Don’t Let Your Planting Screen Be Doomed From The Start

plant.screen.error1Every landscape design is serving a function in one form or another.  Although there may be additional functions intended here, I’m sure the main objective was to provide privacy.  And rightfully so!  This home is on a busy road and intersection.  In addition to road noise I’m sure headlights at night are another annoyance.

Here’s another aspect of this site that any designer would note and put right at the top of his or her “things-to-consider-list”.  There is limited space to work with.  The overall depth of the front yard is shallow to begin with, and on top of it there’s a sidewalk.

Nice house though, right?  Look, you have to work with what you have.  Here’s the good news.  If you know your plant material well, you have a palette of living elements to compose a screen planting that not only screens, but also creates a greater feeling of depth.

plant.screen.error2

Identify Your Needs and Objectives

In most instances your design objective begins with one major need.  In this case it’s privacy, privacy, privacy.  But is that all?  And if it is are you looking at that aspect thoroughly?  Just what is it you’re trying to screen?

If you look at it from two perspectives: 1) from the outside, public area looking in and 2) from inside the private property looking out, it causes you to really think about exactly what is undesirable about these views.  Clearly identifying the specific shortcomings helps you think through the solutions.  Take your time and walk around both on and off the property.  View it from every angle possible.  Take pictures and look them over several times. The best solution doesn’t always jump right out at you.

Select The Proper Plants That Meet Your Objectives

First things first.  Planted in front along the sidewalk are four conifers (evergreen trees).  We’ve all seen the growth potential of trees in this category, i.e 50’+ in height by 12’+ in width.  Already this screening solution is doomed to a relatively short life.  And, it is unrealistic to assume that pruning will keep these “monsters” in check.

plant.screen.error3I see a different solution using mid-sized ornamental trees.  Notice that already there are 2 ornamental trees being used.  They appear to be a birch and a purpleleaf plum.  Their upper canopies are doing a nice job of diffusing the view to the upper portion of the house.  And, if you’re looking out the 2nd story dormers, these trees “intercept” your view out into the street.  Plus, these trees can grow unrestricted to their full potential while their trunks take up very little space. Adding one or two more along the front would complete the “upper screen”.

The four large growing conifers can be easily transplanted to new locations where they can develop without space limitations.

The privacy issue at ground level should be addressed using another category of plant.  Remember to first visualize plant design solutions in terms of “form”.  In that sense I envision an evergreen understory of plants that weave under and around the ornamental trees.  These evergreen shrubs should have more of an upright habit of growth (so as not to get too broad), yet not grow too tall…perhaps in the 6′ range.  If you wanted to, you could provide a few “windows” of view by using lower growing plants at intervals along the way.

Earlier I mentioned creating a greater feeling of depth and dimension.  Doing so in a limited space also helps to give the illusion of having more space.  Big, fat evergreen trees growing closer and closer to you every day do not help in the “create a feeling of depth” department.  Whereas the ornamental trees offer a cozy feeling with their branches overhead while space is preserved underneath.  And if you select your understory plants carefully, they too will not impose into precious open space.

Nix The Berm

I’m not always against creating earth berms in the landscape.  There are circumstances where their use offers aesthetic and functional benefits.  However, in this setting of limited space a berm actually works against you.  Get rid of the berm and plant at normal grade level.  It will look more natural (and less contrived), feel more spacious, and the plantings will undoubtedly do better (especially in the long-term).

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    4 Responses to “Don’t Let Your Planting Screen Be Doomed From The Start”

    1. Paul Says:

      All excellent points, I suspect they’re also looking forward to future shading of the house. Unless it’s prohibited in their community, they clearly overlooked extending their yard into the curbstrip…imagine the perceived extra depth and beauty if it were landscaped.

    2. Roger Says:

      Great point, Paul. How nice would that be on the sidewalk with gardens on either side of you?!

      These curb strip areas are typically town owned (in our area anyway). But I have seen people do some landscaping other than just lawn in them.

      A couple of considerations would be “line of sight,” so as to not block your view pulling in and out of your driveway. Also, you would want to be conscious of the different growing conditions you might have along the road. Things such as general exposure like passing traffic and soil contamination. Soil moisture would be a concern just from the harsher, more open environment. Also, here in the northeast the towns salt the roads for snow and ice – and that’s not a good thing for most plant life.

    3. TK Says:

      I would call in the concrete guy and the welder and put up a good sturdy screen under those trees, resting on sonotubes 4′ down, then let time cover the screen with climbing hydrangeas or akebia vine. I’d weld in rectangular “windows” and trim the vines around those for a “peephole” to the street in front of the two bay windows and echo the square shape with an box-arch over the entrance way. The deciduous trees would grow above the screen, the evergreens would go on Craigslist.

    4. Roger Says:

      TK,
      Interesting approach. I too love structure in the garden — and in your solution you take up very little space, but get the vertical screening.

      We’re in the suburbs of the NY area. Every town has numerous codes & ordinances that regulate what you can and can not do on your property. It is now a requirement that you present your plans for “zoning review” before anything can be done — and that’s just step one. Right off the bat I can see a few code & ordinance challenges. It’s a shame because your idea would certainly be one to play around with and develop for consideration.

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