Plant Man Column

“A hedge between keeps friendships green.” –French Proverb

The practice of growing hedges as living walls dates back to the earliest farmers, who desired to delineate their parcels, keep their livestock contained, and shield their crops from chilly winds. Additionally, dense thorny shrubs were required for security, deterring both potential two-legged intruders and wild animals.

From a horticultural perspective, shrubs spaced close together to form a barrier are a hedge – from a border of 3’ high Iceberg roses to an imposing row of 50’ high giant bamboo.

A garden may incorporate a wall of shrubs and trees, instead of using masonry or wood. In addition to creating overall property privacy and private spaces, hedges are a primary garden element for establishing a property entry, grounding a home to its site and to line the borders of a driveway.

Letter Kawaratani 1

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A creative hedge of Brazilian Sky flower, Duranta stenostachya, and an entry of Oliver, Olea europa

The psychology of garden hedges may be a window into the motivation of their design. The height of a hedge is more significant than the species; a low hedge of boxwood or myrtle may suggest the resident is welcoming and neighborly, and open to sharing their garden and home.

Letter Kawaratani 2

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Japanese Boxwood, Buxus macrophylla japonica

Conversely, taller hedges, like ficus or podocarpus, may be indicative that privacy is being sought, and that the intent is to create a barrier or shelter from the vagaries of the world. 

Letter Kawaratani 3

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Weeping Fig, Ficus benjamina

It is true that a fine line exists between welcoming and privacy. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Love thy neighbor, but don’t pull down your hedge.” Indeed.

Hedges exist for other reasons. I recall from my days as a delivery boy for the nursery that mature, well-tended hedges were associated with the well-heeled neighborhoods in Laguna, and were often a garden feature for the upwardly mobile to aspire to. My father, Pete, spent hours counseling his clients on the many plant species that could eventually become the perfect hedge; it is not lost on me that the first “Plant Finder” category in the Sunset Western Garden Book is for hedges.

On a less positive note with hedging, feuding neighbors may intentionally plant shrubbery to block ocean views or obstruct light and ocean breezes. These “spite hedges” can be remedied through progressive city ordinances and the legal system.

And so it came to pass that the City of Laguna Beach created 12.14.030 (b) in its Municipal Code to define a hedge – “‘Hedge’ means generally dense vegetation so aligned as to form a physical barrier or fence.” Today, for better or worse, the City is available to adjudicate the height of eligible hedges during a dispute. Among my many random thoughts on the eve of the holiday weekend, I wish that neighborliness and consideration would one day outweigh spite. Be safe and well; and see you next time.

Steve Kawaratani has been a local guy for 69 years. He can be reached at (949) 494.5141 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Steve Kawaratani

Laguna Beach