Garden in Umbria - a view across the front gravel garden in May 2020

Design - Thorny subject - June 2023

This morning I was greeted by a disaster zone: the pots on the terrace have been dug up or turned over during the night by – who? Badger? Porcupine? Whoever it was they have made a terrible mess with compost and plants thrown all over the place. Time to think about making the boundaries to the garden more resilient to invaders – without, of course, keeping out those friendly visitors like hedgehogs.

Pyracantha coccinea blossom

I am thinking about thorny plants that can put up a defensive barrier. But they need not be unattractive or ugly: this year the blossom on prickly shrubs has been fabulous, particularly the Pyracantha. The butterflies and bees have been having a feast. And the berries in autumn light up the roadsides with brilliant yellow, orange and red. Best of all: Pyracantha is a native plant which needs no watering or care of any kind, not even pruning. I have seen Pyracantha clipped into topiary shapes but it always looks painfully artificial.

Pyracantha coccinea berries
Pyracantha coccinea yellow variety

Many prickly plants have generous fruits - in fact I wonder if they have evolved to have spines to protect the harvest and stop the berries being eaten before they mature?

Rosa canina (Dog rose) hips
Rosa glauca hips

Roses are in this category, the wild rose Rosa canina making a tall free form hedge or Rosa glauca a dense, creeping prickly thicket.

Pomegranate in autumn with sharp spines

Shrubs such as pomegranate, blackthorn and hawthorn are suited to our climate and make a spiny hedge too.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) berries

A useful citrus, Poncirus has savage thorns but is tolerant of winter cold so it is worth braving the spines to have the bright fruits in autumn despite our difficult climate. It is also easily trimmed to shape (wear stout gloves!) and can be attractive topiary with fragrant early spring blossom.

Poncirus trifoliata

A tall shrub that often is overlooked but I find rather attractive is the Spina-christi or crown of thorns that grows wild by the roadside here. The small yellow flowers in spring are not very impressive but the fruits with their aerodynamic ‘wings’ are most characteristic, and of course its curved thorns that show especially cruelly in winter.

Paliurus spina-christi seeds

So will a hedge of spiny shrubs keen my new foes the badger and porcupine at bay? Somehow I doubt it, but the display of blossom, berries and architectural thorny branches will be appreciated year round.

Red admiral butterfly on Pyracantha blossom

Left un-pruned a Pyracantha can be a graceful ornamental shrub

The photo at the top of this page shows the sharp spines of gorse (Ulex europaeus) a shrub native to Umbria which can be useful for defensive hedging

Many of these articles first appeared in the Castiglione del Lago monthly newsletter “Qua e là” edited by Priscilla Worsley

All text and photographs © Yvonne Barton unless stated otherwise

website designed and maintained
by Hereford Web Design