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Hedges help keep the peace

Summer sunshine welcomes me into the garden to find sanctuary

All I need now is some privacy. Sound familiar?

Most of us who enjoy outdoor living on the West Coast know all too well that summer is fleeting and our time in the garden has to be maximized so we can enjoy our space and recharge.

And if your garden is like most, trying to maintain your privacy over the years is a difficult task.

There are traditional privacy barriers such as fences, hedges and tree planting; each method is fraught with its own problems.

One would think that with increasing building densities and bigger homes on smaller lots that municipal councils would have adapted fence height rules to suit the new realities, but no such change has occurred.

The standard six-foot fence height still rules the region.

Many of my clients have asked me to build them taller than the norm fences, only to be told it's not allowed according to zoning bylaws.

Perhaps we should consider allowing fence heights to attain eight feet or more. But that is a subject for a future column.

Hedges have their own problems even though they are a true green alternative compared to all other options.

But only a handful of hedge species are in use, including pyramidalis and smaragd cedar, English laurel, Portuguese laurel, privet and some native cedar and hemlock hedges.

Yew and boxwood hedging are used as low barriers but not for privacy. And beyond the mixed shrub border, few if any other good hedge choices exist in the


Trees afford some of the best benefit for privacy screening compared to other options, but a privacy tree can only serve its purpose if the right tree for the right place is chosen.

And planting privacy trees is not possible on many properties due to space limitations.

Planting vines to grow up where you cannot grow out (vertical planting) can provide a good alternative to the other privacy screening options designed and planted well.

Vines can be grown up as high as 20 or 30 feet when planted on an appropriately built structure, which at a minimum would include durable posts set into concrete footings.

I recently saw a vertically planted privacy screen that was 25 feet tall, 15 feet wide and made from an old flag pole with cross bars welded on. Growing onto this structure was a wisteria, a honeysuckle and a couple of fall-blooming clematis. The vines grew about three to four feet wide off the pole and bars and the foliage dangled gracefully in air to provide an excellent privacy screen from the neighbour's two-storey home.

Not an ideal solution for everyone but very cool to see on such a scale.

The latest innovation in privacy screening involves building a living or green wall.

One type of free-standing living wall design is made from concrete-set posts, commercial grade wire mesh like the type used for concrete reinforcement, some finer wire mesh and some landscape fabric.

Some green wall variations use gels, Styrofoam, rock wool or other internal media choices to provide a rooting medium.

Essentially the structure looks like a thick fence covered in wire and landscape fabric.

The thickness of the wall can be modified by setting posts apart according to the desired wall width. The height and length are determined by the privacy screening location. The entire structure is set in contact with the earth.

The wall's thickness is filled with lightweight soil to act as a growing medium. Some walls have a simple drip irrigation hose installed on the top of the wall attached to a garden hose on the ground.

Plants are inserted into the spaces in between the wire mesh by cutting a hole in the landscape fabric and sometimes the wire if needed.

Once planted, the living wall provides room to grow more plants, privacy if needed and an alluring array of foliage and flowers in a vertical format. Plant choices are usually limited to perennials, vines, some small shrubs, groundcovers and annuals.

Vegetables can also be planted into the seasonal holes in the foliage cover.

When compared to the cost of a new fence or hedge planting and annual hedge maintenance, the living wall is an affordable and far more interesting privacy screen option for many locations.

The living wall system described herein can be seen at Alyssa H's blog at www.akitverticalgarden. Alyssa lives in Oak Harbor, Wash., and she writes about the green wall system at A Knot in Thyme, a family farm and gift shop on Whidbey Island. It is built out of affordable and available materials that anyone could use.

This vertical garden is a six-foot wall planted with a cascade of annuals and perrenials.

The system does require some skill, effort and cost to build but with a little research and time anyone could create one.

The vertical garden provides excellent privacy results and the esthetic creations are quite unusual and beautiful.

Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, writer, consultant and organic horticulture teacher. For advice contact him at stmajor@shaw. ca.