If you thought that hedges and hedging were restricted to ornamental gardening only, you’d be seriously mistaken!
Hedges are quite useful in a garden, and can serve many functions, such as:
- barriers for security, privacy and screening purposes
- shade for people or gardens – especially protection from from the hot afternoon sun
- aesthetic elements that cover ugly fences and buildings
They can do all this but hedges can also be productive! Yes, you heard right, edible hedges! In permaculture, each design element ideally serves more than one purpose, and a hedge can serve all these purposes listed as well as supplying food.
Hedges don’t have to be rectangular borders either, they can be clipped to any shape you like. This includes including informal compact tree-shapes, which look just like small trees with a trunk and not the straight, tightly clipped formal hedges we’re accustomed to.
Trees that can be hedged can be clipped to the size of shrubs or small trees and be very easily incorporated into a multi-layered food forest design. There are endless permaculture design possibilities when hedging plants are considered.
You’re probably now wondering what edible shrubs and trees can be hedged?
Edible Hedging Shrubs & Trees
If we’re looking for tough, drought tolerant deciduous trees, pomegranates make excellent flowering and fruiting hedges, and their thorns discourage anyone trying to get through if you use these hedges as a barrier.
Most people prefer evergreen hedges, and luckily there’s a huge choice of edible evergreens that can be hedged. We’ll look at few examples here.
Olives are also commonly hedged for privacy screening purposes, often extending above fence height to block out neighbours, and clipped to a fixed height above the fence.
All guavas can be hedged. This includes the cold tolerant feijoa (pineapple guava) Feijoa sellowiana, cherry guavas (red or strawberry guava) Psidium cattleianum and lemon guava (yellow guava) Psidium lucidium for cooler temperate climates.
Feijoas have dark green leaves with silver undersides, much like an olive tree, but with wider and rounder leaves. They make a very attractive hedge that can be clipped informally as a row of small round trees blending together into a hedgerow, or as a very formal, tight rectangular hedge. These trees also flowers, producing stunning flowers, which are also edible and taste very sweet. Left alone, the flowers develop into delicious sweet, aromatic fruit with a unique blend of flavours described as bearing a resemblance to a mix of pineapple, apple and mint.
If you’re after a low hedge similar to a Dwarf Box (Dutch Box) hedge, you can use Chilean Guava Ugni molinae, an evergreen with glossy green leaves and dense foliage, which produces small white or pink flowers in spring, which become bright purple to red berries around 1cm in size, which despite their size, are packed with flavour. It’s slow growing so that might be undesirable while getting the hedge to size but it’s easier to maintain once grown to size.
For a truly multi-purpose hedge, one that fruits and also is nitrogen-fixing (makes its own nitrogen fertilizer much like beans, peas and other legumes), there’s Elaeagnus × ebbingei. According to the organisation Plants For A Future, it can grow to 5mx5m and can be hedged as small as 1.5m high x 45cm wide. It is very drought resistant and will tolerate poor soils, coastal conditions and salty ocean winds, and will grow equally well in full sun and fairly deep shade. It’s also frost hardy down to around –20 degrees C. The only thing it doesn’t like is waterlogged soil.
Elaeagnus x ebbingei has large, attractive, grey-green leaves with silver undersides. It is evergreen and fast growing, adding 30-45cm of new growth each year. It produces small but highly scented flowers in autumn, which produce marbled red egg-shaped fruit 2cm long x 1cm in spring, which are quite astringent until they fully ripen, at which point they become quite delicious to eat. They contain large seeds which are also edible, just spit out the fibrous seed coat if you want to also eat the seeds.
These are just some examples of the range of edible plants that can be hedged. Edible hedges fit nicely with the permaculture design principle that every element serves more than one purpose, and to be honest, hedging is far easier than pruning!