Wondering what kind of garden borders will work for you? Our gardening expert Adrienne Wild looks at your options.
The style and atmosphere of a garden is created as much by the boundary that you choose to wrap around it as by the lawn, garden borders and sitting areas you design within.
Whether you choose to make them disappear in the background or give them a starring role, it makes sense to have them match the overall theme of the garden and complement the surrounding buildings or natural landscape if you live in the country.
Before you pull down or erect a fence, wall or hedge it’s important to know that it belongs to you. Your house deeds will clearly indicate whose responsibility the boundary is but it’s always worth being a good neighbour and discussing your plans with the people living next door before you begin work.
Hedge your bets
Hedges are a cost-effective way of marking your territory. Not only make the garden private, but they’re also great for attracting wildlife.
In a formal town or country garden a neatly clipped conifer hedge will enhance the architecture of the design, which can be reinforced with a tiered arrangement of medium and low-growing hedges in various shades of green.
Be wary of planting Leylandii conifers. These can quickly become unmanageable, causing shade and cutting out light to adjacent properties while their roots exhaust the soil of moisture and nutrients. Regular trims three times a year will keep the hedge in check, so take control and don’t let it grow over 2m if you want to avoid neighbour disputes.
Good old common privet is one of the toughest hedging plants for urban areas as it copes well with pollution and stands the test of time. It’s a great plant for creating topiary and will provide a dark backdrop to flowerbeds. Hornbeam, beech and hawthorn are also a good choice, especially as they soon become a wildlife reserve and home to birds, insects and small mammals that are looking for food and shelter. Add native holly, elder and hazel to the mix and watch the wildlife visitor numbers increase.
Where space is limited, you can also make the hedge part of your garden borders. ‘Flowering’ varieties such as forsythia, escallonia, spiraea and flowering currents are most effective. You might also consider the appeal of a fruit and nut hedge by planting maypole ‘Ballerina’ apples alongside hazelnuts.
Willow screens are the perfect choice to wrap around a traditional-style cottage garden, but with some creative weaving they can also provide a gentle natural backdrop for contemporary style planting in a modern suburban garden – and add extra privacy and security.
Ready-made willow panels are available but these can be fiddly to erect and the posts need to be perfectly vertical and the measurements exact for the panels to snugly slot in. Alternatively, you could consider growing your own screen using live willow wands, which can be bought in bundles when coppicing takes place between November and April.
After planting, you can shape and train them to create ever-lasting fences and screens, or try your hand at turning the wands into woven tunnels, arbours and sculptures. To make a simple screen plant the live willow stems a few centimetres apart, and weave the diagonal stems across the vertical rods, tying together with garden twine where they cross.
On the fence
In a country garden you can borrow a bit of the landscape by blurring the lines between the garden borders and wild areas beyond with a simple wrought iron fence. This has the benefit of being almost invisible, so flowers in your borders flow seamlessly between the two spaces.
In the more built-up area of a village, you can create a similar effect with a wooden picket fence made up of vertical pales clad to a framework of posts and horizontal rails. Traditionally the main function of this type of fence is to delineate the boundary, but it makes a delightful backdrop for old-fashioned perennials such as lupins, Shasta daisies, delphiniums and such like.
Picket fences are typically no more than 1m tall, so if you want a more imposing fence to make the garden private and secure then you might prefer to invest in 1.8m timber panels. Ship lap are the cheapest but also more likely to come down in a storm, whilst more resilient slatted panels can create an architectural look and even create interesting shadow lines and texture.
Tall fences can be overwhelming in a small garden, so here it might be best to opt for 1.2m tall solid panels with trellis tops. This style of fencing can also be a good burglar deterrent, as they cannot easily support the weight of a human, so the prospective intruder will be unable to climb it without a risk of being seen and physically breaking the trellising. The noise of this and the risk of injury is a deterrent in itself.
If you prefer to invest in a wall, then it must be constructed on solid foundations and made from materials that are sympathetic with other buildings and natural surroundings. In modern gardens rendered and painted walls are appropriate, and with clever construction you could create tantalising views of the space beyond, even if it isn’t accessible.
Painting walls will brighten up gloomy gardens whilst vibrant shades can be used enhance the planting or any hard landscape materials in the design. For good effect, make the wall a dramatic backdrop to a border so it provides an interesting graphic shadow play throughout the day.
Finally, just for fun, why not paint the wall in an energetic rich colour like orange or aubergine? Press a few evergreen shrubs up close against the wall if you want to tone it down and achieve that all-essential tranquil garden atmosphere.