Harry Potter's cousins, the Dursleys lived in Privet Drive and, by association, gave it a bad name. Actually privet is a well-named plant; well grown, it forms one of the thickest privacy hedges there is.
Like most plants, privet prefers a nice, warm, sunny bed. Who doesn't? And grown in such a place, it will reward you well. However (and unlike most plants), it is also prepared to make a good fist of growing in deep shade. It will need clipping a little more often to keep it dense, and the foliage will be a shade deeper green, but it will produce an excellent hedge.
Read any planting instructions and you are likely to meet a phrase similar to 'incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter when planting'. Well, plant privet hedging in good stuff and it roars away. Some say almost too much so, complaining that it is too bushy and lush. Each to their own, but it also does pretty well in poor soils. The sort of dust one often finds in front gardens in towns, exhausted by those lime trees that drip sticky stuff all over newly washed cars. This won't stop the sticky stuff, but it will grow in tired soils better than most plants.
At some level drainage is important to all plants - almost everything likes an 'open, well drained soil' and privet is no exception. To be fair it hates standing water (although I have seen them hanging on in an Irish peat bog), but it will grow perfectly well in wet ground that puddles when it rains, takes an age to dry and that goes brick hard when it does and stays like that through those memorable hot summers we all enjoy now climate change has reached the UK!
Talking of heat and dust, this plant is a pollution specialist. It handles traffic fumes, city dirt, acid rain and all the other things that most hedge plants hate as if they were food and drink.
Speed of growth in a hedging barrier is fairly important - a dense hedge is of less use after one has died than before... but fortunately this is one plant that does not hang about. Once established (often in the first year of planting) privet hedging plants can easily grow at two feet (60 cms) in a season. That speed of growth also keeps it relatively pest free - there is always more privet than insects that eat it.
While there are some evergreens that grow faster, non clip better. Privet hedging is the poor man's topiary plant - the stems take a long time to go woody, so they are easy to cut making straight edges and clean curves a doddle. And because it will regrow from old wood, mistakes with the hedge trimmer disappear in a trice. None of those nasty brown patches you see on Leylandii hedges!
One thing stands certain. Wherever you grow privet as a hedge, you will quickly produce a barrier that is pretty impenetrable to humans. By the way, a tip if you want to keep dogs or cats out, or in, is put chicken wire along the line of the hedge when you are planting it. The privet grows through it, anchoring it in place and within a very few months it is completely invisible. Privet roots are so thick, that digging under the wire is beyond most animals (except anteaters).
Clipping two or three times a year is about all the care and maintenance that a privet hedge demands. It will appreciate a mulch of well-rotted organic matter, and it will repay being watered in a drought, but these are luxuries. Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) in its green and variegated forms is simply the most self-sufficient evergreen hedging plant there is.
Anna Stenning is an expert on privet hedging having had experience in planting these.