The Ashridge Nurseries Blog

Thorny issues

More and more frequently communities are gated, electric gates installed, and iron railings thorn-3-1-of-1sharpened. All no doubt sensible security measures but how about considering a much cheaper alternative to all of this hardware? We suggest a thorny hedge, alive with prickles and scratchy bits so that no self-respecting intruder (unless a Dan Brown cilice fan of course) could scale or sneak through. Naturally, there are numerous and many less gloomy reasons to investigate the potential of a thorny hedge in your garden. Like your intruder, no self-respecting sheep, horse, alpaca or cow (you can never guarantee goats) would dream of breaching a properly thorny hedge so they are perfect for keeping in stock. Birds are wise to this too and the shy ones (think wren, tit and goldcrest) will utilise thorny hedges and trees as some protection versus marauding cats or nest predators. Planting even a small stretch of a thorny hedge will see your songbird population skyrocket and will give you the smug satisfaction of knowing that with relatively little effort or money you have created a humming habitat for all types of wildlife including spiders and many insects. And if beasties are not your thing, just ponder the magnificence of blossom and berries that will festoon your hedge in spring and autumn.  

Top of the list for an ideal thorny nest site, blossom and berry bearer, comes Crataegus monogyna or Hawthorn or quickthorn. Hawthorn is a major component in our entry level bare root native hedging packs and our bare root conservation hedging packs. The reason why hawthorn tops the ratings,  apart from its plentiful thorns, is that its bright red berries are nutritious and plentiful while its spring flowers (being a member of the Rosaceae family) have masses of nectar for insects on which the birds feed.  

If this sort of country hedging is not to your taste, then the number two slot is occupied by charmer-4-1-of-1Berberis or Barberry which comes in various colourways that get even better in autumn, but all with yellow flowers - copper/purple, green, and red and gold in the RHS AGM Darwini version or julianae with its fewer but more terrifying thorns. Berberis responds to formal clipping if you do not mind sacrificing its twinkling flowers but if left to itself extends lovely arches of flowered and berried growth. The third contender, and another formal option, to train against a wall or trellis as a screen is Pyracantha. The vicious thorns are cunningly disguised behind innocent white flowers in spring and then in autumn, your attention is again diverted by the stupendous coloured berries. There is a self-explanatory choice between Soleil d'Or, Red Column or the RHS AGM Orange Glow. We sell these all year round in pots and all of them are easy to grow and not to be messed with.  While on the berry theme, do not forget our potted holly bushes -which suit town or country, can be clipped or left to flourish and give you Christmas decorations..... if all those birds have not taken all the berries.

And to finish, a suggestion of gorse  Ulex europaeus for anyone with sandy soil and a requirement for a tough-as-old-boots plant that will be happy just about anywhere, even sandy, salty places. The bright yellow pea blooms never seem to fade and gorse becomes leggy on rich soils.

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