A MARvelous Hedge

I have always enjoyed the Hamptons and each summer I look forward to my visit. Nothing represents the Hamptons better than the iconic over-the-top privet hedge. No matter what neighborhood, privet is the most common choice for creating privacy and grandness for homes of any size. So, with all these amazing perfectly manicured hedges in mind, I began to dig deeper into this obsession of beauty that lines the streets and prohibits tourists from peering in.
Could I repeat this Hampton staple of garden design in my own modest home in Connecticut? I would ponder this idea and as I did more research I learned some interesting and valuable traits that would validate that “privet” may not be for me, but the hedge idea was well worth considering.

When I began to landscape my own property, I focused on a four-season garden creating privacy along the way. I accomplished this by using fencing and plantings. For my side garden, I chose the privet hedge as it provides a dual purpose in the landscape: privacy and beauty. However, I lost patience waiting for it to grow high enough to cover my neighbor’s garage! Therefore, that next spring, out with the privet and in with twenty-two emerald green Arborvitaes! They arrived nine feet tall and when installed, they gave me that instant gratification I was looking for and, of course, privacy. Over the years, I have maintained them quite well with a yearly haircut and trimming schedule, and today they stand well over twelve feet, lush and dense year round. When filming in this area, I commonly refer to them as my “Hamptons Private Hedge Alternative”.

So, if you are considering a hedge for either an aesthetic look or a practical function, you need to learn more and choose a hedging material bearing in mind two important factors:

Hedge Maintenance
The classic privet shrubs are grown primarily for their dense foliage, so maintaining them will be a long-term commitment. Privet shrubs can reach a height of 4-15′ with a spread of 4-8′. They prefer partial shade to full sun and need soil that is slightly wet. They also offer the sweetest small white flower in late spring/early summer after which come the berries that the birds just love. Right after flowering, prune – then do so again an additional four times during the course of the summer. Yikes, right? It’s worth noting, though, as this is the only way the privet will grow together and become a dense and lush hedge. Pruning frequently is a very important key.

The hedges at Grey Gardens in East Hampton are a perfect example: when the Beal family neglected them for over twenty years, they became tall and completely overgrown. The house was restored and today the privet hedge is back on a maintenance program (although I could still see signs of their not having been pruned as they were more woody than normal). My sMARt tip is to hire a professional once a year to achieve that perfect form and height; then simply follow the existing shape and trim three more times during the season.

I have seen many different types of hedges – some common and some not so common. Several Holly plants can be manipulated into a hedge. My neighbor, Larry, has a twenty-five-year-old Forsythia hedge that is perfectly maintained and shaped multiple times each year. The arbor walkway entrance is simply breathtaking and always catches my attention. In the spring, yellow flowers are abundant and in the winter the shape captures and hold the snow perfectly. Bravo to him for having such dedication and pride for his curb appeal.

While in the Napa Valley area of California this year, I fell in love with the Rosemary hedges that were once again the jewel of the property. Fragrant and functional, they are the perfect addition to any great landscaping design.

Speaking of small hedges, the boxwood is a topic on which I have lots of experience. My garden is filled with small hedges created from dwarf boxwoods. Large or small, the use of these dense evergreen shrubs makes for the perfect hedge. Maintenance is required twice a year during the growing season, but the result will definitely be a hedge above all the rest!

Truth be told, just about any plant can be manipulated, trained and reshaped to take on a hedge shape. All it takes is time, dedication and a commitment to routine maintenance.

The Visual impact
There is no doubt in my mind that a perfectly manicured hedge is breathtaking. I love the look, but for me, the year-round privacy is the real prize.

Each year I have my trees trimmed, my boxwoods trimmed and my hedge clipped to perfection. I take pride in what I can do myself and know what I need help with. Any privacy hedge on your property will not only add value and privacy but represents dedication and a commitment to the overall landscaping.

Should you happen to have deer that appreciate your landscaping skills remember that if a deer is hungry he will eat just about anything, but the privet is never his first choice.

Some examples of Privet Shrubs and their planting zones:

  • Amur privet shrubs (Ligustrum amurense): zones 3-6.
  • Common privet shrubs (Ligustrum vulgare): zones 5-8.
  • Golden privet shrubs (Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’): zones 5-8
  • Chinese privet shrubs (Ligustrum sinense): zones 7-9.
  • Japanese or wax privet shrubs (Ligustrum japonicum): zones 7-10.

Some drawbacks about the Private Shrub you need to know:

  • Extremely poisonous! That said, ingesting any part may cause stomach ache, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, or a headache. Eating the berries of privet shrubs may even cause death.
  • They are not an evergreen in the North East, and although they are extremely attractive for only a portion of the year they do lose their small leaves. So if you want to peek into someone’s yard to get a good view of the house, do it in December.
  • Lastly, the privet shrubs are very invasive plants that can easily procreate by their berries. Birds collect them, drop the seeds and in no time a new shrub is born.
    So if you been hedging on the idea of adding a hedge, you have some choices to make. Whatever you choose to plant will be a new relationship that in time you will show off and be proud of. Graduation day comes when the shrubs reach their full height, width, and density. In the meantime, enjoy them as youngsters.

And there you have it.