If you prefer a relaxed, rustic style of garden, avoid formal hedges, and opt instead for one that contains a mix of species. This style of hedge is good for wildlife, as it provides food and somewhere to live. It is also relatively easy to look after, needing just one trim per year in late autumn.
When to plant: Autumn.
At their best: All year round.
Time to complete: 3 hours, or more for long hedges.
You will need: Wildlife hedging plants (blackthorn, dog rose, hawthorn, hazel, holly), spade, fork, string and pegs, well-rotted organic matter, such as manure.
Selection of plants you could use: Berberis darwinii, Blackthorn – Prunus spinose, Dog rose – Rosa canina, Field maple – Acer campestre, Guelder rose – Viburnum opulus, Hawthorn – Crataegus, Hazel – Corylus avellana, Holly – Ilex aquifolium, Rosa glauca.
Prepare the site
Hedges are permanent structures, and fare best in well-prepared soil. Dig over the area, removing all weeds, especially the roots of perennials. Fork in some organic matter deep into the soil to improve its structure.
Use your weight to compress the soil, shuffling slowly over the entire area. Then repeat this at right angles. If planted immediately after it has been dug over, the soil will settle, and plants will not be anchored properly.
Mark guide lines
For a deep hedge, set out two lines of string, held taut by pegs, 14–16 in (35–40cm) apart. These form the planting guides for your two rows of plants. For a narrower hedge, you will need just one line of plants.
Plant in trenches
To ensure a really straight hedge, dig out a long trench, rather than individual holes. Plant one line at a time and position the plants along its length, about 14 in (35 cm) apart. Alternate the different plant species for a mosaic effect.
Check planting depths
Hedging plants suffer when planted too deeply or shallowly, so take care to ensure that they are at the same depth as they were in the nursery, or in their pots. The stems will be darker where they previously touched the soil.
If planting a double row, stagger the second line, so that the plants grow in the gaps between those in the first row. Water in all plants well, and mulch with organic matter, keeping it clear of the stems. Water the hedge regularly throughout the first year.
An informal wildlife hedge can also double as a barrier to deter intruders because many wildlife-friendly plants are covered in vicious spikes and thorns. Deer will avoid barriers that look tricky or painful to negotiate, and are more likely to go elsewhere for easier pickings. Alongside the classic native plants, there are also many roses that make beautiful but fearsome hedges.
Site and soil
Ideally most hedging plants, including roses and the other plants used here, prefer a sunny site, with well-drained and fertile soil. If your soil is not perfect, spend some time preparing the ground by digging in plenty of organic matter down to a spade’s depth.
Plant species roses
Follow the advice for planting roses. However, species roses, which are ideal for hedges, do not have a graft union, and are planted at the same depth they were growing at in their pots, or in the field.
Once plants have started growing in spring, cut them back by about a third to encourage bushy growth from the base. Keep them watered throughout their first year and regularly remove any weeds around their base. This will prevent your roses from having to compete for nutrients and water while they are in the process of becoming established.