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Rediscovering the Perennial Hedge

Goat’s beard hedge.

If you look back over the history of hedges, you’ll realize that, although today’s hedges always seem to be composed of shrubs and conifers, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, from the 1800s through the 1940s, perennials were used just as often used to draw lines in the garden. Peony hedges, goat’s beard hedges, even asparagus hedges were all considered to be valuable choices back then… and there is no reason you couldn’t put in a perennial hedge today as well.

The main advantage of perennial hedges is their reduced maintenance. No need for careful shearing: you just let them grow! Each spring, just cut back anything that is still standing and voilà: the maintenance for the entire season is done!

A perennial hedge can also offer the advantage of being able to grow where conifer or shrub hedges won’t. For example, near a road cleared by snowplows or snow blowers in the winter. The tearing, crushing action of pushed snow can leave the exposed branches of woody plants in tatters, but perennials are safely asleep underground when the attack occurs and will sprout anew in the spring without any damage whatsoever.

The Right Stuff

To make a good hedge, you’ll need to choose a perennial of an appropriate height, one that is well-covered with leaves from bottom to top, that can resist wind without requiring staking, has attractive foliage (for a hedge, that’s often more important than bloom!), has a long season of interest and is suitable, of course, for your growing conditions.

Here are some perennials that make excellent hedges.

  1. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) zone 2
  2. Aster (Aster spp.) zone 4
  3. Baptisia (Baptisia australis) zone 4
  4. Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) zone 3
  5. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’) zone 3
  6. Bugbane (Cimicifuga spp.) zone 3
  7. Checkerbloom (Sidalcea spp.) zone 4
  8. Cup plant (Silphium spp.) zone 3
  9. Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) zone 3
  10. Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) zone 3

    Feather reed grass has become a fairly common hedge in recent years.
  11. Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) zone 4
  12. Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) zone 3
  13. Gas plant (Dictamnus albus) zone 4
  14. Gayfeather (Liatris spp.) zone 3
  15. Globe thistle (Echinops ritro) zone 3
  16. Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) zone 3
  17. Great fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha, syn. Polygonum polymorphum) zone 3
  18. Hosta (Hosta spp.) zone 3
  19. Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) zone 4
  20. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.) zone 3
  21. Meadow-rue (Thalictrum spp.) zones 2 à 6
  22. Meadowsweet, Queen of the meadow (Filipendula spp.) zone 3
  23. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) zones 3 à 10
  24. Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) zones 4 à 6
  25. Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) zone 3
  26. Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) zone 3
  27. Perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) zone 5
  28. Perennial sunflower (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’) zone 4
  29. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) zone 4b
  30. Showy stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) zone 3
  31. Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) zone 3
  32. Tall moor grass (Molinia arundinacea) zone 4

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “Rediscovering the Perennial Hedge

  1. Pingback: Asparagus: Anywhere But the Veggie Bed | Laidback Gardener

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