Screening, Screening, Screening! With land at a premium and new houses often being built on top of each other the need for gardens to provide a level of screening is regularly towards the top of a design wish list…..
We’re approaching 18 month at Little Acre and the majority of our efforts and time have focused on improving the small woodland. As the old paddock is where the kids spend the large proportion of their time and with the courtyard area being currently where most of our entertaining takes place (mainly due to its location to the fridge!), the formal garden which wraps around the other side of the house hasn’t really had the attention is deserves.
We have grand plans for this part of Little Acre, it is the part of the garden where I can really let the designer in me loose. The area where we can plant those plants I’ve always wanted and build those features we’ve always dreamed of having. The possibilities are limited only by our imagination ( well that and the ever fluctuating yet always restrictive budget).
The majority of the garden can be treated as blank canvas, however there is one aspect of this garden that must be mitigated for in the designs. Despite having a decent sized plot of land, as it wraps around the property on only 3 of the 4 sides the remaining side is dominated by our neighbours house and the only thing that prevents us being currently overlooked is a large area of what can only politely be known as ‘scrub’!
At one stage this boundary had been planted with a mix of shrubs, Rhododendrons, Photinia, Laurel, Azaleas, Spirea, Buddleja and Viburnums to name but a few. However the years of lack of care had done this section of the garden no favours. All the shrubs had grown beyond control, reaching heights of easily 5m plus, with the width of the area being hard to determine as below each of the now fully mature shrubs had grown an understorey of dense brambles and nettles.
When we first arrived at the property, one warm sunny weekend we decided to turn our attention to this area and removed 5 large wheelbarrow worth of weeds, along with pruning back some of the growth. It quickly became apparent that this task was far beyond that which could be achieved over the odd weekend. Within a few weeks the weeds had re established themselves and the cleared area, now having been given the space to breathe, was full of renewed vigour.
There was no two ways about it, no matter how you looked at the area, it all had to come out! Sometimes the best way forward is to take everything back to basics.
The shrubs had grown beyond that which could be managed and their presence did not align with the style garden I was hoping to create. Their removal would leave us overlooked but given how little we had used the area to date, and how much of the growth was now also invading our neighbours property, we all agreed that clearing the slate and starting again was by far the best option.
So calls were made and a reliable team of professionals were brought in to commence with the clearance. Two full days later and three large trailer loads the area was finally taken back down to ground.
It was drastic but necessary. We had gained back approximately 100 square metres of garden. Seeing our newly bare garden for the first time I started to see a clear plan as the design for the space started to form…but that was going to have to wait as we had a much more immediate issue.
It turned out that what must have been 30 years of scrub had been holding in place what appeared to be a 40 year old fence! The panelled fence was barely standing, swaying drastically with each gentle breeze that floated against it. The wood was rotting before your eyes and it was clear that the next priority was going to have to be a complete replacement. We called a recommended fencing contractor by the name of SL Fencing who did a fantastic job, removing all of the existing fence (although in fairness most of the posts only really required a gentle push!) and replacing it with a built from scratch high quality shiny new close board fence.
Next we had to address how to replace the screening that we had lost between the two properties. There are many many options for screening trees, depending on your requirements.
When choosing screening trees or shrubs you need to consider the height needed along with the spread that is permissible within the space (many tree/shrubs that will give you the height come with an equally large spread). Thought will need to be given to the proximity of any buildings and if the planted trees root systems can be considered invasive from a planning viewpoint. Consideration is also needed as to whether you require an evergreen all year round full screen, or if simply summer coverage and winter obscuring would be sufficient. It is also worth looking at the location of where you place the plants. It may seem obvious but moving trees away from the fence line, to within your garden means you can get greater targeted screening from a smaller plant. Quite often bringing trees further into your garden can also provide a feature and added interest to a simple plot.
If you don’t need great height coverage, pleached trees are regularly used to provide a stylish, contemporary feel. Pleached trees are trees that are trained over a frame and are fantastic for areas where minimum spread is required. As they come on clear stems often of over 1.5m they also allow for planting underneath and permit features beyond (such as a stylish fence) to remain visible. A number of species can come in pleached forms including but not limited to Carpinus betula (hornbeam), Fagus sylvatica (beech) and Tilia cordata (lime). There are also evergreen forms like Elaegnus, Magnolia grandiflora and Photinia. These do however come at a cost and are restricted to the predefined height of the frames they are grown to.
There are evergreen options for screening such as the previously overused Leylandii conifers, but it is essential that the right species are selected for the area they are being used in. You also need to consider future maintenance requirements. Many fast growing species will need regular pruning to maintain size and form. Other evergreen options are Photinia, Ligustrum, Quercus ilex and Taxus baccata.
Smaller deciduous trees that serve well once moved into a garden include Betula utilis, Cercis canadensis, Cornus Kousa, Amelanchier spp. and Acer Griseum. These are great specimen trees and only growing to 4-6m in height, can be drawn in closer to the area requiring screening to provide effective coverage.
If you have the space and the requirement for a higher screen, such as to screen a view between upper floors, then there are a number of medium sized trees that are suitable for screening. Acer platanoides, Gleditsia, Sorbus, Magnolia, Malus, Pyrus to name but a few, however again, proximity to building and eventual height and spread must be considered before committing to larger trees.
After much consideration, here at Little Acre, we decided to use the narrow shaped, Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’, the callery pear to provide the screening we required. This trees is one of the early trees to get it foliage back after the winter. It bears a white blossom early spring with small fruits following and hence are of great benefit for wildlife. As Autumn draws in their leaves are a cornucopia of colours and remain on the tree late into the season. The Pyrus has a slender form with a tear drop shaped crown. Due to this we decided to purchase 2 trees and stagger them to ensure coverage where we need it.
This covers the screen required between the 2 houses, however further screening will be needed along the fence line between the building and the garden itself. For this we intend to create a small copse of Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ with lush fern under planting and a gravel path leading to secluded seating area, however this will be part of phase 2.
Planting of the Pyrus is due to take place in a few weeks and we are brimming with excitement as this represents the beginning of realising the plans for this part of Little Acre and a move towards the garden we have always dreamed of.