Plants and Design for Screening

For up to 8 Feet of Screening

Here’s a solution to a typically ugly spot — between your driveway and your neighbor’s garage. This happens to be my garage, or former garage since I’ve had it converted into a toolshed (eat your heart out you, toolies!) and it’s what my neighbors would be seeing as they park their Prius if it weren’t for all this gorgeousness instead. And this photo shows it at its worst — in February.

Seems that I’m on my soapbox for evergreens again, and for BIG STUFF like shrubs and trees and huge grasses. So before I step down, can we examine what labor and other resources are required to keep this looking so great? Hacking the grass back in early spring, for sure. Picking up the dead hostas leaves in the fall and applying mulch. And removing the occasional branch of acuba that gets too tall and starts to droop down over the driveway. Some supplemental watering but only for the American hollies (they’re covered by an irrigation system.) The Foster hollies, acuba and grass get zip.

From left to right you see:

  • American holly
  • Japanese acuba
  • Foster hollies
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
  • And at their feet is an assortment of hostas, now invisible

Here’s a little closer view showing the scene at the height of its summer lushness.

For Taller Screening

The National Arboretum’s Scott Aker was recently asked what evergreen plants work best for screening, specifically plants that grow fast and have a “natural appearance.” Tall order, and Scott’s answer?

For partial shade, Japanese cedar grows fast and holds onto more of its lower branches than most conifers do in shade, and ‘Yoshino’ is “by far the best cultivar,” which means variety cultivated for the gardening trade. He also likes ‘Green Giant’ and ‘Steeplechase’ arborvitaes, which he says are denser. I’m a fan of ‘Green Giant’ myself (photo right), and here’s more about them..

For a lot of shade, he suggests hollies, especially ‘Nellie Stevens’ for its dense foliage. Or if the area is chronically wet, use the Atlantic white cedar.

Design considerations. As to spacing, he recommends at least 15 feet in width for a staggered double-row system (that looks SO much more natural than a single line — coz plants don’t grow in property-line formation in nature). So, for example, if you plant an odd number (always recommended), you might have 3 facing your neighbor’s property and two in front facing yours. To make it all look even more natural, place a shorter focal point plant in front of the taller ones — like hardy camellias or white-blooming viburnums like ‘Shasta,’ mock orange, dogwood, or coralbark maple.