The wind likes to garden. It delights in whipping a bush into a shape, sweeping autumn leaves into corners, toppling those with lofty desires and desiccating the tender. It can be kind, too, bringing soft breezes that cool the sweltering and clear the air. But we notice the wind mostly when it’s furious and fickle: it reduces moisture from both soil and foliage, which can be disastrous when things are just getting going, because it thwarts new growth; it can also damage plants in full growth, where the foliage acts like a sail.

Offering shelter from the wind does more than just help out you and your plants: pollinators can’t work well in windy conditions, while wildlife in general prefers to be out of it, too. And the best way to temper the effect of wind is to filter it. The most successful windbreaks – whether hedges, shelterbelts, shrubs or fences – let some wind through. Hedges are great windbreaks, though you may need some form of alternative barrier until they’re established. While not pretty, a commercial windbreak made from thick plastic mesh slows the speed of the wind while allowing plenty of air to circulate, though the windbreak mesh needs to be taut to work, and is best used with straining wires attached to sturdy posts. It’s not cheap, either, though eBay is worth a look. It’s a good solution if you can’t afford the cost of wooden trellis or have a large area to cover.

If you don’t have space for a hedge or a screen of trees or shrubs, a wooden fence is the next best option. Go for a slatted structure, hurdles or trellis, rather than solid wood, because the lee side of a solid structure often suffers from turbulence that in extreme cases can knock over plants and cause the whole fence to fall over. Essentially, the wind comes to a halt on the windward side, then does a somersault over the barrier. A slatted fence or porous wall also stops cold air accumulating at the base, which can cause frost pockets that damage plants.

Living windbreaks, be they hedges or shelterbelts, are best established between now and early spring (wait for spring to plant evergreens). A hedge made of hazel with a mixture of these edibles would make the most of a small space: elderberry, wild pear, crab apples, Japanese quince (Chaenomeles), fuchsia, cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), damson (Prunus insititia), hedgerow rose (Rosa rugosa), juneberries (Amelanchier) and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata).

If you want something showy for a sunny spot, the pretty daisy bush, Olearia cheesemanii, is salt- and wind-tolerant. In tougher spots, try O. macrodonata ‘Major’, which is quick-growing. If kept clipped rather than left to roam, Escallonia rubra and its hybrids are another flowering choice, particularly in coastal areas; while Hebe parvifolia, H. salicifolia or H. x franciscana ‘Lobelioides’ are worth considering, too.

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Rachel De Thame

Gardener at BBC Gardeners World
Rachel de Thame is a UK gardening expert and TV presenter, born in Camden in London, England, popular on the BBC Gardeners World program.