Norman A. Plate
Fences are fine between neighboring properties, as far as they go. But often--especially in communities where lots are small--standard 6-foot-tall fences don't block views of unsightly roof lines or a looming multistory building next door, or do enough to ensure your privacy. And building codes generally don't allow for constructing anything taller than 6 feet. The temptation may be to plant a hedge, such as Pittosporum eugenioides, which will grow too fast and need too much pruning for most suburban gardens. Fortunately, there's a better solution.
The plants listed here (brush cherry, for example, which is back after nearly being wiped out by an insect pest) create screens that grow fast enough to block undesirable views within a few years but stay in bounds so you and your neighbor aren't constantly hacking away at them to keep them under control.
"Brush cherry is one of the best," says landscape architect Lisa Moulton of Redwood City, California. "The lower leaves hang on even as the plant ages, and growth stays fairly narrow." Dense, small-leafed evergreen plants are Moulton's favorite types for screens.
Landscape designer Abbey Kletz of Berkeley favors plants with a variety of textures, such as black bamboo and photinia. "I look for plants that have charm and that complement the garden," she says. That means creating intimate and private spaces using plant screens with interesting foliage.
To start your own screen, choose from the list a plant whose foliage colors, growth habit, and size suit your garden. Set smaller plants 4 feet apart, larger ones 5 to 6 feet apart. When planting next to a long fence, Moulton sometimes combines several types of plants to break up and disguise the fence's linearity. For instance, she might group five brush cherries with five strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) trained as standards.
Water plants regularly the first year to get them established. After that, follow the watering requirements listed for each plant. If you want to slow growth, water less often. To speed growth, water and fertilize more frequently (but don't keep the soil soggy).