Flowering hedges, which ones are the best?
Hedges are an often overlooked (no pun intended!) part of the garden. Compared to a boring old fence they can provide a useful service to the gardener. Your best flowering hedges are going to be the ones that not only look wonderful but also suited to your garden.
They can offer privacy, reduce pollution and noise pollution from a road, create a more natural boundary, protect other plants (and you!) from prevailing wind, offer a habitat for wildlife, be a backdrop for the rest of your garden, and most of all, be a valuable aesthetic feature.
Fences, on the other hand, offer little apart from being a functional boundary. They are expensive to install, need replacing every few years, they blow down in high winds, offer nothing to wildlife, and, let’s face it, they are pretty ugly.
Although a hedge might need more care than a fence, its rewards will more than make up for it in the long run.
People usually think of a hedge as being a neatly clipped green boundary, but it doesn’t have to be. With a bit of imagination and knowledge, you can choose a hedge that will give you the added benefit of flowering as well.
Some of the more traditional hedges will flower if you don’t clip them too neatly and clip them at the right time. Shrubs such as laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) have amazing smelling flowers in the Spring which bees and hoverflies love.
The trouble is, that these shrubs are so vigorous, that unless you have masses of space, they will always need strict pruning which tends to remove the chance for flowers.
Some of the more common hedges used specifically for their flowers are:
Buddleja makes a loose kind of hedge. It is evergreen and has great flowers loved by bees and butterflies. In fact, one of its common names is the butterfly bush. Most of its cultivars have purplish flowers but there are other colours such as ’Royal Red’ and ‘White Profusion’, which, as their names suggest, are red and white respectively.
Buddlejas are happy in most situations and need very little care. Hard pruning in late winter/ early spring will keep them flowering well and stop them getting too big.
Forsythia used to be a staple of many 1970s gardens, everyone’s granny had one. They have battled through the years and are still a popular shrub. Their trump card is that they are one of the earliest shrubs to flower in the spring and their bright yellow flowers have cheered up many a gloomy day.
As a hedge they can be very vigorous and too much pruning can result in losing the following years flowers. They are best pruned as soon as possible after flowering with only light trims later in the year.
Weigela is another of the traditional flowering shrubs. They now come in a variety of colours including purple leaved ones such as ‘Alexandra’ or the smaller Weigela ‘Minor Black’. These two both have pink flowers in early summer.
They can be a bit messy as a hedge but pruning soon after flowering can keep them a bit neater. Like forsythia, they are deciduous and won’t offer much over the winter months.
The Spirea family are a useful bunch. Hardy and adaptable, there are several varieties that make a good hedge. For a smaller hedge up to 1.5 metres, Spirea japonica ‘Firelight’ or ‘Antony Waterer’ are good choices.
Although they are deciduous, they make up for that in the summer, with pretty, golden leaves and large pink flowers in late summer. They can be pruned in the winter to keep their shape. Spirea Arguta is a larger shrub but is also easy to look after and will tolerate all sorts of conditions.
Ceanothus are one of the most striking spring or early summer flowering shrubs.
As a hedge, they will certainly make an impact when they are in their full blue bloom. The rest of the year they aren’t quite so interesting, and they have a nasty habit of various branches dying off.
In a specimen shrub, this isn’t such a problem, but in a hedge, it can ruin the effect. ‘Autumnal Blue’ is a good choice as a hedge although it will need pruning to keep it at a reasonable height.
Choisya ternata is a very reliable shrub, up to 2 metres, that will tolerate most conditions, including dry shade. Regularly producing white flowers, it won’t give you too much trouble. However, it can get leggy so it might need a hard prune every now and then.
I also can’t bear the smell of it, although most people like it. I prefer the newer cultivars like Choisya x dewittiana ‘White Dazzler’. These are smaller than their cousins at 1.5 metres and have narrow, darker leaves which are very attractive with the white flowers. For general pruning, use hedge shears to shape the hedge.
Hawthorn is one of my favourite hedges, and favourite trees for that matter. As a native, it is perfectly suited to our climate and very appealing to wildlife. Although, another deciduous candidate, it has beautiful spring blossom which bees love, and berries in the autumn for the birds.
With a delicate leaf and a bushy habit, it really is a great hedge. Once it is established, trim lightly in the summer if needed and if any major pruning is needed, wait for autumn/winter.
Blackthorn is in a similar category to Hawthorn. Native, lovely early blossom and great for wildlife.
A Lavender hedge is one of the smaller options for a flowering hedge.
It really must be grown in a sunny position, the hotter the better, or it will become very leggy. It looks great in a gravel garden or can go along a sunny pathway. Bees absolutely love it and in the summer it really will buzz. Trim with garden shears after flowering but not into bare wood or it won’t recover.
Chaenomeles is the ornamental quince. Usually grown as a wall shrub but can be grown as a low free standing hedge.
Chaenomeles has very attractive spring blossom followed by the fruits in the late summer. Comes in a variety of colours, but my favourite is the creamy white Chaenomeles speciose ‘Nivalis’.
In order to make a hedge, this shrub will need pruning after it has flowered. You’ll need secateurs or loppers depending on the size of the branches.
Roses can be the most flowery of all the hedges. Native species such as Rosa Canina will be the most beneficial to wildlife, but they will only flower once in the year.
If you choose one of the modern English roses you can get repeat flowering all through the summer. Rosa ‘The Ancient Mariner’ is a delicate pale pink but you can choose any repeat flowering rose. Rosa ‘Burgundy Ice’ is pictured here. Prune between November and February.
Viburnum Davidii can make a great evergreen hedge. ‘Eve Price’ has pink flowers in early spring, or ‘French White’ is a good white option. They may flower again later in the year too. Watch out for viburnum beetle which is common in some parts of the UK. If the leaves start to get full of little holes, that is likely to be the culprit.
An unusual choice of flowering hedge is Nandina domestica, commonly known as Heavenly Bamboo. Nandina isn’t a bamboo at all, although it has bamboo-like leaves.
It is a very tough customer, will grow just about anywhere and is also very well behaved. It won’t really need pruning unless it eventually gets too big for your space. It is evergreen, has unusual white flowers and spectacular red berries which can last all winter.
Although deciduous, Hydrangeas hang on to their dried flowers over the winter which means they continue to look interesting. The paniculata varieties have a strong structure and are less likely to fall over when they flower. ‘Limelight’ is a hugely popular hydrangea which fades from a pale lime green to cream, to pink.
‘Pinky Winky’, as well as having a great name, fades to a deep pink before drying out. My new favourite is ‘Wim’s Red’ which reaches a beautiful deep red colour, an unusual colour for a hydrangea.
Leave the flower heads on over the winter, then remove in late spring. Paniculata varieties can be pruned quite hard, back to the main framework, to maintain a good shape. Mophead varieties should not be pruned hard unless really necessary.
Hibiscus only flower for a short time in the summer, but when they do it’s quite spectacular. They can be hard pruned in the winter to keep their shape or trim lightly with hedge shears if they already look good.
All these plants will add interest and colour to your garden. Don’t forget to give them a good feed a couple of times a year. It’s easy to forget that hedges need feeding too. And water them well in their first year while they get established.
One last thing to note is, particularly with the bigger, more dense hedges, check that there are no birds nesting in them before you do any pruning. It’s usually better to avoid the nesting time between March and August.
By popular demand please check out our best replacement box hedges article. Box caterpillar is causing untold damage and we have listed our great alternatives