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Hamptons Life

Nov 10, 2010 12:40 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Privet, Speedy And Durable, Is An East End Staple

Nov 10, 2010 12:40 PM

Driving down an East End street can be like wandering through a hedge maze—and more often than not, those towering walls of green are made up of privet, a hearty plant that made its way to the United States from its origins on the other side of the world.

The hedge, though not indigenous here, has emerged as a staple in East End front, side and back yards for a quality not normally attributed to most desirable plants: the blinding speed of its growth.

“It’s fast-growing, it shears well, so it forms a very dense privacy screening,” said landscape designer Mary Gotovich, who owns MTG Design in East Hampton and works part-time for Mecox Gardens in Southampton. “They adapt very well here and grow like gangbusters.”

Over the years, privet—which originally hails from Asia and Australia—has become a favorite for shielding local estates from view for other reasons as well: it grows thick, holds onto its leaves and comes at a reasonable price, according to Shawn Eckhardt of Whitmores Landscape Service in East Hampton.

“I just think the Southampton/East Hampton estate hedging has made it a really popular item,” he said.

The plant thrives in the well-drained soils of the terminal moraines that make up Eastern Long Island, according to Charlie Marder, the founder of Marders, a nursery, garden shop and landscaping design business in Bridgehampton. Privet is more sluggish in other nearby estate areas such as Greenwich, Connecticut and Westchester, New York, he reported.

“It’s a really ideal climate for them in this sort of ocean- or marine-dominated [area],” Mr. Marder said.

Privet came to the United States about two centuries ago, Ms. Gotovich said. In traditional Chinese medicine, the berries from a type of privet are used to boost the immune system, she added—although she recommended that people refrain from eating the berries they find around their yards and neighborhoods.

Privet usually grows rapidly in the spring, then flowers in the summer, according to Mr. Marder. It slows down in the hot weather, and then, when the air starts to cool in mid-August, it will begin growing quickly again, and remain hearty throughout the year.

“You could almost call it a semi-evergreen,” he said. “It wants to hold its leaves late into the fall, and sometimes it will even hold its leaves late through the year.”

Midge Fowler, the owner of Fowler Farms in Southampton, said privet is also resistant to the salty ocean air—another reason the privacy hedges on the East End are “almost exclusively” made of privet, she said.

If left to its own devices, privet can shoot up about 2 feet per year and will quickly turn into a spindly, open hedge, Mr. Marder said. But if it’s pruned into a tight hedge, it will typically grow about 6 inches per year. A hedge can top off at as high as 24 or 25 feet, he said.

Here on the East End, privet is shipped out from local growers by the truckload, and can sell out years in advance, according to Ms. Gotovich. Mr. Marder said the price for a single privet plant can range from $18 to $59, depending on the size and thickness of the hedge, as well as whether it comes “bare root” or with the roots and soil in a bag. A single privet hedge is usually sold when it’s between 3 and 5 feet tall, he said.

A privet hedge is typically trimmed twice per year, according to Mr. Marder—once before the Fourth of July, and again in August. But in cases in which a homeowner wants a hard-edged privet, landscapers might trim the hedge as many as four or five times per year. And while privet would normally produce a white flower in the summer, an early summer pruning will usually do away with the buds before they bloom—although that practice may cause homeowners to miss out.

“When it’s in bloom, it smells like heaven,” Ms. Gotovich said.

A less common technique is to let a privet hedge grow for about five years, and then cut it back hard, for a more feathery look. Or, one could trim the bottom but let the top grow wild, resulting in “a very punk haircut,” according to Mr. Marder. “It looks like a mohawk,” he said.

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Nice article about privets : ) so much time/$ to keep them tidy
By Aeshtron (431), Southampton on Dec 1, 18 6:34 PM