How to grow Hornbeam

It’s was a frosty morning here in Lancashire, North West England. Despite the cold I was tempted outside to have a look at the garden and of course to take some pictures of frosted plants. As expected there were lots of frosted seedheads and the duck pond was completely frozen over. At the edge of the pond a some of the plants were lit up by the early morning sunshine.

One of the first things we did when we moved here was to plant a long Hornbeam hedge at the bottom of our garden. We chose Hornbeam for several reasons:

  1. It’s a beautiful tree. Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) has deeply ridged lime green leaves which unfurl in late April, turn mid-green in summer, yellow in autumn and then remain a lovely coppery colour throughout winter.
  2. Hornbeam copes well with our heavy clay soil. It doesn’t grow well where the ground is permanently waterlogged but it does amazingly well with wet ground. It’s very hardy thriving in cold and exposed windy situations.
  3. Garden birds such as thrushes, blackbirds, wrens and finches often choose Hornbeam hedges for nest sites. They’re a good supply of food too. Moth caterpillars feed on Hornbeam leaves and the birds feed on them.

Since then I’ve discovered that it’s also brilliant for cutting for it’s fresh new foliage in spring and is particularly amazing on a sunny winter day when the leaves are backlit by sunlight.

Hornbeam is a deciduous tree which can also be grown as a hedge. 

Like a Beech hedge, Hornbeam often holds onto the leaves throughout winter. Hornbeam leaves are usually darker brown and deeply ridged with serrated edges. When the sun shines through them on a winters day like today they are even more beautiful.

If you want to grow your own hedge, then Hornbeam is available now as bare root plants from all good nurseries or garden centres. Usually they are available throughout the dormant season from mid-autumn until late winter. (October until the end of February.) These bare root young plants are known as whips and are usually sold in bundles of 25 for around £1 each. You can’t plant them when the ground is frozen or waterlogged but any other time throughout autumn and winter is fine.

How to plant a bare root hedge.

All you need to do is make a slit in the ground with your spade and push the roots into the earth. Firm the turf back in place with your feet and plant the next one about 60cm/two feet away. There is no need for a double row despite all the advice to the contrary. Young Hornbeam plants establish quickly and will produce a good hedge in just a few years. As the trees grow they will naturally shade out any grass and unwanted plants (weeds) growing close by without you having to resort to any nasty chemicals.

Most traditional gardening books will advise you to prepare the ground for your new hedge by killing the weeds, digging a strip 60cm/two feet wide and adding plenty of organic matter before planting a double row of young trees. That’s a lot of hard work and completely unnecessary I think, especially if you are planting a long hedge.

How to Prune Hornbeam Hedges

Let your hedge grow to the required height, somewhere around five or six feet /1.5m – 1.8m is perfect for most gardens. Trim the hedge once each year in mid to late summer. (July or August.) You might want to bundle up and save some of the twiggy prunings because they are perfect for use in your borders to support any floppy flowering plants next year.

What’s it like in your garden today? Did you have frost or snow?  Gillian


Duck inspired plan for 2019

It was a frosty start this morning in our Lancashire garden with wildlife tumbling in from the fields for their breakfast as usual. I nipped out in my dressing gown and wellies to take a few photos of these wild ducks. They pop in every morning for a light snack of corn followed by the all you can eat buffet in the borders consisting mainly of fat black slugs and juicy pale snails.

Do ducks have a plan for 2019? I wondered as I took the pictures. I doubt that!  These ducks just seem to be enjoying their lives to the full. So this year I’ve decided to take a leaf out of their book.

I’ve decided to have more fun every day this year. If it’s not enjoyable then I’m just not doing it! I’ll be flexing my delegation muscles so I can spend more time doing what I love. We’ll see how that goes as the year unfolds.

You can learn a lot from wild creatures and the natural world I find. So I’ve decided it’s time to really look at what’s going on around me, to observe nature and all the beautiful details through the seasons.

Like the ducks I’ll be rooting through the borders too, but I’ll be having a good clear out and sowing seeds. You may be relieved to know that for my mid-morning snack I’ll be having cake instead of slugs though.

I’m joining Tina at mygardenersays for Wildlife Wednesday (first Wednesday of the month)

What inspired your plans for 2019?

Galanthus nivalis

It’s Friday so it’s Looking Good in the Garden. We are right in the middle of a storm. It’s been blowing a gale overnight and now even thought the sun is shining there’s a roaring above my garden studio as the wind whips through the bare branches of the oak trees. But Snowdrops are out in full force in our Bluebell Wood nodding their tiny heads in the high speed gusts.

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Hydrangea Annabelle

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is beautiful when it’s in flower with creamy white blooms… and still gorgeous when the flowers dry in autumn. Usually these dried flower heads last all winter. Many gardeners tidy up their Hydrangeas in autumn pruning the shrub to remove faded flowers… but it’s such a shame to chop these heads off I think.

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Hamamelis mollis

In the UK there’s not much in flower at this time of year. Mid-winter is the time that most of us rely on colourful stems, bark and berries for colour in our gardens. Evergreen shrubs with interesting leaves are good too. They are hardy and reliable and for most of the year can be left alone to get on with providing a permanent framework for your star flowering plants.

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A Cold and Frosty Morning

It’s quite unusual for us to have snow or even a hard frost in this mild part of North west England. Occasionally we do have a cold snap and the garden takes on a magical look. It is beautiful for us to look at but when the pond freezes over it’s not much much fun for our resident Moorhens.

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Frosty Apple Tree

Frosty-Apples-ThumbnailHundreds of geese flew over our garden this morning.  They fly in from countries in the far north and east to spend winters in our warm estuaries here on the west coast of northern England. It’s an amazing sight to see them fly in V formations. The sound of them honking and calling to each other reminds me that cold weather on the way.

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