Early summer is a good time to prune formal hedges.
Clipped hedges and topiary - a tree or shrub pruned into a formal or geometric shape - are excellent ways of introducing a formal note into an informal garden, one with overflowing plantings among winding paths and hidden corners.
Clipped plants create eye catching focal points that contrast perfectly with the otherwise informal scene.
Dividing a garden into separate spaces makes it immediately appear bigger and hedges do the job beautifully. They can also be used to create individual features in their own right, and to hide boundary fences.
A single, annual prune minimises maintenance.
With a slow growing hedge an early summer clip, after the spring growth spurt, should be enough to contain it for the year.
A second, slower growth spurt occurs later in summer and fast-growing hedges can have a second trim after this.
Small hedges can be hand pruned with hedge shears but battery-operated clippers are much faster.
Being cordless they are safer than electric and lighter than petrol driven models.
Their only disadvantage is the lighter the battery, the shorter its duration - annoying if you have a lot of hedges.
Most woody plants can be hedged, including large trees.
I planted a hornbeam hedge (Carpinus betulis) in our first cool climate garden, at Rockley.
Hornbeam is good on clay, happy with low pH (acid) soil and although deciduous, holds is autumn leaves through winter.
I once witnessed the annual clipping in late May of the magnificent hornbeam hedges at Eyrignac Manoir in France.
It was an impressive spectacle, involving ladders, platforms and numerous tools and measuring devices to keep the lines straight.
It was an excellent example of the need to use a guideline when clipping a straight hedge.
Two stout sticks joined with a length of string are fine.
Never try to grow a hedge from a plant that doesn't sprout from its bare wood, like cypress (Cupressus) and lavender (Lavandula).
Constant clipping is time consuming and even a short period of neglect can be fatal.
Juniper (Juniperus communis) with short, needle-like leaves is a good alternative for a tall hedge, with aromatic cotton lavender (Santolina) for a low one.
Many pittosporums have small, shiny leaves and make beautiful hedges, though they're fast growing.
For intense silver leaves Teucrium fruticans is a winner. Native Grevillea rosmarinifolius is ideal for a boundary hedge.
In the end, I always go back to English box (Buxus sempervirens).
Tough, frost- and drought-hardy and best of all slow, its dark green leaves blend with everything in the garden.
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