One of the hottest growing trends in the gardening world is setting root all around us. Evergreen shrubs like ligustrums, ‘Formosa’ azaleas and red tip photinias have long been employed to block unsightly vistas, meddlesome neighbors, and highway clamor. As the number of developing neighborhoods continues to climb, so does our need for privacy. Build your own natural screen to hide unwanted sights and sounds without impeding the rest of your garden’s beauty. Evergreen favorites like Russian olives, ‘Scarlet’ bottlebrush, ‘Burgundy’ loropetalum, Cleyera japonica, and oleanders offer perfect twists to fabricating living walls, since their substantial builds, lustrous foliage, and brilliant blossoms yield unending fortresses of style.
Russian olives (Elaeagnus ebbingei), native to North America, southern Europe and Asia, are fast growing shrubs that prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Noted for their distinctive silvery foliage year round, Russian olives sport a hint of metallic and olive green on the top of their leaves, while the undersides and limbs are sheathed in creamy brown. Small silvery white flowers open in late autumn, emitting a sweet gardenia like aroma. In late winter and early spring, tiny red berries coated in a glistening silver sheen hang neatly amid the shrubs. Plant these vigorous growers on six-foot centers to allow room for their arching growth habits. Averaging 10 to 12 feet in height, the rambling limbs and dense structures of Russian olives can mesh together in no time to give you the screen you need.
‘Scarlet’ bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus), a moderately fast growing shrub native to Australia, also makes an eye-catching screen. Averaging 10 feet tall, this particular species yields profusions of red bottlebrush-like blossoms from late March through October. Its bright green leaves show off prominent central veins and tinges of red on new tips. New foliage emerges in the spring with the same tenderness as the delicate leaves of lamb’s ear; its reddish gray blush offers an exciting contrast to existing leaves and flowers. Although the cylindrical crimson blossoms offer no fragrance, the bruised foliage of Callistemon citrinus certainly promises a hearty lemon perfume. Keep in mind also that bottlebrush are perfect for luring butterflies and hummingbirds as well. Plant ‘Scarlet’ bottlebrush at least six feet apart in sunny locales, and watch as its upright willowy form creates one of the finest living screens you may have seen.
If you are in search of a shorter flowering wall, consider planting a row of ‘Burgundy’ loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense). These natives of China and Japan are donned with leaves of the richest purple wine and average five to eight feet tall. Perfect for small landscapes, you can line them along the edge of your property to hide your neighbor’s driveway without fearing that its size will commandeer your garden. Loropetalums branch gracefully with their slightly pendulous limbs and tantalizing foliage. During the spring and summer, the deep purple leaves offer a magnificent backdrop to the loropetalum’s fluorescent pink blossoms. Space these shrubs on five-foot centers and selectively prune them in the summer to maintain healthy appearances and vigorous growth.
Cleyera japonica, native to Japan and China, can also create an excellent screen in your backyard. Not quite as dynamic a grower as the Russian olives and loropetalums, cleyeras average eight feet in height, but reach their maturity at a slower pace. Plant them in full sun and well-drained acidic soil for best performances. Bearing some semblance to red tip photinias at a glance, cleyeras are praised for their crimson leaf stems and glossy, rubber-like leaf surfaces. New foliage emerges with copper tones and deepens to purple with maturity; fascinating reddish purple leaves are prominent during cold winters. Small creamy white flowers bloom in the spring and are later followed in the summer by attractive crimson hued fruit.
Oleanders can also make a spectacular screen, while at the same time creating a cool tropical effect. Fast growing evergreen shrubs, oleanders stretch to at least 10 feet high with their thick cane-like stems. Leathery dark green leaves are well contrasted from the spring through the fall with splashes of red, pink, yellow, or white blossoms. Oleanders are relatively carefree shrubs, making them ideal for mass plantings; they require occasional pruning in the summer to remove old wood or to encourage dense, lush growth. Plant oleanders at least six feet apart in sunny areas for optimum growth and development.