02 Oct 2022

Gardening with Jo: Top trees to create privacy in your garden

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening with Jo: Top trees to create privacy in your garden

My espaliered trees

One of our biggest questions that we get is around screening trees - more specifically, espaliered and pleached trees. These purpose-grown trees provide privacy and screening in a garden but also give a great design aesthetic too.

We have been selling and growing these specifically-designed trees for some time and there is nothing that matches them, so I wanted to give you an insight into when we would use them, what variety options we use and how to plant and look after them.

To start with, how can you tell espaliered trees from pleached? We use both names as there is some confusion, but what we sell the most of are flat-headed pleached trees. An espaliered tree is more grown in lines rather than having a solid head created, but as the names are sometimes confused, we will continue to use both.

There are lots of different sizes and styles to be found on a nursery, but the most common one is the standard espalier. This is usually on a 1.8m clear stem with a frame, sometimes made of canes, sometimes wood but in more recent times they can be made out of metal too. The most common size of the frame is 120cm x 120cm, although again this can differ, so do make sure that you get all that information before making your choice. If you have a 1.8m stem and then the head, then the overall height is three metres. Is this high enough for your needs? If not, then there may be taller options for you.

There are screens that are at a lower level. These we call half standard. The stem is approximately 1.2m clear and we’d also have 1.5m clear stem too. The heads on these ones would usually be slightly smaller too.

Another option is the full screen. The placed screens would start at ground level and create a full screen. The most common size of this option is 1.8m tall and 1.2m wide but there are lots of sizes available, dependant on the variety.

Using something such as evergreen jasmine, olive or photinia red robin creates a screen that can be used in a similar way to a hedge and is really useful for putting up against an un-plastered wall, around a utility and bins area or around a full tank. This option of a screen can be grown anything up to three metres tall and we would always have a couple these in the nursery. It's definitely not something we are asked for every day but is always useful for that client who needs to hide something in their garden.

What varieties of trees are the most popular for attaining privacy in the garden? Photinia red robin is always a firm favourite, as the foliage fills quickly and easily and they tend to be the most cost effective evergreen option. If you want something little different, then camellia or evergreen magnolia are great flowering options. I adore evergreen jasmine. These last tend to only be available in the full screen options, but can be used to create separate areas in the garden, and their scent is amazing.

Evergreen oak have always been one of our most popular options. It fills the frame quickly and needs little to no maintenance. Ligustrum and holly are also lovely evergreen options to create a screen that stays the same all year round. I do like something that changes with the seasons, though, and the ones I have in my own garden are the hornbeam pleached trees, which are very similar to beech and purple beech, which we also have too.

If you want a slightly more distinctive variety then platanus acerrfolia and platanus hispanica, with their lovely, large floppier leaves; or tilia and pyrus, more commonly called lime or pear, are great deciduous options for pleached trees. All of these create a lovely full frame although there is no cover for the winter – but we don't need as much cover as we are not in the garden as much during that season.

In terms of espaliered trees, limes again and pyrus are good options and also fruiting options too. Malus, pears, plums etc are all created in espaliered versions, and also in fan-shaped and candelabra-shaped espaliers too. Fruit trees do particularly well, and if you have a good south-facing wall you can try something a little more adventurous like a peach or nectarine.

Now, here's how to plant them. First work out how many you are going to need. Do you want them to create a perfect run? If so, you need to but them together to create a kind of 'hedge on stilts' effect. For a six metre run using 1.2m wide frames you will need five trees.

When we plant them in our design and planting projects, we tape the frames together so that when they settle they don’t tilt and they still visibly keep their clean line. We also stake the trees so that they don’t lean. If you can imagine, they behave like sails and can move with the wind, especially in the first 12 months, so staking them will help to avoid this. The stakes can be taken out after year two so that the design feature looks a little sleeker.

As with all trees, upkeep will make a huge difference to how well they do.

Water is hugely important, especially when the trees are looking to put down their roots and gain traction. Water at least once a week, but in drier periods or in drying winds then more often. Gauge how dry your ground is and water accordingly. If in doubt ask your nursery, landscaper or horticulturist for guidance. Feeding is also a good idea, and I would recommend using an organic seaweed or chicken manure pellet for a slow release of nutrients over a two month period. Feeding from March to September, every two months, is ideal and will give your trees (and most other things in your garden) the nutrients that they need to grow well, create a lush look and stay healthy to avoid disease and infection. Remember to organise for them to be watered if you are away on holiday during the summer.

If you need help, you know where I am and I can be reached on the usual email address

Next week, we are going tropical, taking a look around our Palm House, and at the tropicals that do well in our climate and how to create that lush feel here in Ireland. Until then, happy gardening.

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