“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” Audrey Hepburn once famously said. Both Martin Brown, owner of Brown and Company Landscape Gardeners and Tree Surgeons, and Eugene O’Connor, co-owner with Jay Benoza of Bermuda Green Thumb, agree that planning ahead is essential. One of the biggest mistakes first time gardeners can make is to plant before planning. It’s so tempting to choose a tree, a shrub or a hedge simply because you like it and not with any regard for practical realities, such as location. Choosing the right plant for the right space is key, especially where trees are concerned. Like children, they grow. The royal poinciana you plant enthusiastically today may for now perfectly fit the space you have given it but in just a few years could threaten your water tank. So, as O’Connor and Brown both stress, it’s wise to consider the mature size of a plant. But it’s also wise, says Brown, to think about “the prevailing site conditions: exposure to sun and inclement weather, soil depth and quality etc. before piling in.”

Hedging is for many a vital part of a garden since in heavily populated Bermuda it creates privacy between neighbours. When planting a brand-new hedge, it’s tempting to choose a shrub with the quickest rate of growth. This may explain why for many years the hedge of choice was often oleander, match-me-if-you-can and hibiscus. Is choosing a fast-growing plant always a good idea? “It will depend on the space available,” says Brown. “Fast growing is not necessarily the best. Faster growing species tend to have a much looser habit and need more space to grow into to be full. If they don’t have the width to grow into, the constant trimming to keep them in check can lead to thinner understory growth and less privacy lower down, with all the growth higher up. If space is tight, use a more compact, tighter growing species (usually a bit slower growing) like viburnum, privet, mock orange or pittosporum. If there is enough room (at least 10 feet wide) I would always recommend using a mixed species ‘shelter belt’ style of planting to provide a more layered and diverse display, with more privacy and noise reduction.

Both O’Connor and Brown agree endemic buttonwood, green and/or silver, is a good hedging choice. However, O’Connor thinks if security is an issue, Natal plum offers great protection because of its thorns. That said, he doesn’t think pigeon berry a wise choice precisely because of its thorns which, needle-like, are vicious. Natal plum is also wind and salt tolerant, making it a good choice in exposed areas. Variegated match-me-if-you-can, he says, is also wind and salt resistant.

Endemics and natives are always wise choices since they are suited to Bermuda’s climate and soil and are, as Brown says, “a nod to our country’s natural heritage and beauty.” Bermuda Green Thumb, which prides itself on the fact all the plants it sells are homegrown and therefore not prone to disease or scale imported from abroad, has designated a large part of the nursery to growing Bermuda endemics such as olivewood, cedar, Jamaica dogwood, baygrape, palmetto and turkey berry. But O’Connor does not necessarily rule out exotics, especially if they are not invasive. After all, what would our island be like without our royal poincianas to give us blazing colour and welcome shade? As he observes, they are very much part of our culture and though they can get beaten by the wind, particularly during a hurricane, they are not usually destroyed. Location again is important. “You don’t want a tree to overshade other plants.” He also recommends bougainvillea, which doesn’t need too much water, as well as frangipani, with the proviso that it can’t be transplanted at all.

Typically, how often should landscapers come to maintain hedges and garden? “There is no definite answer to that,” Brown says. “Maintenance should be done as and when the plant requires it, not to a calendar month schedule. There are busier times in the garden than others; developmental pruning to shrubs and groundcovers happens once or twice per year with only light deadheading and pruning in between. Fertilising and mulching are similarly tackled at this time.”

Tips

  • Don’t water plants after a hurricane. Rinse the salt from their leaves.
  • Don’t wait until the hurricane months are upon us to have your trees trimmed. Seek advice in May/June and always consult a qualified tree care provider.

Brown and Company Ltd