Bring me a shrubbery....or two
May 10, 2013 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me create a natural looking barrier from my neighbors?

At my new house, my yard touches four different neighbors and I would like some privacy from them - particularly in my backyard. Where our yards touch, it is a very open and natural area with lots of tall mature trees, no bushes or shrubs to block views, and you can't really tell property lines, it all just blends, so anything like a manicured hedge would just ruin the natural vibe. It is going to be a while until I get around to landscaping, but what I want to do is to get a privacy fence growing in the meantime so that when I am ready to landscape my dream Asian meditation garden I will have a nice, natural backdrop for it instead of looking at my neighbors' houses.

Here are my criteria:
- USDA Zone 6
- area is shaded by lots of tall mature trees, the soil tends to be more moist than dry on account of all the shade
- preferably evergreens so I will have privacy year round
- something that looks natural not only in the plant shape but in the plant arrangement (nothing like a row of Cyprus) - I want to avoid the "I'm planting these trees because I don't want to look at you!" feeling.

I would appreciate any suggestions of bushes/trees/shrubs or combinations thereof that would meet my criteria and accomplish what I am trying to do.

Thank you!
posted by NoraCharles to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I live in SoCal where lots of different bushes, hedges, and combinations of trees are used to block out the neighbors. Many trees (like ficus, or my fave, podocarpus) are trimmed into hedges. Eventually, their trunks and branches form an impenetrable theft-protection-grade fence.

I can't think of anything that mighht not look "on purpose" except maybe Lillac bushes, trimmed well.

Maybe you can clarify? Anything you plant along strict property lines will look "on purpose," so I'm not sure what you mean here.
posted by jbenben at 10:00 PM on May 10, 2013

I love oleander, it can be small or huge depending on trimming. It's colorful and blooms for a long time. Azaleas and hydrangeas are nice too but don't provide a lot of height; however, they are big and bushy, maybe mix them with bamboo.
posted by shoesietart at 10:01 PM on May 10, 2013

You could borrow the shape of the house and cut out some space with an L shape hedge that covers part of the backyard.
       |                                                     |
       |      backyard                                       |
       |                                                     |
house  |                                    natural          |
       |                   ++               beauty           |
       |                   ||                                |
       |                   ||                                |
       |  hedge fence      ||                                |
Bamboo! Some variety that doesn't grow higher than your eaves.
posted by rhizome at 10:03 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

What type of mature and tall trees are already there?

I just went to one of mine today, so you might visit your local botanical garden to get some ideas of what will flourish and look "natural" together.
posted by jbenben at 10:05 PM on May 10, 2013

Best answer: I don't think you can go wrong by going to a garden store and choosing some shrubs and bushes you like, while making sure they stay full year-round. If you want it to look "natural," I imagine mixing plant sizes and types will look less planned than getting all the same bushes and cutting them square-shaped to make a wall.

This may be impractical for you, but my backyard has a big weeping willow tree and the hanging branches kind of create a curtain -- they hang almost to the ground and it looks cool.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:53 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might take a look at privet. It grows like crazy and you can trim it to form a hedge or trim it to look tree like. It smells absolutely heavenly in the spring.
posted by gt2 at 1:00 AM on May 11, 2013

Careful with bamboo-- some neighbourhoods have ordinances against it because it's so invasive.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:05 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you like the natural look, you should just go ahead and plant a mixed "hedge" of small, native shade trees and shrubs. Things like Mountain Laurel, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Pagoda Dogwood, Spicebush, Fringe Tree, Redbud, Sweet Pepperbush, Serviceberries, Bottlebrush Buckeye, Witch Hazel, many Rhododendron species. A mix of species will give you that natural look and year-round interest.

Any good nursery will be able to help you more than AskMe....I see you're in Philly. You're not too far from Groff's Plant Farm in Kirkwood, PA....which is hands down the coolest nursery I've ever been to. Lots of shrubs for the woodland style garden there. I'm not sure if they sell retail, but they also share a driveway with Octoraro Tree Nursery.

Don't plant bamboo or privet....both invasive.
posted by pilibeen at 2:31 AM on May 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think pilibeen has some very good suggestions. Note: Oleander requires lots of sun and isn't hardy in zone 6. A privet hedge also requires lots of sun and isn't the look you seem to be going for. You could do bamboo as long as it is a clumping variety that will not spread---very important--do not plant a spreading variety. You have neighbors and once established it will attempt to take over their backyard which will not be appreciated.

