Alan Titchmarsh: I won’t hear a bad word about privet hedges, but they’re not a patch on my one-off ‘country hedge’

Privet hedges have been infamous for years – not least thanks to Harry Potter – but there are plenty of reasons to recommend them, says Alan Titchmarsh.

Hedges and I have come a long way. Nearly 70 years to be exact. The nature of my first meeting? The hedge in question was that semi-evergreen we call privet. Its Latin name is Ligustrum ovarifolium at least gives it an air of respectability. It was one of the first botanical names I learned, and the scent of the fresh green pruning my father asked me to sweep off the sidewalk outside our house two or three times a year still lingers in my nostrils.

I’m sorry hi. He has always been maligned a lot – associated with suburban streets, Betjemann criticism and, more recently, an unfortunate association with Harry Potter’s unpleasant guardians who lived on the eponymous entrance. But despite all those brick beats, I still harbor a secret admiration for this “good doer.” It will grow anywhere on almost any soil, retains most of its leaves in winter, is fresh and green in summer, and—a factor that made it so popular during pea smog—is remarkably resistant to atmospheric pollutants. It’s also easy to propagate: I remember my mom creating a new hedge in our back garden by inserting a row of 18″ clippings where she needed them to separate the lawn from the narrow flower border. She then allowed them to continue their rooting work, which they did without even turning their heads.

As children, we discovered the wonderful property that individual leaves have: fold one in half, make a short cut in the middle with your fingernail, hold the leaf between your thumbs, and blow into the hole. The sound emitted is a pleasant cry. Ah, memories…

My taste in hedging may be more refined now, but I still won’t hear criticism of privet. The mere presence of hedges in the streets of our town in Yorkshire contributed to my pleasure and protection. My favorite hedge today is the one I planted 12 years ago around the perimeter of our wildflower meadow. This is a “village hedge” consisting of hawthorn, blackthorn, viburnum, field maple, holly, wild rose, wild rose, euonymus and dogwood.

Dazzling arrays of dwarf hedges are being tested at RHS Wisley Walled Garden in Surrey. Image: RHS

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In the early years of its inception, I cut it down by about a quarter every March to encourage it to thicken. Then I let him go. It is now 10 feet tall, 6 feet deep, and other than the occasional pruning of branches that get in my way, I leave it to myself, thinking that one day I might have to tackle it again, leaving a few standards. field maple for growing as trees. It acts as a windbreak and wildlife corridor; it provides food and nesting places for birds, shelter for insects, nectar for butterflies – in short, its properties are far superior to those of any garden fence.

“Go to RHS Wisley and see the dwarf hedge planted by Matthew Pottage – I saw it a few weeks ago and, to put it simply, I was blown away.”

In gardens – and where space is limited – different hedge solutions need to be found. Being on chalk, I honor the attributes of a yew tree. Grows faster than is commonly believed (easily gains 1 foot per year), thrives in all but waterlogged soil, and is a great choice for topiary, be it simple cones, pyramids, or peacocks, and…well, any animal.

When shorter hedges are needed and you don’t want to risk planting boxwood – thanks to late blight and boxwood moth onslaught – there is a wide range of options available. Lavender is relatively informal in its mound-like form, but offers the scent of flowers, foliage, and nectar that bees love. There are dwarf forms of holly, including hollyand evergreens such as Japanese euonymus ‘Jean Hugues’ which look just like boxing but without the risk of pests and diseases. Note also the various varieties of Pittosporum, many of which are resistant to close pruning.

Better yet, before making a decision, take a trip to RHS Wisley in Surrey and see the trials of a dwarf hedge planted by curator Matthew Pottage in a walled garden behind a canal. There you will find all sorts of evergreens woven into an intricate tapestry to showcase their abilities. I saw him a few weeks ago and, to put it simply, I was amazed. By the way, if my father had had a blower in the 1950s, I might never have had to sweep these clippings, but then I would not have such a love for hedges, wherever they are and whatever they are. they were not made. .

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