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Visual Clues-Hedges  January 17, 2008

An old proverb say “good fences make good neighbors.” From a landscape architect’s perspective this is not necessarily so since fences tend to clutter the landscape and divide urban property into little enclosed territories. Further, fences, unless constructed of the very best materials and finishes, must be maintained. Wood fences in particular need much care or they’ll eventually rot away.

A better solution is to use hedges! Hedges make good gardens but they also make good urban landscapes. When you see hedges screening parking lots and visual clutter, you know a landscape code is at work.

As Hubbard stated in his classic garden design book, Landscape Design (Macmillan Company, 1938), hedges are a foliage wall wherein the character of the individual plant is not seen in the garden structure that it helps to create. Hedges are an expression of mass form, texture and color and may be created in various heights with ground covers, shrubs or trees.

Clues to Green Laws—Hedges

There are several types of hedges used in landscape design and a properly-written community landscape code should encourage the use of all these types under certain conditions. First, it is important to know there are four different types of hedges and they can be used for varying purposes in commercial, residential, industrial or institutional landscapes. These hedges vary in height, width, screening ability and opacity and offer numerous design possibilities.

Types of Hedges

Perhaps the least-used hedge in landscape design is the “edging hedge,” which rarely exceeds two feet in height and is often designed with flowering ground covers or low, rambling shrubs. This type of hedge physically divides space but does not visually separate it into compartments where everything can be seen at once.

Annuals, perennials, grasses, dwarf shrubs and groundcovers all work well for colorful landscape edges.

This type of hedge is rarely seen in the landscape codes, although a variation of this has been seen the cities of Pascagoula, Miss., Seattle, Wash., and in South Holland, Ill. There certainly could be more creative uses of the edging hedge in a community landscape code in street yard planting areas, street wall planting zones and certainly within or around parking lots. Seattle’s use of low growing wetland plants and grasses in their street-side natural drainage systems (NDS) shows great possibilities for the use of very low mixed plant hedges to edge the side of streets.

The low hedge is most often called for in community landscape codes. This modern hedge is never over three feet tall, per many landscape codes. This hedge is most commonly used for screening parking lots, so it is often an evergreen that is clipped to the proper height. The fact that parking lots should be partially screened from public streets and residential zoning districts is a standard tenant of landscape law in well-designed green communities. In Boca Raton, Fla., for instance, for miles along the Dixie Highway you’ll see this style of hedge using Ficus benjamina. In this community a hedge is defined as a “barrier consisting of a continuous, dense planting of shrubs” and that is exactly what you see for miles. Some variation in composition of the hedges in this community would be useful to gain more variety from site to site. Building the same hedge from property to property enforces ‘codescape’ at its least creative.

A low vegetative hedge, an earth berm or a low masonry wall that is veiled in ornamental shrubs, vines or small trees can also make very effective parking lot screens. Many codes provide the option of using walls or berms to screen parking. The Chicago landscape code sees the value of using planted walls to screen parking lots. In tight urban spaces such as Chicago it is best to make this type of hedge using a vine-covered masonry wall or lattice fence. Both of these can display the foliage of the vine but do it in a space that does not take up much room.

A typical hedge design standard for VUA (vehicle use area) screening would be written: VUA screens shall be planted in strips, a minimum width of three feet, a maximum of nine feet and shall extend the length of the VUA. The hedge shall be 36 inches tall (1) a single plant species hedge or (2) a mixed planting of shrubs, small trees and flowering plants of evergreens or (3) a “combination planting” consisting of any proportion of plants, berms and low masonry walls. Plants may be installed in single, double or staggered rows as the landscape design may require. Small trees used in the design shall be spaced no closer than 20 feet on center.

Perhaps the most commonly used hedge is what is called the property line hedge. This type of hedge is used to buffer adjacent property and screen out objectionable views. Therefore this type of hedge must be able to grow above the average sight line of five feet. The best hedge plants for this situation are plants with multiple horticultural characteristics of flower, fruit, form, color and texture. Those plants that grow by root suckering and underground extension are preferred for this type of hedge.

Hedges offer many horticultural possibilities to designers. There are numerous outstanding plant species available in every region of the country that make excellent hedges.

Should readers like to contact Mr. Buck Abbey, please feel free to email or call him at the LSU School of Landscape Architecture: (225) 578-1434.

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