Photo by Erica Glasener.

I live on a dead-end street. When we moved to our current home over 15 years ago, I designed my garden to be enjoyed from the inside looking out.

In this case, I mean the inside of the garden, looking out to the road, as well as the inside of the house looking out to the garden. With this in mind, I planted a living screen along the street so that if you are driving or walking past, you can’t really see the garden without walking up my driveway. 

Using a combination of evergreen and deciduous plants, I wanted to create a sense of enclosure, but also have a few spots where you get glimpses of the garden or the street depending on your vantage point. The effect depends on the season–lush, green and colorful in the spring and summer, muted and more open (but still an effective screen) in the fall and winter. 

While fences make good neighbors, living screens are effective and provide seasonal interest, not to mention habitat for birds, butterflies, bees and other critters. 

Evergreens may be an obvious choice for screening or hedging but a combination of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees can provide an effective and interesting screen. 

Over the years my combination of plants along the street has developed into a colorful tapestry that includes evergreens like yellow anise (Illicium parviflorum), a golden variegated selection of Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), deciduous trees such as the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum  ‘Sango Kaku’), and purple smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’). The native evergreen Florida Leucothoe (Agarista populifolia) provides a fountain of foliage.  

All of these will tolerate full sun, but the anise and leucothoe are happiest with part shade. In front of this screen is a random rose that tolerates some shade and offers welcome coral-colored blooms over a period of months. 

When selecting shrubs and trees for screening or hedging, first determine how much sun the site receives and what the soil type is.  

Do some research before you plant and determine how much space to allow between plants or you will have to take out mature plants when they quickly outgrow their spots. 

If you start with container-grown plants, they should quickly catch up with large balled and burlap-wrapped plants. Make sure to water them weekly (if we don’t get rain) throughout the first year after they are planted. 

Here are some screening and hedging plants for different garden situations:

Full sun, damp soils: Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) these hollies can reach 8-10’ tall and wide at maturity. Combine them with deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata selections) and yellow anise. There are also dwarf cultivars available. Inkberry hollies are well suited for both informal or formal hedges. For a formal look, prune them on a regular basis. 

Full sun, moist, well drained soils: Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans). This evergreen will reach 20’ or more at maturity.

Rabbiteye blueberries. For the best results, plant three different selections and they will produce fruit over a period of weeks. Blueberries while not completely evergreen make an effective screen and offer tasty fruits and fall color. Mine are about 10’ tall and require a minimum of care. 

Shade or part shade in average well-drained soil: American Holly (Ilex opaca). These evergreen hollies can reach 30-40’ at maturity but are slow growing. The female cultivars offer colorful red, orange, and yellow fruits.

Carolina rhododendron (Rhododendron carolinianum). 3-6’ in height with mostly evergreen flowers that are white to pale rose in May. 

Catawba Rhodendron (Rhododendron catawbiense), an evergreen native rhododendron with lilac-colored flowers. This native can grow to heights of 8-10.’

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a tough adaptable native with small evergreen leaves and masses of fruits. There are many selections to choose from, including those that are dwarf or weeping. It grows in full sun or part shade and tolerates salt spray.  Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis),  ideal for shade but will also tolerate sun, if it has adequate moisture. Ideal for a formal hedge or informal screen with lacey dark-green needles that have a silver cast on the underside. 

Invasive and aggressive plants to avoid: Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate) and Ligustrum – both evergreen and deciduous types (including privet). Many people (including me) are allergic to the flowers that appear in spring.

Erica Glasener

Erica Glasener is the Community Involvement and Events Manager for the Piedmont Park Conservancy and serves on the advisory board for Trees Atlanta.