Neatly clipped hedges with well-defined, sharp edges can really set the tone of a garden. They make an ideal frame for formal planting designs, but are also useful in naturalistic gardens, acting as a foil for looser, billowing border schemes.
Any plant used in formal hedging must withstand regular, close clipping, with no adverse effects on its health or appearance. Hydrangeas, for example, are often used as informal hedging plants, but can't be clipped into the orderly shapes that yew, for example, can.
More on growing hedges:
Browse our pick of suitable plants for formal hedges, below.
Box is the classic formal hedging plant. Its small leaves and glossy evergreen foliage allow it to be clipped into the neatest of shapes for year-round colour. A good choice for short hedges.
Famously planted at Monty Don's Longmeadow, hornbeam is a fabulous choice for heavy clay soils. Being a tree, it's not suitable for very low hedges, but can be pleached, clipped into balls and other shapes and used to create medium to large hedges. The variety 'Fastigiata' is a good choice for taller hedges.
Thujas are a good choice if you're after a fast-growing, evergreen hedge. The fine texture of the foliage allows them a very neat finish. They're slower-growing than the visually similar leylandii, so are a good alternative. Fragrant foliage.
With jasmine-scented spring flowers, osmanthus are great for fragrant hedges that can be planted around seating areas or near paths where the fragrance can be best enjoyed. Osmanthus burkwoodii and Osmanthus delavayi are good choices. Evergreen, so year-round colour is assured.
This New Zealand native has attractive, oval-shaped leaves and is a good choice for growing by the sea, as it's tolerant of salty air and winds. It grows quickly to form a dense, evergreen hedge. Hardy to around -15ºC, Griselinia littoralis should grow well in most of the UK.
Widely used for hedging, privet has dark green leaves and sweetly scented summer blooms that are loved by pollinators. Several privet species can be used for hedging, including the UK native wild privet, Ligustrum vulgare, Ligustrum sinense and Ligustrum ovalifolium for an extra neat, evergreen hedge.
Beech (Fagus sylvatica) provides a similar effect to hornbeam – green in the summer months and holding onto the warm brown leaves over winter. It's more suited to lighter, well-drained soils, and is often found growing in areas with alkaline soil. Purple-leaved copper beech is a lovely alternative.
A UK native, yew (Taxus baccata) makes for an exquisite evergreen hedge. It's relatively slow-growing, tolerant of hard pruning and if you happen to cut it back too much, will regenerate from brown wood, unlike many conifers. Easy to grow but does need well-drained soil.
No hedge is maintenance-free, and all will become untidy without some regular trimming. Trim them in August once any nesting birds will have likely departed, and the speed of growth has slowed. Trim again in autumn and early spring. If you suspect birds are nesting in the hedge, delay trimming until the nest has fledged.