How can you nip intruders in the bud?

Gardens aren’t just for leisure – plan your planting carefully and you could boost your property’s security at the same time, says Steve Martin

Daniela McBride’s back garden slopes down to a wild section adjoining a quiet road. The boundary wall is much lower on the road side and when local schoolchildren spotted a trampoline at the bottom of the garden, they just couldn’t resist hopping over for a bounce.

“They weren’t really doing any harm,” says Londoner McBride, 60, “but then older children started coming in and they broke a fence and were quite abusive.”

Chris Beardshaw

Reluctant to build an ugly, high wall, she opted for a thorny hedge instead. That was four years ago and she has had no problems with intruders since.

A bit of judicious planting can deter more than just mischievous children. With crime statistics showing burglaries are on the increase, police are keen to encourage defensive gardening.

It’s often an opportunistic crime, says Paul Francis, a crime reduction officer in Gloucestershire, where the police have run several defensive gardening initiatives. “Burglars don’t like thorny hedges as they might leave shreds of clothing from which we can identify them or prick themselves and leave blood from which we might get DNA.”

McBride’s garden designer, Philippa O’Brien, chose the Pyracantha, or Firethorn, that’s now flourishing.

“Not only does it have the most unpleasant thorns,” explains O’Brien, “but it will grow well where many other plants won’t, particularly in dry shade. It’s also fast growing and you can buy 6ft plants for £20 to £30, so it’s a good way to put in an instant thorny hedge.”

For spacious country gardens or a wilder look, TV gardener Chris Beardshaw suggests a mixed thorn hedge. “They work really well to form a dense barrier that has benefits to wildlife in terms of food and habitat but minimises animal intrusion and helps with security. A mix of species makes it attractive and productive.

A bit of judicious planting can deter more than just mischievous children. With burglaries on the increase, police are keen to encourage defensive gardening

“The ones I typically include are Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) for the sloe berries, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), and Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) which has bright orange berries and is particularly thorny. I like to add in something like Dog Rose (Rosa Canina), too, for its fabulous single flowers and delicious scent.”

Paul Francis also advises putting in prickly plants to protect other vulnerable areas, such as where someone could climb onto a flat roof and gain access to an upstairs window. A flimsy trellis fixed to the top of walls and fences is another good anti-climb device, especially with thorny climbers, which can also be trained up drainpipes.

Finally, front garden hedges should be no more than around 3ft high and shrubs should be kept pruned so they don’t provide cover for intruders.

Daniela McBride is very happy with her hedge. “It fits with the wild part of the garden, has flowers in summer and berries in the autumn, and it hides the wall,” she says.

The only downside of defensive plants is they bite back when you try to prune them, so a long-handled hedge-trimmer is a must.

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