As a rule, hedges are best kept to just one variety of plant. The strong visual impact of a well-kept, well-cut line of box or beech or yew owes much to its unbroken uniformity. This rule has its many exceptions, and one of them is when a more "natural" look is required, perhaps to blend in with a rural setting.

In this situation, a mixture of native hedgerow species can work well. Hedgerows are an ancient part of the landscape, and the older they are, the more species they contain. There are many to choose from, all with evocative names: cherry-plum, crack-willow, guelder-rose, sweetbrier, spindle and buckthorn.

The hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, is one of the most common and one of the best deciduous hedgerow shrubs. It was once believed that its creamy- white flowers carried the smell of the Great Plague of London, that its branches furnished the Crown of Thorns and that dreadful consequences would result from bringing its blossom indoors. It has small, lobed leaves, which are the freshest of spring greens when they first unfurl, and its frothy blossom is followed by bright red berries.

In the changing seasonal tapestry of a mixed hedge the familiar, glossy- green, prickly leaves of the holly, Ilex aquifolium, provide a constant, evergreen thread. The tradition of bringing the branches of evergreen trees inside in winter is an ancient one, and holly, in particular, with its red berries, was held as a symbol of fertility and a protection against witchcraft.

The final plant in this trio is the field maple, Acer campestre. Left alone, it can make a small tree, possibly up to 30ft high, but more usually it forms a rounded shrub. It has finely fissured, corky bark, winged seeds and blunt-lobed leaves that turn the brightest yellow of any of our native trees in autumn.

As you might expect of native plants, the hawthorn, holly and field maple are all utterly hardy. They will put up with a wide range of different soils and grow in sun or medium shade. For a good thick hedge, space the young plants about 1.5ft apart in two parallel rows, allowing 1ft between the rows. Water and feed well, especially in the first years.

John the Gardener