I’m one of those people that have a thing for hedges. I just love the structure and framework that they provide a garden. I also love the sense of order and formality that they contribute, even when all about them may be chaotic and naturalistic. In fact, I think it is this juxtaposition of an informal planting within the structural framework of a good hedge that I love the most. And so I had this vision in mind when I set out to create a perennial border at home. I wanted the looseness of the perennials to be contained within a nice dark green hedge that provided privacy and a feeling of enclosure. But what hedge was I to plant? I’m just a passionate home gardener and didn’t know where to start so I sought the advice of an expert and invited Jeremy Francis from Cloudehill to help me out. He suggested that we plant a hedge of Camellia sasanqua ‘Paradise Blush’. It has been a huge success and draws lots of comments from passers-by who ask me what it’s like.
Firstly, Camellia sasanqua ‘Paradise Blush’ is an Australian native. Well, it’s been bred in Australia and so it is well suited to typical Australian conditions. By that I mean it is remarkably drought tolerant, loves a bit of full sun and isn’t phased by any of those heat waves with north winds blowing in from the back blocks of hell. In fact it protects you against them. I recall Jeremy Francis mentioning that he has even seen a beautiful hedge of this growing happily beneath a massive old Eucalypt. I rest my case. Frost and a dusting of snow also present no problem. The only thing to avoid is wet feet so ensure there is adequate drainage if you are considering planting in boggy conditions.
Camellias are of course known for their flowers. When it comes to flower, I never really planted my hedge for the flowers. They are just a bonus. However, they are a nice bonus. Flowering from late autumn into winter, the blooms of ‘Paradise Blush’ are small and discreet, starting off as deep pink buds that open to small semi-double flowers with the reverse side shaded pink. In full sun, it is very floriferous, and I find that a trim in early autumn removes a fair few of the buds leaving just enough floral intensity for my liking. One of the advantages of this particular variety is that the flowers are subtly fragranced. Not enough to really notice on an individual plant, but when planted as a hedge, and on a warm sunny day, your garden is filled with a gorgeous tea-like scent that is subtly sweet and spicy. And as a side note, there are a wide variety of sasanquas in the ‘Paradise’ range which offer a choice of flower options to suit individual taste, although not all are fragrant.
‘Paradise Blush’ has glossy smallish dark green leaves, a dense and upright growth habit, and is quite vigorous during spring and summer (more on this later). I planted mine at 1 meter spacings however you could easily get away with a 1.5 meter spacing. (It would just take an extra year or two to thicken up). A beneficial feature of this hedging material is that it grows equally well and dense in shade as it does in full sun. Even though your hedge will grow more rapidly in the sun, you will not notice any difference in appearance in your hedge if it runs through both sunny and shaded aspects as it does at my place. It naturally wants to grow to around 4 meters so that means you are not planting anything that, deep down, really just wants to be a massive tree better suited to the middle of a paddock on some farm. This means it is easily kept in check, which leads me to ‘prunability’…
I keep my Paradise Blush well trimmed, and due to its habit find it can easily be maintained at 1.8m high and no more than 80cm wide. The important point to note here is that a good hedging plant must be able to be trimmed hard and it must be able to reshoot from old wood when required, which Camellias manage to do reassuringly well. Unlike conifers, if life gets away on you for a while, and if your hedge gets out of control like a hormone injected teenager, then you can give it some tough lovin’ and bring it back under control with a good hard prune. In terms of a maintenance schedule, as with all hedges, frequent light prunes are better than a sporadic hard prune. This is due largely in part to the fact that a light prune allows you to just blow the small trimmings underneath as a mulch and it saves the time-consuming task of cleaning up. I have a 70 metre stretch of Camellia sasanqua hedge and I simply walk along it with the hedge trimmers every three months. It takes no more than 1-2 hours to knock the whole lot off. I think that’s worth the effort. It really only grows during the spring and summer anyway so that leaves you a good 6 months of the year when it doesn’t do much. The winter prune is just to appease the OCD in us and to remove a few daggy bits.
So all things considered, I can highly recommend Camellia sasanqua ‘Paradise Blush’ as an ideal hedging medium. It just ticks all the boxes and in my experience have found it to be a low maintenance, hardy plant that provides a wonderful backbone to my garden. I love it.
We’d love to hear of your experience of the drought and heat tolerance of the ‘Paradise’ range of camellias
And are you, like Ash, in two minds about flowering hedges?
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