Nothing makes a garden look more loved than well-kept hedges. Whether offering protection from weather, prying eyes and outsiders, or for creating secret places or surprises, a hedge is the standout tool in the garden designer's box of tricks.
Which is useful because, apart from the stripes of Wimbledon, tennis courts are not always things of beauty - even the purple ones! However, they can be made to blend more naturally into a garden when disguised and softened with a surrounding hedge. Indeed hedges provide more than mere camouflage: they protect your court from wind and shot-ruining gusts, they deaden your Sharapova grunts and provide a plain green backdrop against which the tennis ball stands out clearly - useful as we age and the evenings draw in.
You can, of course, grow a deciduous hedge around a tennis court but however hard a hornbeam hangs onto its leaves over winter, it still loses precisely enough for you to be sweeping them up in autumn. Thorny hedges might be an idea were your game perfect, but ferreting around for a Slazenger ball amongst the prickles might well put you off tennis altogether. And climbers can look somewhat bedraggled and desperate in the winter clinging on for dear life to the netting that they should be ruled out as well.
So the answer is to have an evergreen hedge where at least you will be in control of when there is detritus around the court as you clip and maintain it. The choice is reasonably extensive, but some can be rejected outright. Box grows too slowly and so remains too small for too long. Laurels have roots so big and expansive that there is a danger that they will damage the court. Lonicera nitida could work, but again takes ages to attain any height and then needs clipping several times a year.
Which brings us to the contenders which... in no particular order... are:
How and where you grow the hedge will be dictated by the space you have and the evergreen you choose. Some people grow their hedges close to the netting and clip them from inside the court – which is fine as long you don’t trim the netting at the same time. But it works if space is at a premium.
If you have a bit more room life gets easier as you can leave a corridor between the perimeter net and the hedge so your ball-boys can look for balls, so your gardeners can weed from both sides of the hedge, and to prevent stray roots lifting the court. Planting like this also means there is less chance of the areas of court nearest the hedge being in the shade long enough to develop mossy, damp patches which allow entry for weeds. And “weeds means potholes”. Gravel spread between the hedge and the perimeter net helps drainage and is easy to clear if weeds start invading.
Whether you surround the entire court or just screen off the ends depends on how badly you want to hide the court and also on the direction of the prevailing wind. For some, it can feel a little claustrophobic playing in a court where all sides have large green walls but doing this guarantees still air and symmetry. Do leave a large enough gap to allow spectators to view the whole court and for a table for reviving drinks – as tennis should be a sociable thing!
And you needn't go the whole nine yards in height; a six-foot hedge will do the job almost as well. All of the evergreens below will easily reach this height and more, and they all clip well.
Thuja plicata or Western Red Cedar is a big evergreen that is slower growing than Leyland cypress. Its foliage is darker and hangs in fronds that bear cones (not so great when shed on the court). As with Leyland and Lawson cypress you need to be punctilious about clipping it at least in autumn and probably in the summer as well to keep it in shape. The advantage of this Thuja is that it is sold bare root and bounces back in any soil.
Privet will get to the three metres to hide your court if required and as it is not a conifer it makes for a less overpowering hedge - more Federer than Nadal. Its oval leaves are lighter and brighter than most of the conifers and it also has the advantage of pretty white flowers in July to match a tennis dress! Your maintenance regime is marginally more relaxed with privet than with the Cypresses, false or otherwise, simply because if you forget to clip one year (we're all at footfault here...) then you can hack it back hard the following year. Either forehand or backhand stokes will do; either way, you will get an even denser hedge. Well clipped it looks very smart and summery while being a speedy grower and economical to boot. Avoid golden privet: it is just too confusing unless you are still playing with white tennis balls.
Lawson cypress hedges have an attractive blue-green colour and a ferny look to their fronds. They are easy to grow in all soils apart from boggy ones (but presumably you would not have put a tennis court on boggy ground either.....)
An excellent windbreak serving as a beautiful hedge, it is slightly darker than Leyland cypress. These trees have received a volley of bad press but should not be disqualified as hedge plants. It's brighter, slightly more golden leaves are vibrant in winter and knit together to make an utterly solid backdrop. When clipping Leyland and Lawson cypress your best bet is to clip once really well between May and August making sure that you leave at least an inch of good green foliage behind so that it can send out new growth. It is the deuce of a job to get any bare old wood in both of these species to regenerate. Proceeding with one annual clip will not give you knife edge hedges year round but instead you will see a definite, dense sheen of foliage and you will never get dieback or brown patches, especially if you water well when it is dry. Of course, you can tidy up any straggly offshoots during the summer but this is the basic minimum of maintenance required. Leyland cypress can be bought year round and are only supplied in pots. In spite of this they are still best planted in winter. To get an idea of timing, if you are in a hurry you can expect a 60 cm Leyland cypress to grow to 2 m in about three years while Lawson's cypress might take between four and five.
Yew, however, will probably take seven years. That notwithstanding, a yew hedge is the Rolls Royce of evergreen hedges - without the price tag. Indestructible, ageless, no temper tantrums, easy to clip, and it will recover if you chop into old wood. A well-maintained yew hedge can look almost like velvet and its deep green is impossibly smart and worthy of an umpire's chair. You can have more fun with a yew hedge by creating an undulating topline, or hewing out peepholes to see the state of play. The impatient can take advantage of the fact that you can plant larger rootballed yews to make up for their slightly slower growth. Click here for more information on how to prune yews. https://www.ashridgetrees.co.uk/gardening-advice/how-to-plant-hedge/pruning-yew-hedge-plants
Many of the considerations already mentioned apply to swimming pools as well with the added imperative that a hedge can be a vital and more attractive safety feature for those with small children. The shelter factor is also more important given our unpredictable summers and so siting the hedge against the prevailing wind is key while allowance is made for the fact that the rays will be coming from the South!
Because the enclosing hedge may be quite some distance from the water you are allowed to include deciduous hedging in your reckoning as the chances are improved of the leaves ending up on the paving or lawn rather than in the pool.
Prickly thorny hedges are not advisable and more emphasis should be placed on seasonal interest because theoretically, you will spend more time by the pool with barbecues, long drinks, sunbathing and all of those other hopeful things that we like to imagine for ourselves in August. So, if a solid green evergreen hedge as above appears a little dull, then try a shimmering beech hedge with its ethereal, slightly furred leaves and fantastic colour. Both it and hornbeam hold their leaves over the winter but by November they are golden brown rather than still green, which may not be the look you want. Of course, the pool heating may well be off and you won't go near the pool until May when deciduous leaves are the right colour again!
Given the space and the budget, a hedge within a hedge looks different and decorative. A copper beech hedge with a flowering border of pink roses like Fritz Nobis within its confines would contribute beautiful distraction and, above all, fragrance.
Use lavender as a low hedge like the rose above or grow some honeysuckle at the end of a hedge so that it twines through it while perfuming the air. Just remember that lavender needs good drainage and a sunny spot to succeed along the whole row. For a more freestyle look, try our mixed thornless hedge. Here you would be surrounded by delicate crab apple blossom in spring, white Guelder Rose flowers in summer and those Spindle and Guelder rose berries in late summer.
But whatever you decide to do, don't delay....it does take a few years for a hedge to perform properly so the sooner you get planting, the quicker your tennis will improve and the better your chances of skinny dipping again........