The Wildlife Hedge: COMMON BOX (BUXUS SEMPERVIRENS) AND PRIVET (LIGUSTRUM OVALIFOLIUM)

This post covers two popular hedges that have become mainstays of our garden landscape – Box and Privet. Both hedges are often chosen but, perhaps because of this popularity, often taken for granted…

Horticulturally, these two hedging plants have much in common: both are hardy, extremely easy to maintain and are happy in any soil and in sun or partial shade. Privet (pictures above) is more drought resistant and prefers a dry soil while Box needs a little extra moisture. Box, though, is a slower grower and reaches around 3m while Privet achieves its 4m a little quicker. Both are evergreens, though Privet will shed leaves in a particularly harsh winter.

But what does the wildlife think?

  • Both have a similarly dense structure that will offer shelter and a potential nesting site to smaller birds. Mammals and insects will feel equally at home.
  • It’s rare to see a Box – whether growing as a hedge or in containers – in flower as they are almost invariably clipped to topiary perfection – a process that, in any case and over time, actually discourages the plant from flowering.  It’s therefore unusual for a garden Box to serve as a food source. However, if you have the space and inclination, plant a Box or two and let it grow as nature intended. The resulting tree(s) will be both ornamental and a different type of haunt for bees, birds, insects and mammals.
  • A Privet hedge, however, will readily flower – and there, as they say, is the rub. Privet flowers have a strong and distinctive scent that divides gardeners and their visitors pretty much down the middle. For some it is the welcome scent of summer, for others it is either reminiscent of something rather less pleasant or a trigger for hay fever or a mild allergic reaction. If you are a fan, then let your Privet bloom and enjoy the bees and butterflies it will attract and feed. Trim in late winter once the birds have had a chance to eat their way through the resultant – and attractively black – berries.
  • The foliage of both Box and Privet grows right to the ground providing an undergrowth for smaller, security conscious  birds and mammals. To offer a similar benefit to larger creatures, you can select one or two spots that are less visible and trim away around 8-10 cm off the very bottom.