Is there a tapestry hedge in your future?

Story and Photography By Lynn Carlson

We are all familiar with long rows of identical evergreen shrubs or trees, Leyland cypress (×Hesperotropsis leylandii) for example. But tapestry hedge includes several species of evergreens, or a mixture of evergreen and deciduous species, some tall, some short. Look to the aged hedgerows of England or nearby scenic byways for inspiration. Your hedge may be tall or short, but in all cases the point is to delineate space, whether a property border or a garden bed.

A new hedge of Leyland cypress, which even though properly planted, shows uneven growth due to soil changes along the row. Even worse, Leyland cypress is extremely susceptible to fatal fungal diseases.

Watching your tapestry grow and evolve will be one of the many joys of gardening. Tapestry hedges make good edges!

Tapestry hedges have some advantages over monoculture hedges. They tend to be better able to resist the spread of disease – an entire monoculture hedge can be destroyed if just one becomes infected. They can be designed to add four-season interest and wildlife habitat, and allow the gardener to express more style and creativity. A tapestry hedge can also solve the common problem of a boundary in a location that progresses from sunny to shady location. In addition, the hedge’s informal style camouflages uneven growth as different plants mature.

This short hedge spans sun to shade and contains Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’ (a non-invasive form), Abelia x grandiflora ‘Rose Creek’, Phenomenal lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Niko’),’ and ‘Salem’ rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Salem’). These plants are hardy at least to Zone 6, with the possible exception of ‘Salem’ rosemary.

So where to start? Plan as you would any shrub border: 
• Analyze your site for sun/shade requirements, soil properties, and dimensions. 

• When considering trees and shrubs to use, make sure your choices won’t outgrow the site. Choose fewer than five kinds of trees and shrubs, repeated, for unity. The sidebar may give you a few ideas.

• Take advantage of various colors, textures, and forms to create a pleasing vista; combine deciduous flowering plants with evergreens for year-round interest and privacy. 

• Prepare the site by first clearing the area of existing vegetation. There are many different ways to accomplish this – soil solarization, manually with a shovel or hoe, or what’s known as sheet mulching, which is simply layering materials – beginning with cardboard or layers of newspaper followed by layers of manure or compost, then dried leaves or ground bark, and topped off with a material such as topsoil. (There are many, many different methods of sheet composting – just research a bit to find which works best for you.) If you skip this step you may never be rid of weed problems! 

• Follow best planting practices for trees and shrubs, placing plants closer together than you might normally.

A close planting of shrubs and trees such as this will cause the soil to be on the dry side, as all those roots extend and suck up moisture. An underpinning of mulch will make it all look neat, as well as help conserve the moisture the plants will need. If your permanent plants are slow to achieve the desired height, use annuals, such as sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), or vines to add temporary height.

Watching your tapestry grow and evolve will be one of the many joys of gardening. Tapestry hedges make good edges!

This mature tapestry hedge has both deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs that herald spring with a blaze of Forsythia, followed by redbud (Cercis spp.) and dogwood blossoms.
Only one month later, the hedge is ablaze with dogwood, redbud, and emerging leaves.
Even in winter, the leafless deciduous plants provide privacy and the evergreens retain their form. The entire hedge is one tree and two shrubs wide – an accessible width even for less expansive properties.


Any tree and shrub combination that pleases you can work as a tapestry hedge, as long as you have adequate room for the mature height and spread. Here are just a few options; many will do well in sun or partial shade.

‘Snow Tower’ kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Snow Tower’) matures to approximately 10-15 feet tall and 4-8 feet wide. Flowers in June are followed by showy fruit; deciduous; Zones 5-9.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Mayfield’ is a narrow selection of this elegant tree. It may eventually reach 30 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Clear yellow fall foliage; deciduous; Zones 4-9.

Native eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) comes in many forms. Emerald Sentinel (‘Corcorco’) and ‘Taylor’ are two columnar forms to look for; evergreen; Zones 3-9.

Emerald Green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) is an evergreen conifer, 10-15 feet tall by 4 feet wide; Zones 3-7.

‘San Jose’ false holly (Osmanthus x fortunei ‘San Jose’) is an interesting broad-leafed evergreen with fragrant fall flowers. These plants are usually male and do not fruit. Zones 6-10.

Florida hobblebush (Agarista populifolia) has an arching, multi-stemmed habit, reaches 8-10 feet, and has cream-colored blooms May and June. Best in part shade to full shade; evergreen; Zones 6 (5)-9.

‘Toyo-Nishiki’ flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo-Nishiki’) sports early spring blooms in both white and pink (other colors are available). Rounded outline; deciduous; 8-10 feet tall; Zones 5-8.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) flowers in many colors, single or double, through much of the summer. Vase-shaped; deciduous; to 10 feet tall; Zones 5-11.

Oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) has massive flower panicles in early summer and is available in cultivars that range in height from 3 to 10-plus feet. Deciduous, but holds its leaves late; prefers part shade; Zones 5-9.

‘Winter Red’ winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’) will feed wildlife, but requires a male pollinator to set fruit. Shorter cultivars are available. Deciduous; 6-10 feet; Zones 3-9.

‘Alleghany’ leatherleaf viburnum (V. x rhytidophylloides ‘Alleghany’) has both flowers and fruit to enhance your hedge. Planting another cultivar, such as ‘Willowwood’, will improve fruit set. Evergreen to semi-evergreen, arching habit; 6-10 feet; Zones 5-8.

This baby hedge of broadleaf evergreens will screen this property from the neighbor’s patio. It contains holly, Magnolia, English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), all suitable for partial shade.
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