The other thing to be mindful of is the deer situation. I know they can be a problem in the Philly suburbs--pretty much eating the under story plants bare. That may or may not be a problem in your exact area. If that is a concern, one plant that deer will not eat is cherry laurel. There is one variety (Prunus laurocerasus Schipkaensis) that grows in a broad upright form and will provide the privacy you are looking for. It does well in partial shade and it is a broad-leafed evergreen, so it will provide interest and privacy in winter as well. I would add it to the pilibeen's list of suggestions.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:57 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great suggestions, thank you all. Here is a little more info.

I don't know any of the names of the trees just yet - still learning, this is my first home. They are very tall deciduous trees and they provide a lovely high canopy of shade for the land under them and it doesn't feel claustrophobic when the leaves come in. Looking from the back porch, all you see at eye level are the trunks of trees and then my neighbors' houses - no filler foliage at all. But looking down on it from Google Earth, you can't see the house for all the trees, but can make out little patches of yard.

snickerdoodle - I think the stagger/layer idea was what I was looking for - something that looks like it may have been there already and had to be cleared to make room for the yard type of natural landscaping. I wasn't realizing it could be deeper with overlapping layers - my brain was stuck on a more narrow barrier. Layers make total sense.

Apple Turnover - I LOVE the idea of a Weeping Willow!

pilibeen - Thank you for the list of plants to start with. Now that I have some names I can do the Google thing and look them up so I'm a little more educated before I head out to the nurseries.

Seymour Zamboni - Thanks for the heads up about the deer - yes they are all over my area, but my only concern as someone who never owned property before was to be aware of deer when driving. I had no idea they could wreck havoc on my yard! That cherry laurel looks like something I want to include in my mix.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:28 AM on May 11, 2013

Best answer: Here are my suggestions:

Japanese cleyera: this would be my number 1 suggestion, except for the fact that you're maybe a little marginal for its hardiness range (zone 7). However, recent updates put Philly and environs in the 7a/7b zone (depending on how far inland you are) so there is a good chance it might work for you. Cleyera is, IMHO, a very attractive LARGE evergreen shrub. It's an understory shrub/small tree in its natural habitat and does well in part shade (and will grow in full shade, although it will do so more slowly and remain smaller). Under ideal circumstances it can actually get quite substantial--easily 10 ft in height and diameter. Its new growth in late spring is a firey bronze, and it grows quickly. I'm in Washington DC and we have some huge specimens in our neighborhood, and this time of year they are quite eye-catching.

Nandina: this is a suitable backdrop for your future Asian meditation garden. Hardy to zone 6, a little bit shorter and more upright in habit than cleyera, and slower growing.

Leucothoe. There are several different species and cultivars out there (I believe fontanesiana and axillaris are the most widely available commercial varieties), but in general it's a little lower growing than the above two, with outward arching branches rather than a dense or compact form.

Glossy abelia, one of the taller cultivars. We've got the 'Kaleidoscope' cultivar, which is easy to find but more prostrate than you want for your purposes. More "flower power" than the other suggestions above--a long-blooming summer/fall display.

Evergreen viburnum. Most of the viburnums (and there are So!Many!) are deciduous or semi-evergreen, but a few are evergreen. Of those choices, Prague viburnum would be a good choice in terms of height and growth habit, but there are several others that you might consider, such as V. odoratissmum 'Red Tip' or V. tinus 'Spring Bouquet'. If you get more than one variety, you can spread out the flower display for a longer period, as they are not particularly long-flowering plants.
posted by drlith at 7:37 AM on May 11, 2013

Definitely be aware of the invasive/super-fast-growing issue. Many nurseries will sell you things like euonymous, bamboo, rose of sharon, multiflora rose, etc which will grow and spread like crazy. This means they'll fill in fast, but they will become a big pain to contain. Look for native plants that are not super aggressive. Pilibeen has some good suggestions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2013

As others say, bamboo is invasive and fast-growing: your neighbors might not like having it in your yard, because it could spread to theirs.
Oleander is poisonous, so if you have small kids or dogs that kind of thing might be a concern.
And while weeping willows are pretty, make sure you don't plant one anywhere near water lines --- their roots can crack the pipes, which would be A Bad Thing --- plus I believe most of them like more sun than shade.
posted by easily confused at 5:31 PM on May 11, 2013

Not all bamboo is invasive. Clumping bamboo will stay in one place and provide a nice screen!
posted by Kaleidoscope at 12:59 AM on May 12, 2013

Response by poster: The deal fell through on that house, but these suggestions are great and I will keep them in mind.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:52 PM on June 10, 2013

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