Good Hedges, Good Neighbours

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States is known to have said, “Love thy neighbour, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” Given how many different cultures have versions of this seemingly contradictory proverb, it clearly represents a common sentiment among neighbours everywhere. But how can you be neighbourly if you are divided by hedges? These sentiments are not totally contradictory and are probably better known by the saying “Good fences make good neighbours. If you know where you stand, where your property begins and ends, it makes for better relationships.

However, disputes over boundaries and hedges can and do occur all too frequently and can lead to misery on both sides of the line. Below is a quote about hedges and boundaries that I’ve copied from the UK Government website.

You must try to settle a dispute about a high hedge informally before the council can intervene.

Ask your council for a complaint form if the hedge is all of these:

  • 2 or more mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs
  • over 2 metres tall
  • affecting your enjoyment of your home or garden because it’s too tall

 You might have to pay the council a fee to consider your complaint. .

When you can trim hedges or trees

You can trim branches or roots that cross into your property from a neighbour’s property or a public road.

You can only trim up to the property boundary. If you do more than this, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property.

If you live in a conservation area, or the trees in the hedge are protected by a ‘tree preservation order’, you might need your council’s permission to trim them.

If your property borders a road

The highways authority can ask you to cut back hedges or trees on your property if they’re causing an obstruction in the road. If you refuse, they can go into your property without your permission to do the work themselves. They may charge you for this.

Property damage from hedges

Your neighbour is responsible for maintaining their hedges so they don’t, for example, damage your property or grow too high. If they do damage your property, your neighbour may be liable.

 Although hedges are most commonly associated with boundaries between properties they also perform a major design function within the garden too. Indeed hedging plants are not restricted to the usual suspects such as Beech, Yew, Laurel, Privet or Leylandii. More ornate examples could include Choisya ternata, Berberis, Euonymus, Cotoneaster, Hydrangea, Escallonia, Hypericum, Griselinia littoralis, Pyracantha, Hibiscus, Rose, Lavender, Spiraea, Lonicera or Bamboo. If you’re looking for a mixed, native country hedge selection I would recommend Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Dogwood, Spindle, Crab Apple and Wayfaring tree.

My favourite hedging plants are those that can be pruned hard and kept well within the confines of their own space. Plants such as Beech, Yew, Privet, Laural, Holly, Pyracantha and Photinia will all regenerate if pruned back to the main stem and can thus be kept well behaved. Other plants such as Leylandii if allowed to outgrow their allotted space will not regenerate if cut back hard but will take years to simply regrow back to where you didn’t want them. And, talking of trimming hedges, you might like to know that the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds both state that you should not prune between 1st March and 31st August.