Garden hedges conjure up images of wonderfully clipped and cared for beech hedges in the suburbs, privet hedges in towns and cities, yew hedges around churchyards, and all sorts in between. Many small gardens don't seem to have space for a hedge, and many gardeners do not have time or energy to clip and care for a big hedge. But every garden can have a hedge and look the better for it. So today’s blog is about small garden hedges suitable for the edges of paths, flower or veg. beds, or patios. Because, in the same way that clear edges on lawns make a garden look and feel structured (and more tidy than perhaps it is), so do garden hedges on edges.

garden hedges

Rosemary makes a lovely hedge along an edge, but must be pruned well to keep in shape.

Low-growing garden hedges create clear divisions between different parts of a garden and so make it seem larger and more varied than it might be. And because they don’t create shade, more plants do well across the garden too.

And low-growing hedges are useful: making a clear line between your garden and the outside world and supporting or containing plants that may fall onto paths or grass, making grass cutting difficult and the plants themselves ending up trodden down.

Choosing plants to hedge garden edges

Dwarf box (Buxus sempervivens ‘Suffructicosa’) has lost some of its popularity for small and low-growing hedges because of the prevalence of box blight, wiping out many pretty garden features. It is still a lovely edging plant that really is perfect for formal flower or herb beds or knot gardens, and this dwarf variety can be kept as short as 15cm (6 inches) high.

garden hedges

Box hedges around lavender beds at Tyntesfield. Thanks to Derek Harper for this image.

Teucrium lucidrys (hedge germander) has been chosen by many gardeners to replace box in their gardens. Like box it is evergreen and has small leaves. It grows fast and could grow too big for a low edge, but it produces flowers loved by bees so it's well worth a try.

Create a different look with compact varieties of lavender such as “Hidcote” or rosemary. These have the advantage of lovely flowers and scent, and prefer a sunny and dry soil such as around patios or along paths.

The variegated leaves of Euonymus ‘fortunei’ look lovely and suit damper and more shaded sites than rosemary or lavender.

Low-growing and carefully pruned ‘step over’ cordon apples look amazing, and provide flowers and fruit to enjoy. For the best flowers and fruit, grow this edge where there is limited competition from other plants, such as between a path and a fruit or veg. garden area.

Care for garden hedges on edges

  • Prune dwarf box to keep it dwarf – lightly cutting back excess growth in late summer. Before new growth in the spring, cut away any diseased or damaged shoots and on new hedges cut back by up to one third of the height in May to encourage strong and dense hedges.
  • Dead head teuchrium after flowering. Keep this and euonymus hedges in shape with light pruning in the year and harder pruning before new spring growth to keep them in the shape and place you want them.
  • Clip flowering hedges after the flowers fade to keep them neat and where you want them.
  • Lavender and rosemary are generally short-lived so be ready to replace them perhaps every 10 years or so. They flower on new wood so it is important to keep them pruned annually to encourage flowers and this will also extend their life and stop them becoming woody
  • Prune step-over apples as you would a cordon apple tree. Our blog on this topic may help you work out what to do. If in doubt seek advice from a good garden centre.
garden hedges

Dwarf lavender creates an edge to this front garden. Thanks to 'peganum', this image licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution Share ALike 2.0 Generic licence.

Making the most of edges can be a real boost to the look and feel of a garden. Try it!