How to make your home a private oasis

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The Mountain Gardener: Screen your neighbor with Low Water Use Plants

by Jan Nelson

We all enjoy privacy around our homes. Even if you’re best friends with your neighbor you don’t always want to wave at them each morning in your robe.

Whether you have a property tucked way back in the forest with a next door neighbor that looks right down on your deck or a postage stamp size lot that could be an jewel if you just had a screen between you and the next property, there are techniques designers use to make your home a private oasis.

Narrow spaces can be challenging when you need to screen the house next door. There’s not room for a big, evergreen tree or hedge to solve the problem. One way is to use plants that can be espaliered against a fence or trellis.

Some plants like Azara microphylla naturally grow flat without much coaxing on your part. This small dainty tree is fast growing and reaches 15 to 25-feet tall. The yellow flower clusters will fill your garden with the scent of white chocolate in late winter. They are ideal between structures. I’ve used the variegated version to screen a shower and it’s working great.

Another small tree, the compact Carolina cherry laurel can be espaliered also in a narrow space if needed. It grows 10-feet tall, but that may be all you need to screen the neighbor. They are drought tolerant once established, deer resistant, and the perfect host for birds, bees, and butterflies. The leaves smell like cherries when crushed, which gives this plant it’s common name.

A dwarf tree that also works nicely in this situation is a Southern magnolia called little gem. Naturally a very compact narrow tree it grows 20 to 30-feet tall, but only 10 to 15-feet wide. It can be trained as an espalier against a wall or fence, and the sweetly scented flowers will fill your garden with fragrance.

Other small trees that make a good screen are purple hopseed and dark shadows leptospermum. Both have beautiful burgundy foliage.

California natives that can be espaliered against a fence include Santa Cruz island ironwood, Western redbud, mountain mahogany, toyon, pink flowering currant, Oregon grape, and spicebush.

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Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.