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Planting for privacy: How to create living fences and grow strategic espaliers


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Vines and espaliers can serve as a natural curtain, offering privacy with the perk of bonus natural visuals. Planting to create a “sanctuary space” requires planning which green screens can grow to fill a need without overcrowding or requiring constant trimming.

Hedges serve the purpose of fences but are more visually appealing, espaliers and vines can function like natural curtains and strategically placed plants used as screens or garden dividers can result in a “splendid sanctuary space,” according to Kevin Raftery, owner of Kevin Raftery Horticultural Services.

“Planting for privacy can screen what you don’t want to see and direct the eye to what you want to see,” said Raftery, who is also a horticulture instructor at Foothill College and teacher of the “Planting for Privacy” class at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto.

Raftery advised gardeners on selecting plants for privacy and offered tips on maintaining them.

Factors to consider when choosing the ideal privacy plantings, Raftery said, include whether the plants tolerate the soil, drainage, light and space of a particular garden.

It is important to know how a plant’s natural growth habit would work with the space available prior to planting it, he added. For instance, if there is a narrow space between two buildings, bamboos could be a good fit because they naturally grow upright, without a lot of outward branches that would require constant trimming or overcrowd the limited space.

When selecting plants, the garden owner should decide on deciduous or evergreen varieties, with large or small leaves.

“Small foliage shears better,” Raftery said.

To plant a row of trees or shrubs, it’s necessary to determine spacing. Raftery said plants that arrive in commonly seen 15-gallon pots should be placed approximately 4 inches apart.

For fast-growing deciduous or broadleaf evergreen plants, within six months after planting, it’s advisable to trim tops and sides often to encourage dense branching.

Raftery noted that what people think of as hedges are often actually trees pruned as hedges.

For pruning, he recommended shaping the outside of the hedge wider at the base and slightly narrowing toward the top. Lower branches can be raised to increase space and change style.

Given the round or square shapes gardeners frequently trim their hedges into, Raftery said he would encourage natural pruning, which follows the way plants branch out.

Pruning can keep the hedge at the desired height, which Raftery said is often determined by the view from an upstairs window.

According to Raftery, manmade structures could be incorporated into planting for privacy to enhance the effect, for example:

• Arbors can be added to patios.

• Fence extension structures can boost the height of plants.

• Vines can be attached to walls and fences to increase screening.

• Structural walls with potted plants inserted can be aesthetically pleasing.

For more information on Gamble Garden classes, visit gamblegarden.org/event.

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