In a small garden the structure surrounding the property can be as important and as enhancing to the area asitself. In the early stages of a garden’s life, when much of the boundary is still exposed to the eye, choosing the ideal surround is vital.
The choice of fencing is vast, and the difference in price is as great as is the variety available. Apart from the hard rustic boundaries like dry stone walls in local stone or flint stone walls, there’s the choice of cottage style rose, hawthorn and holly mix hedge, formal yew, beech or box hedge, tapestry, brick walls, post and rail fences, basket-weave and slatted fences to name just a few. From this wide selection, both aesthetically and for durability the mature beech hedges and dry stone walls have remained firm favourites over the years and are still the best, should money be no object. Although I appreciate that picket fences, wattle hurdle fence, conifer hedges, all have their place, especially when economy is a priority.
The romantic image of a walled garden has persisted through history books and literature. A walled garden conjures up the splendour of scenes set in the grounds of great historic castles and country homes. But the majority of us will own no more than a cottage with a walled surround or terraced house with a walled garden if we are lucky. But these walls too have their beauty.
Properties that already have their boundary defined by walls, be they brick or stone, start off at an advantage as it is the texture of stone or brick or flint that is so wonderful. The natural beauty of a surface that with a little encouragement can grow in the cracks (on a sunny wall) Semperviuum montanum andsaxatile or (on a shady wall) Arenaria balearica and Campanula portenschlagiana is magical.
A beech or yew hedge has great charm too, but they both need to be clipped each year, and therefore no matter how lovely, cannot come high on the list for a trouble-free garden.
Building a stone wall is extremely expensive, unless you are able to do it yourself. So it is vital that you choose an expert for your dry stone walling or brick laying. Make sure you have seen a sample of his work beforehand. A botched up job is not only a waste of money, it is also an eyesore. As you are the one who is going to have to live with your choice, think carefully at planning stage and choose a brick or stone that is in keeping with the house, although you may not want exactly the same stone or brick. And even if you wish to whitewash the wall or grow plants in front of it, the original work must be good.
Making a Fence less Obtrusive
No matter what kind of fence you have defining your property boundary, it is important that you do not have the edge of the lawn running parallel to it, as this only draws attention to the fence, and its height, as indeed does a straight narrow border running down the side of the fence. A curved border with flowers at varying heights draws the eye away from the boundary and makes the fence seem less overpowering. Alternatively, introduce an attractive feature half way down the fence -say an urn or statue placed in front of an arch of climbing roses growing over a simple structure behind the statue. This relief makes the fence seem less important as the eye is naturally drawn to the feature in front.
All wood fencing should be ‘pressure impregnated’ – a treatment that will ensure that the wood lasts for fifty years, even in the ground. Pressure impregnated wood posts not only look better than concrete posts but also last longer.
A wooden fence doesn’t have to be white. In Florida, Bermuda and the Caribbean fences are painted and stippled to great effect. For example, if you have a white picket fence or ranch style fence, it can be painted pale grey, green or white with a hint of pink! It is also very effective, and painting the fence green and then stippling it with black makes the fence blend beautifully with the vegetation. The same goes for concrete walls which can be fairly stark on their own: painted a subtle green they become part of the landscape.
The Legal Position
You can usually fence your boundaries up to just over 3 ft (1 m) high at the front and 6 ft 6 in (2 m) high at the back. (Check with your local planning authority if in doubt, especially if you have a corner plot.) You do not have to fence or protect your boundary unless there is a covenant in your deeds to this effect. If you do have to put up a fence then you will probably have to keep it maintained too.
Planting a Beech Hedge
Planting a hedge is an enjoyable labour but given that many hedges need pruning once a year and the hedge site has to be kept weed free until the hedge is established, it is not, and you could well say has no place here! But the final effect of, say, a laurel or beech hedge is so handsome that I am envious of anyone who has the space and opportunity to plant one.
A beech hedge well planted now could go on enhancing (with its light green leaves in spring, turning darker in summer and its lovely burnt brown/rust leaves in winter) and protecting the property until well after we are ‘gone’.
If you wish to plant a beech hedge, do not attempt to do so if you have heavy, when you can plant hornbeam instead. Unless you are able to improve the soil conditions sufficiently by adding a considerable amount of organic matter and calcified seaweed and then raising the height of the bed by 1 ft (30 cm) deep and 2 ft (60 cm) across to improve the , it is not worth it. Beeches will do well on all other soils.
Weed the hedge line thoroughly, removing all weeds and keeping weed free for six months from the spring ready for autumn planting in October. Well-prepared soil is essential. Then in the autumn fork in 1 ft (30 cm) deep a good organicand well rotted compost.
Plant the young beeches (Fagus sylvatica) when they are 18 in (45 cm) high. The plants should be spaced about 18-24in (45-60 cm) apart. Use a string line to keep the planting straight. Alternatively the plants can be staggered forward and back in a zigzag to make a thicker hedge. I prefer this latter method, but I have televised with expert gardeners who tell me a single straight line is better. Take your choice.
Each plant needs a hole roughly 1 ft (30 cm) deep. Plant each beech with fine soil already well mixed with bone meal and calcified seaweed or dried blood, put round its roots. If you can get some beech leaf litter to mix in, this helps rapid establishment, as a cosy relationship with a particular fungus helps the plants take up water and nutrients. Firm well with the weight of your body gently weighing on your fists, so that the root is secure. After planting press your heel firmly round the base of each plant. If the plant is not well firmed in, it cannot survive as its roots will be flapping about in the gaps in the earth. So firming in well is very important.
After planting, cut back the upper quarter of each shoot to encourage the plant to bush out. Repeat this ‘tipping’ process the following July. By the third summer the hedge should be established and from then on cut into the shape required each July or August.
Apart from preparing the soil correctly, and making sure the plant is well firmed into the earth, watering is the next great must. The young beech, or box or privet, will need at least two gallons (9 litres or two watering cans full) a week for each plant in dry spells. If it does not get this water in the dry weather during the first few years the plant will die. If you haven’t time to water, it is easy enough to set up a sprinkler on a timer meter. A good soaking is needed, not ‘little and often’. But the watering in the early stages while the roots are getting established is essential. We cannot live without water, neither can a young hedge.
Young plants of this size (18 in/45 cm) will not need staking or training as they are too small.
Beeches do not grow very quickly whereas privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) and cypress (Chamaecyparis leylandii) do, but then they are not so pleasing. Feed regularly once a year in spring and enjoy your hedge. If you want to plant close up to your hedge, lay heavy duty polythene in a 2 ft (60 cm) deep trench 2 or 3 ft (60 or 90 cm) from it, to restrain the root growth.