thing out of the ground. It only succeeded in blowing the U-joint and leaving a lot of rubber on the road.
In the process of cutting it down, did I mention how people got injured? The men involved suited up in bush gear set to do extreme firefighters proud. Somehow the thorns on this thing-did I mention, they are at least an inch long and can probably be used as nails-still managed to get through all the protection and prick, well, very private and manly bits.
It was not a happy group that I came home to that day. And it still makes me giggle with the memory. Yeah, they weren’t happy with me either.
Now, you might think I’m trying to put you off having a Hawthorne bush, and I’m not. They are awesome, provided you have the proper place for them, and can just leave them there. They will form a thick hedge, and once established, those thorns will keep anything out. Make sure to plan your gates and road through them. They are very popular in England as country hedgerows.
You can make hawthorn jelly, syrup, and make tinctures out of it.
There are so many more types of living hedges that are on this planet, and I’d love to hear from you about them! Leave me a comment below on your discoveries, or maybe what you use where you live!