Tulips planted near to a hedge in a garden.

How to Plant by a Hedge

Hedges make beautiful backdrops to beds and borders, as well as providing superb habitats for wildlife, but they present their own problems. The soil close to a hedge is usually dry and it can shade the planting in front, but choose carefully and both plants and hedge will thrive.

Planting in a sunny site

In south-facing gardens, hedges can help shade plants that receive the full force of the summer sun almost all day. However, for both the hedge and plants to succeed, they need sufficient water. When planting dig plenty of organic matter, such as well-rotted manure, into the soil before you start, and mulch around the hedge annually with more organic matter.

This should help keep the hedge happy. Select drought-tolerant plants for the beds, as a mature hedge will suck out much of the soil water. Plant about 18 in (45 cm) in front of the hedge, and again dig organic matter into the soil and mulch to help it retain moisture.

Planning for shady areas

Your choice of plants for borders in dense shade in front of a hedge will be limited, since only a few have adapted to the extremes of drought and darkness. When planning a hedge, try to site it where it will not shade the beds in front all day; if you have inherited a hedge that does this, select plants that can tolerate these difficult conditions.

You will have a wider choice of plants for areas that receive sun for part of the day, but moisture retention will still present a problem here, so dig plenty of organic matter into the soil. In addition, you could lay a trickle hose (a perforated hose pipe that seeps water into the soil) around the border. In these damper conditions, many woodland plants, such as Geranium phaeum, foxgloves (Digitalis), bleeding heart (Dicentra), and Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) will thrive.

Designer tricks

Where space allows, a wide margin between the hedge and border allows a much greater plant choice and less maintenance because the plants will not require watering as frequently. Turf over the area between the hedge and the border, or opt for a paved, decked, or bark-chip walkway to separate them.

Another designer trick is to make a “fedge,” which is simply a chain-link or wooden fence covered with ivy. Ideal for smaller gardens where a deep hedge is not an option, a fedge will still draw moisture from the soil, but to a lesser extent.

Planting options

Unless your border faces south, and is sunny for most of the day, select shade-tolerant plants to grow in front of hedges.

Contrast colors and textures

Check plant labels before you buy and select those whose foliage is not exactly the same color as your hedge, or they will simply disappear into the background. Pastels and white flowers show up best against a dark yew (Taxus) hedge, and large-leaved plants work well with hornbeam (Carpinus) or beech (Fagus) hedges that have a more textured look. Dark foliage creates a striking contrast when matched with golden privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’) or shrubby honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’).