Raising the Hedge

The thing is, when looking at a formal garden such as Sulgrave, the hedging is almost always the most dominant feature that strikes you, even if they can and are, in many circumstances, overlooked. Hedges root any garden and its design firmly to its spot, and are always a very carefully considered element of any formal garden. Just imagine Hidcote or Sissinghurst or Sulgrave Manor for that matter, without their hedges?!

High hedges at Kiftsgate Court
High and mighty hedges at Kiftsgate Court Garden

Hold up, let’s just back up a moment. Before I start to sound like a hedge support group, I’ll quickly add that many other features are also important to the garden scene, and could easily vie for first place in what I’m certain would be a hotly debated ‘priority list of must have garden features’.

A neatly mown lawn allows eyes to wander, smoothly leading them to features here and there. A lawn gives breathing space in the garden and an openness, which being clutter free can feel safe, unthreatening and refreshing. We mustn’t forget that a lawn is also a living breathing thing itself and often artistically created and tended.

Lawns and lines…

Planted borders also weigh-in heavy as contenders for top of that priority list, indeed can a garden be called such without a range of plants? The tiniest of alpine beauties, energy packed perennial powerhouses or sensational shrubs – the list is almost endless with a varied mix bringing texture, colour, movement, scent and attention grabbing seasonality, not to mention personality.

I could very easily go on: trees for anchoring a garden and drawing eyes upwards with their seasonally clad stems; structures, be they lichen peppered walls, matured fences or sundials; ‘simple’ footpaths with their leading lines and textures can do more to fix and lift a garden space than would initially be imagined; and ponds and summer houses and so on.

Architectural hedge work at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire
More than hedges, the architectural forms at Hidcote Manor.

But hedges, why all the fuss and why so often underrated?

Now, I know that for many, a hedge is a hedge is a hedge. ‘A row of closely planted shrubs or low-growing trees forming a fence or boundary’, my dictionary simply says – if I ignore references to investment funding that is. So hedges can have a mundane existence; there’s probably a functional boundary affirming hedge not too far from any of us at this very moment. Yet, when they’re included within a garden they can become something altogether different, not just fading away as green backdrops, but becoming special elements integral to the success of any garden garden – and I don’t necessarily mean topiary hedges.

Many people are familiar with the ‘garden rooms’ idea, often created by softer hedges as opposed to walls or fences. Rooms provided by hedges can be intimate, can filter the elements and offer protection from the world outside, and a feeling of security. But hedges keep evolving too. They need to grow and refresh their leaves to remain healthy, and as individual plants, when gathered in a row form lasting relationships – sometimes for hundreds of years.

Hedges on stilts at Waterperry Gardens
Waterperry lifting hedges to new levels!

When I’m looking at formal hedges therefore, I see many things. They can be links to the past, often some of the few elements that were hand drawn into an historic design, or signed off by the architect of that space. I also see hedges that cleverly hold your attention until you pass through their door to an unexpected scene, and I see how they wrap their extending arms around individual spaces to protect and nurture.

Let’s forget the priority list of garden features, for they’re all important in their own ways, and to different people. But let us not overlook the humble hedge, for each structure brings character to the garden. As beautiful as they are, the artfully created miniature hedges or parterres of our world are seasoned performers and much appreciated. Yet if I can achieve anything with this post, it would be to elevate the ‘standard’ hedge to an equal footing as the flower border or sprinkling fountain, for its repetitive yet artistic tending through the years contributes more to the formal garden than is often credited.

To the designers who carefully selected and designed them, to every steady handed, back aching gardener who ever tended one, and to all of the hedges of our world; I admire and salute you. May your trimmers be sharp and your motors smoke free, may your lines run true, and may your shoots grow unblemished through each year – long live our formal hedges!

Until next time… tune in to a formal hedge near you 😉

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