I often get asked for advice on hedging, both for boundaries and delineating various parts of the garden. October is an excellent month to get planting so ..... let's hedge our bets!
There are several considerations and decisions to be made, the most important of which is probably the size you are looking for and whether you need evergreen or deciduous. Consider also whether you want a formal, compact look or something more relaxed.
The one most commonly used here is myoporum laetum or, as it is more normally known, transparante - its Spanish name. It's a popular choice because it's extremely quick growing, tough, drought resistant and cheap to buy. Furthermore it's evergreen and bears small white flowers often followed by berries. The downside is that, once established, you'll need to be pruning hard twice a year and it is a fairly messy plant. It can reach 8m if left unpruned.
Nerium oleander makes a good dense evergreen
hedge with showy flowers in white, a range of pinks, salmon and creamy yellow. Again, it can get tall – to 5m – so pruning is necessary though less frequently. All parts of the oleander are extremely toxic, even smoke from burning prunings and water containing fallen flowers can give problems. It's a useful barrier against livestock - even goats won't touch this one!
For a patriotic look, plant the Spanish flag – or lantana camara. It has tiny flowers grouped together in neat heads and comes in many colours, often several tones on one plant but the red/yellow combination is a striking winner. Deciduous and to around 2m though it is happy with a hard pruning.
One of my favourite hedging plants, or indeed as a specimen shrub, is duranta repens, the Brazilian sky flower. It makes a very elegant arching shrub with extremely pretty racemes of white, sky blue or violet flowers which are followed by strings of golden berries. It's semi-evergreen and can reach
3m though it can be pruned.
Escallonia is not so commonly seen here but it's very pretty and is particularly good in seaside positions where it stands up well to salty winds. Evergreen with dark, neat, shiny leaves and, generally, pink flowers – though new hybrids come in other colours – it will grow to between 2m to 3m tall and needs less pruning than most.
Another couple of more unusual ones are carissa macrocarpa, the natal plum, evergreen and to around 2m. It forms a very spiny bush – useful to deter access – with shiny green leaves, scented white, jasmine-like flowers and red edible plum-like fruits. It's a good all-rounder – pretty and useful too. The purple-leaved hop bush, dodonea viscosa 'purpurea' is very attractive with its purple/coppery foliage and pinkish seed capsules. It can get large but doesn't mind being pruned and is, again, tough, drought and wind resistant and beautiful.
Look out too for rosa rugosa, a really strong hedging rose with bright green pleated leaves and single or double flowers in white or deep pink. It's extremely prickly and bears big fat rose hips. If you like your roses to look natural and you want a very informal look and a home for wildlife, this is the one for you!
For something smaller, remember that rosemary and lavender make delightful aromatic billowing mounds of foliage and are good, tough and very apt in the campo. Trim them in early spring and dead head after flowering to stop them from going leggy and woody at the base. There are various types but most will get to around 1m tall and wide.
For a tight and very formal small hedge, box is very traditional. It has tiny leaves and it's often as you would box, in formal settings, though it can also be left to grow a little more loosely and it will then develop very pretty creamy white flowers with prominent stamens which are also sweetly scented. Becoming very drought resistant with age, it's a traditional part of Spanish gardens.
trimmed into wonderful topiary shapes too – so if you're looking for a project, why not start shaping up a box animal! Slightly larger, and to my mind prettier, is myrtus comunis, more commonly known as myrtle. It can be used much as you would box, in formal settings, though it can also be left to grow a little more loosely and it will then develop very pretty creamy white flowers with prominent stamens which are also sweetly scented. Becoming very drought resistant with age, it's a traditional part of Spanish gardens.
The Italian cypresses, cupressus sempervirens, can be topped out, at any height, and will then thicken to form good dense hedging very resistant to cold winds and drought, though it can look a little somber. Try growing a brilliantly coloured climber through it or the starry white flowers of a jasmine look delightful and give you perfume too.
And, finally, for neat good looks try either viburnum tinus or pittosporum tobira. Both have lovely, deep green, glossy leaves and white scented flowers.
Lorraine Cavanagh has lived in Spain for 22 years; a mother, grandmother and hispanista, her passions are plants, the environment, food and drink, and travelling within Spain. She runs a small plant nursery near Cómpeta, is a landscape gardener and a writer. She also has a weekly spot on OCI radio.
Her book Lorraine Cavanagh's Mediterranean Garden Plants has been nicknamed 'the bible'. See also “There are No Flies ….. only Foreigners!” a social history of Andalusia and light hearted look at life in Spain.
Viveros Florena, Cómpeta.