We all value our privacy when we are in our homes. And when we’re in our backyards we don’t like the fact that the eyes of others may peer over the fence, but we kind of accept it, because building an eight metre high fence wouldn’t be a practical solution. Apart from violating building regulations, the visual impact of living within a giant wooden box would appeal to very few. However there is a very simple, cheap and visually pleasing solution. A privacy screen made of living plants.
Okay, I concede it’s not instant, but it can be reasonably quick if you do it right.
Anyway, to an inquisitive neighbour the gradual growth of a screen is much less confronting than the rushed construction of a fence extension that almost screams “Stop looking at us!”
Selecting the correct plants to use is paramount. And unless you’re confident and have the plant knowledge to back up your confidence it is probably a good idea to get advice from a nursery professional. My preference is to use a variety of native plants that are well known as effective screening plants. By far, the most widely used group are the Lilypillies, in particular Syzygium australe. Many lilypillies make good screens because they have dense green foliage from top to bottom and grow to a suitable size. So by planting a row of these along your fences you can create a protective wall of green up to six metres in height that won’t infringe on council regulations. Just make sure you use species that won’t grow too tall because not all lilypillies are content with growing to a mere six metres.
It’s also worthwhile mixing up your species selection a little just to add a bit of variation in colour and texture. Maybe that means using a variety of lilypillies or possibly a mixture of different shrubs such as the ivory curl tree, native laurels, cleistanthus or any number of other suitable species. Once again, this is where some advice is invaluable. You may even get a little adventurous and include a few bush-tucker or butterfly host plants to increase the functionality of your screen.
Then it’s simply a case of preparing the ground, installing irrigation, planting the shrubs, mulching, and watching them grow.
Within two wet seasons the plants should be well over the height of your average suburban fence and going strong. And in addition to the increased privacy you should also notice that you have a few more birds and butterflies in your garden, and that can only be a good thing.
(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, February 2009)