Hedge or Fence?
November 14, 2023

By Kate and Len Lucas

For anybody who has a brick wall around their garden, we would like you to know that we are very envious. That’s because they look great, you can grow peaches on them and don’t need much maintenance.

For the rest of us, options here are fraught because if you choose the wrong plants for a hedge it will be calling for attention seemingly every other day and if you choose a fence, especially a budget one, then the appearance of decay and dereliction will soon follow.  And we don’t know if you have ever noticed but it’s the knot holes that fall out first.

There is no doubt that green stuff along your boundary looks really good so let’s start with hedging. The usual choice is the conifer “leylandii”. It is a genuine hybrid between two other evergreen conifers and has the classic characteristic of hybrid vigour. It was that feature which led to many miles of them being planted because it made a real hedge very quickly. This self-same vigour will also produce a serious tree. So regular trimming is needed- and here is the first drawback it does not like close clipping and could turn brown and die which is why it is not suitable for topiary. But it is fairly inexpensive and there is a golden form if you want a hedge that everybody will notice.

Yew, whilst growing slower, does not mind close clipping which is why it is used for topiary.  It’s more expensive but has a better character as a hedge.  In many mature gardens, you will find more yew hedges than leyland. And of course, having a hedge leads to that very predictable subject of how do you clip it: manual shears, electric trimmers, your own gardener or do you take advantage of what is advertised in the local paper as “no job too small”? And here is an interesting point because we have never found such a job but if you know of a job so small that nobody wants it then do let the magazine know. Leylandii and Yew are fine if you want a ten-foot hedge. Here are a few others which, whilst not really good enough for a hedge that tall, are worth considering so if you fancy some homework have a look at these before you choose.

Berberis: There are some evergreen forms with attractive flowers. Some are dusky red. Thorny.

Laurel: Evergreen and elegant but difficult to trim neatly.

Privet: Underrated and there is a golden form as well as the evergreen classic.

Box: Prone to pests and diseases. 

Pyracantha: Has very large spines but attractive berries in the autumn.   

There are no hedges around our bungalow and we like it that way. If there were, we would probably take them out as long as our neighbours agreed.

If your choice is a fence then we have a lot of experience of what works and what doesn’t. And that experience tells us that cheap fencing can be a false economy. But it might be all you can afford. So the cheapest is probably larch-lap at least that is what we would call it and you probably know what we mean. Sold usually in six-foot panels it will dry out quickly and go out of shape. If you paint it before you put it up then after the wood has shrunk all the bits you couldn’t paint become exposed and needs painting again. Better not to paint it at all. To keep the cost down wooden posts are fine but give some thought to how you want to secure them in the ground, concrete or metposts. We would choose metposts every time. And to keep the panels off the ground to avoid them rotting gravel boards are a good idea and again wooden ones are cheaper than concrete.

Best of all and the most expensive would be close-boarded slot-in panels or loose and fixed one at a time to horizontal arris rails but always with concrete posts and concrete gravel boards. Again try to avoid painting the wood, a wood preservative would be much better. That’s all very well but concrete in a garden still looks like concrete and try to avoid the temptation to paint it. If your budget will stretch to it then evergreen climbers are a great help.

Take your time at this time of year- and if you can’t decide then don’t. Read up on Buddhism and wait for that enlightened moment.