In reporting my progress in beginning a brand new garden, I've covered the challenge of having so much empty space to fill, the challenge of poor soil, and now we come to the final (I hope!) challenge, at least for this season, which is how to, as quickly as possible, provide screening.

The Many Uses of Screening

Screening really does so many things for us, but the most obvious one is to hide unattractive views.  And I've got one - a neighbor's storage area.

Screening also gives us privacy, and I'm discovering how much I miss the privacy I had in my last, much larger garden with plenty of space between homes.

Screens can also block wind, snow, salt and noise.

And from a design point of view, screening provides an essential element that makes a garden a garden - a sense of enclosure.  Tall plants along a property line define the space AND provide a backdrop for shorter plants.

Factors in Choosing the Right Plants

  • Size when fully grown.  Boy, is this one easy to overlook!  I'm assuming that's why we see so many large plants where smaller ones should go.  Either that, or the gardener was using wishful thinking.
  • Shape and form.  In tight spots or along the house, a narrow columnar shape will save years of pruning another plant that wants to be wide, which pruning usually ruins the natural form of plants.
  • Leaf density.  Dense foliage does a better job at blocking noise.
  • Branch arrangement.  To hide a fence, for example, the screening plant needs to have full branching at the base.
  • Whether screening is needed year-round or just during the growing season.  In other words, will deciduous trees and shrubs do the job or only evergreens?
  • Like anywhere, site factors like sun and shade have to be considered.

My Screening Plants

The top priority here was to screen the aforementioned storage area, and the three Cryptomerias in the top photo will do the job nicely, and fairly soon.  Even in shady spots I've found these Japanese cedars to grow quite fast - not as fast as the famously fast-growing 'Green Giant' Arborvitae and Leyland cypress, but still pretty fast.  On the right is one that I planted in my last garden in the shade of a full-grown oak, and it attained this stature in five years.  This is one of my favorite conifers for its shape and gorgeous color but also because it's soft to the touch.

By the way, I was perusing some "before" photos of this same garden and noticed that the neighbor's storage area wasn't visible!  Unwittingly, when I removed a large misplaced (to my eye) Burning Bush, I'd also opened up the ugly view.  Don't you sometimes wish gardens were like living rooms, where we can just buy furniture of the right size?  Dealing with plants sometimes takes more patience than I really have.

Along the side of my back garden I'm growing two types of screening plants - five 'Blue Princess' hollies that will eventually be 8-10 feet tall, and where shorter screening will suffice, several full-size Abelias.  Those Abelias smell good, are loved by butterflies, and grow incredibly fast.  The hollies have been slow-growers in their first year, but I'm hoping they'll impress me next year.

In the front yard much shorter screening will do the job of defining the space, so I've chosen two plants that have grown so well for me over the years - boxwood and Spirea - shown here along the front of my last home.  The evergreen boxwood will be fine in the shady side of the garden and the Spirea, though it loses its leaves, will still have a woody presence all winter and, thanks to its chartreuse foliage, will pop all season.

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