Clients often desire privacy from their neighbours with a shyness, as if it makes them seem anti social or rude. However, us humans need that sense of safety and screening. Privacy in our homes creates comfort and relaxation and it is my number one design consideration when I arrive at a garden.
When a property is overlooked, the temptation can be to buy large growing trees and shoehorn them in along the fence. This is nearly always a huge mistake. The canopy of a large growing tree will, within 10 years shoot away up and over the roofline of the offending property. Leaving you looking at their windows with a tall trunk in the way giving no privacy but probably blocking all the light for all the neighbours.
The final mature height for a tree in a suburban garden should be no more than the roofline of the house you want to screen from. A maximum growing height of around 8 to 10 metres is normally perfect.
Taking the house below as an example ……….
Planting a tall tree like a Sycamore or Eucalyptus Gunnii will screen the neighbours for around 4 years before racing to the skies, blocking light, being a nuisance and not giving any privacy.
However, planting some well behaved Amelanchier, Silver Birch (to an extent) or Apple trees can be kept under control by always keep their canopy at the height of the neighbouring windows, and are kept in shape easily with a bit of a haircut every second year.
These trees will do the trick in terms of privacy, and can be pruned horizontally to encourage them to grow side shoots rather than all their growth heading upwards. Although I’ve put these trees right up against the fence, the correct planting would be 1 metre from the fence. This creates less friction with neighbours being bothered by branches coming over their fence, and also makes maintaining their shape easier as they can be accessed from all sides on your side.
But what to plant if you are overlooked by a high block of flats? The obvious answer is then to grow enormous trees!! Let’s take a look at that.
You will eventually end up with the same problem as before, the canopy of the tree will ultimately outgrow the windows you want to screen. How about a mixture of tall and shorter trees?
This is one solution, but if this garden is south or west facing you could end up blocking all your own light and is it worth it?
A good design trick, is the taller the neighbouring building, the closer the trees should be to your house.
I think this is a great solution. Over the coming years you can prune these to encourage growth just to take care of those remaining windows. The closer they are to the house the less tall they have to be to give that screening effect.
I usually advocate patience when creating a garden, but with trees that are to provide screening, I say research thoroughly, then buy as mature as you can afford.
Also remember if you live in a conservation area, all trees are protected by law, with hefty £25K fines PLUS prison sentences if you remove them or cut them back without permission. Even if you planted them. Another reason not to pick up an unresearched bargain tree at the garden centre!
Trees that All Year Bloom loves are :
I’m going to split these into two categories. Trees that create privacy in the garden and trees that create privacy for the house. Privacy in the garden is only really required from late spring to autumn when you are using the garden. Privacy trees for the house should be evergreens to provide year round screening.
Garden Privacy Trees :
Amelanchier Lamarckii - the David Bowie of the tree world. Gives you everything you could want and never puts a foot wrong. Humble, unassuming and utterly brilliant. Multi stemmed, meaning branches out to the side, making it a good screener. Blossom in spring, attractive fresh green leaves in summer, rich autumnal colours with berries and good stems for fairy lights in winter. Widely available and reasonably priced. Maximum eventual height 10 metres if you don’t prune.
Other great trees are everyone’s favourite Silver Birch or Betula Pendula to give it its Sunday name. Malus trees (apple) will never give you a moments bother and plenty of fruits to make cider in autumn!
House Privacy trees :
This can be a more difficult choice as often the evergreen family tends to be associated with Leylandii hedging. Shiver. There are nice alternatives such as Yew but its very slow growing. I do have to confess a love for Eucalyptus. But a massive word of caution here, DO NOT buy Eucalyptus Gunnii, under any circumstances, even if a 5 metre tree is being sold for 20 pence! Within 4 years you will be paying a tree surgeon £400 to keep it in check, every few years. Unfortunately that one monster tree has sent the whole family into disrepute! There are perfect Eucalyptus trees for every situation. The stems are fragrant, and can easily be woven into decorations such as garlands. The leaves are very decorative for those florists among you and they also dry well. My recommendations and the ones I would happily and safely fill my entire garden with are :
Eucalyptus Parvula, bushy and well behaved, growing one metre a year until an eventual height of 10 metres, easily controlled and shaped and absolute gem.
Eucalyptus Archeri, as above but can top out at 12 metres if left unpruned. Easily managed though. I love this for its small silver blue leaves, which are really dense providing an excellent privacy screen.
So there we go, we found out the David Bowie of the tree world and hopefully some other interesting things too. Remember everyone pretty much loves their own privacy, so your neighbours will probably be relieved rather than offended if you choose to screen your side as long as you do it in a thoughtful well researched way. Reach out anytime for some bespoke advice at email@example.com if you want some help creating that private oasis.