Our beloved privets are both practical and picturesque.
BY MICHAEL BRAVERMAN
A QUIET STREET lined with high privet hedges, excluding outsiders and enclosing those who belong, is an oft-evoked (and generally accurate) representation of the Hamptons. It’s hardly a new idea, however. The British have lived with and loved privet hedges for many centuries, since the dense green foliage first kept out prowling beasts and protected the well-mannered inhabitants. Ideas on what constitutes propriety have changed, and many of those beasts have been tamed, but the image of hedges as an indicator of separation has nonetheless endured.
Privet, which has been here with us since Colonial times, is really just a hardy, simple and useful plant that people refuse to leave free of meaning and significance. When folks aren’t using it to show off their independence, the artistic gardener types have fun shaping it into fearsome bears and other topiary creatures. And before the days of Big Pharmaceutical, privet also had some nifty medicinal uses—too intimate for this column to fully explain.
More recently, a developer in Southampton planted more than two miles of privet hedges in an attempt to convince buyers of over $12 million worth of vacant lots that the brand-new streets of a former farm field are really extensions of the nearby estate area. And Hampton Sun, a local skin-care company, had the inspired idea of capturing the charming and familiar scent of privet blooms, rather than more exotic flowers, for its products. Love it or hate it, privet is securely rooted in our lives in the Hamptons.
PHOTOGRAPH BY OCEAN PHOTOGRAPHY/VEER