We have just moved to a house on a fairly open-plan estate and feel very exposed with large windows looking into our neighbour’s equally large windows. We would like to grow non-invasive plants with a minimum height of 5ft to 6ft with a similar spread as a screen. Can you recommend a few that would fit the bill?
Jill Furneaux, Devon What you are talking about is a hedge, really, isn’t it? But the word hedge in the context of an estate garden is perhaps not an exciting one, implying regimented evergreens and tedious, very public Sunday morning snipping. But in fact hedges can be absolutely lovely, particularly if they consist of a mixture of flowering evergreen shrubs with coloured/textured leaves, with the addition of the odd deciduous shrub or hedging rose for good measure. This kind of informal hedge forms an integral part of a flowery garden as well as providing privacy.
Try to put aside your kneejerk need to achieve the height and privacy you need almost “instantly” by planting a mass of bamboo: even the non-invasive bamboos such as Fargesia murielae – perhaps the most garden-friendly – can look boring and alien planted in a row. However, one clump as part of a mixed hedge would add to the variety of texture and deserves a place in the shortlist below. You will get 5-6ft or more out of the following shrubs within about three years, and then will have to prune them selectively (absolutely not as you would a conventional hedge) to keep them performing well at the height you need. Here are some suggestions:
Evergreen: Viburnum tinus, Photinia ‘Red Robin’, Rhamnus alaternus ‘Agenteovariegata’, Pittosporum tenuifolium (tall varieties, especially those with coloured leaves, e.g. ‘Abbotsbury Gold’ or ‘Purpureum’), Arbutus unedo, Crinodendron hookerianum (needs neutral/ acid soil), Fargesia murielae.
Roses: Rosa rugosa (especially tall ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’), Rosa glauca.
Other deciduous: Eleagnus ‘Quicksilver’ (very fast-growing, almost treelike), Cotinus coggygria (green or red leafed). Emailer Roger Pinner has a 15-year-old evergreen Magnolia grandiflora that has not yet flowered, growing in “good soil” with “plenty of sun and moisture”. He asks if I have any ideas why this is, and what I suggest he does about it.
This is one of those emails that prompts me to remind readers to give me as much information as they can in their communications. A lot of you send digital pictures, which is a great help. The best of you send more than one – a close-up of the problem and another to indicate the size/site of the plant/problem involved. But pictures or no pictures, I don’t mind wading through longish emails if they give me a clear idea of what you are up against.
In this case, there are one or two obvious things I can say, the most important of which is that Magnolia grandiflora trees very seldom flower before they are at least 12 years old. So it may simply be a matter of Roger waiting for another year or three. Frustrating, but that’s gardening for you.
Other factors may be partly to blame for the floral no-show. This exoticlooking evergreen, beloved for its big glossy leaves and huge, lemon-scented flowers, was originally brought here in the 18th century from the southern states of America. It was often planted against westfacing house walls, which gave developing flower buds the best protection against the damaging combination of frost and early morning sun. Newer varieties are less tender but, even so, should never be planted in a very exposed site. With no information as to where Roger’s tree is sited (apart from that it “gets plenty of sun”), I can’t say whether or not cold and frost play a part in the lack of flowers. The “good soil” referred to, however, should be slightly acid, and not disturbed by being under-planted with anything substantial, since this magnolia has shallow roots that hate disturbance.
So: Roger shouldn’t just twiddle his thumbs while he is waiting-and-seeing. He can feed his tree with a general fertiliser every spring and perhaps feed again with something suitable for acid-loving plants in late summer that may encourage the production of flower buds. And he should keep it well mulched with leaf mould. If his soil is known to be alkaline (if the tree’s leaves are slightly pale, and other acid-lovers – rhododendrons and so on – don’t thrive in his garden), Roger could also give it Sequestrene (sequestered iron and other trace elements) in the spring.
Worth the wait: magnolias can take 12 years to flower