Posted 5th Feb 2014
As we start to get out in the garden once again, we've teamed up with Wiggly Wigglers to find out how you can make the most of your outdoor space by growing a hedge that's great for you and your wild visitors
For some, the perfect hedge consists of neat rows of beautifully clipped shrubs or topiary creations that are pleasing to the eye but not necessarily practical. However, you can plant a hedge that looks just as vibrant, but will attract all manner of wildlife whilst providing a source of food for you at the same time. With an edible hedge there's no need to travel miles for a spot of foraging, you can do it right from home and watch as nature enjoys the fruits of your garden too.
There are some things to keep in mind when growing an edible hedge. It's important to decide the function of the hedge before planting. If you want to create a border of hedge that will help keep your garden secure, then consider hedge plants with thorns, such as blackberry, gooseberry, and rugosa rose. Plant these thickly so they fill in quickly, forming an impenetrable wall.
You should also consider the ultimate height of the hedge if you're growing it to block a view. While hedges can be trimmed, most edible hedges will look their best, and produce the most fruit, if allowed to grow to their natural height.
Many edible hedges are deciduous. If you want an edible evergreen hedge consider the addition of yews and holly, both of which provide winter berries for the birds. Even a little ivy gives some winter interest and its flowers attract many pollinating insects, whilst the berries will be devoured by winter visiting redwings.
Not just berries
While most of the attention for edible hedges goes to berry bushes, don't forget the more unusual. Even asparagus if left unpicked (difficult decision to leave those tasty stems) produces a fern that grows to a remarkable height and can act as a screen for different parts of the garden. Sweetcorn can be put to a similar use, and if you have enough you can even make your own maize maze!
If your soil conditions are right you can grow your favourite kitchen herbs at the base of your hedge too. Rosemary is a good hedging plant in its own right and will grow quite bushy and dense. Its flowers are great for bees and its leaves go superbly with roast lamb.
Mix and match
You might want a single species hedge for neatness, but to get the real benefit it is best to plant a range of species. You'll need to be a bit careful that one or two don't become too dominant. Brambles and roses are some of the plants that will spread by underground roots. This could be a benefit if you want your hedge to fill in quickly, but also can get out of control and spread to other unwanted areas.
Try and have fun with your hedge plants. Get creative about mixing and matching plants and experiment with different edibles. Many gardeners don't think of the hedge as a place to grow food, but particularly in a small garden it's a great way to maximise the space available.
Species to consider
Most plants are best bought as bare-rooted whips. These will be one to two years old and should only be planted from November until late March.
Blackthorn - its flowers are great for pollinators in early spring and the berries can be used to make a classic sloe gin. The birds will quickly polish off any remaining berries.
Crab apple - perfect for lovely aromatic jelly, and the windfalls provide food for insects and mammals too.
Cherry plum - can be used for jam and they are also used in Bach herbal rescue remedies. The rich blossom also provides a good nectar source.
Dog rose - in the autumn use the large hips for rosehip syrup. Keep it in check though as it will take over your hedge given the chance.
Elderberry - the flowers fill the air with their unmistakable aroma. They are also delicious. You can deep fry them in a tempura batter or use them to make cordial. The berries can be used for wine, but don't eat them raw as they can make you sick.
Hazel - their catkins are a harbinger of spring and their nuts an autumn delight.
Wild pear - can be used for jams, liqueurs and syrups. In France they get the pear fruit to develop inside a bottle to produce Poire William, which is a pear brandy.
Rosemary, gooseberry, bullis plum, blackberry and currant bushes can also be considered.
So, what's stopping you from enjoying the delights of an edible hedge? You can order your very own edible hedge which comes complete with a variety of bare-root hedging plants and full instructions from www.wigglywigglers.co.uk, or phone them on 01981 500 391 if you need a bit of help. Happy planting!
By David Pitman - Wiggly Wigglers