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A HEDGE FOR HEIGHTS; Screening off your plot with plants that won't block out too much sun offers opportunity for some jolly green giants; IN THE GARDEN.


I had a lovely letter from a reader called Lily, who has a problem. Her life, she says, is perfect, were it not for a teeny problem... Could I help? I was intrigued.

After years of searching for the right man, she wrote, she had finally found him. And together, deliriously in love, they had bought a beautiful terraced home on the edge of town.

Her only remaining dream was to create a courtyard garden to grow her beloved hydrangeas.

Lily from North Wales writes: "My yard is small but full of light during long summer days. The back wall is huge! My neighbours on one side have built a creative contemporary extension, clad in rust-coloured steel sheets.

On the other side, the low garden wall has been topped with some wooden cladding.

"I love it all, but want to blend in the materials and features with some wellchosen, fe f cwm tall planting, without blocking out too much sun.

"Where would I start?" How could I refuse such a colourful cry for help?

I've chosen a small group of wonderful options, all of which could help Lily and other readers who have small plots but find themselves in need of solutions to provide some screening from their neighbours - without blocking out too much light.

For a single specimen that grows fast but doesn't get too big, try one of my very favourites, Acacia dealbata, false Mimosa.

I've mentioned it previously on these pages as I adore its all-year-round light, feathery foliage that is dusted with glorious sulphur-yellow flowers early in the year (around now).

It will love a sheltered site, like a courtyard, as the roots can rock a bit in high winds. If it grows too big for the spot you choose, gently prune while keeping an eye on retaining its overall lovely shape.

And in your own garden, Lily, plant it by the wall next to your neighbour's contemporary extension. It will blend the two houses together visually beautifully.

A row of "pleached" trees acts like a hedge in the sky, leaving you plenty of airy space to plant underneath. It looks wonderful but, unless you have the patience to take the time to train the branches yourself, it can be an expensive option.

I will try to describe the process as simply as I can.

Plant nursery species, such as lime, evergreen oak and beech, are trained to grow a perfectly straight stem and, once they've reached, say, three metres, they're encouraged to grow out and are then clipped into blocks, like rectangular-cubed lollipops.

It's called pleaching and when a number are put together in a straight line, they form a hedge in the sky with bare stems for two metres so you can plant around them. However, it's up to you to keep them clipped to ensure perfection each year.

Now, there are some wonderful birch specimens. Some people can be snobby about this genus, but birch (Betula) is a fantastic plant for a small garden - with one proviso. I would grow it in a large pot or container. This is because sometimes the surface roots can become a nuisance, lifting patio slabs, paths or low walls.

So keep it restricted, water it often, feed occasionally with a general fertiliser and top-dress once a year (carefully removing the top couple of inches of soil from the container and replacing with fresh stuff). Depending on the species you choose, the bark can be wonderful, with B. ermanii possessing a stark white stem, or you can choose one with a slight pinky/purple tinge, such as B. utilis.

As a rule, their shape is elegant. When in leaf, the tree is a delight without robbing the garden of too much light. And in winter, Lily, I'd carry your blossoming romance through to the garden by lighting it up!


SHOWY Reader Lily's in love with hydrangeas

IDEAL Birches, left, can be grown in pots; right, a "hedge in the sky"

PLAN How to create a 'hedge in the sky'

IN LOVE Lily's dream garden
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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