How to screen off an area

Garden screening can give shelter from the weather and increase your privacy too – it's definitely something to take into account when planning your garden

A desire to feel sheltered is one of the most innate parts of being human. We seek shelter from extremes of weather – such as buffeting winds and scorching sun; along with shielding from the eyes of others. Well thought-out screening can transform the feel of your outdoor space: try to create a balance between shelter and privacy while not blocking too much light and views out.

A clever mix of living and non-living elements provides visual interest along with a finely-balanced level of screening and shelter. At eye height, Corten steel panels and slatted fencing provide a secure, impermeable barrier that also forces the eye to concentrate on the garden rather than the road beyond. Above head height, trained trees break up the visual impact of the building behind while still allowing light through.

Permeable pleasures

Lower level screens can be useful in a garden, and where privacy is less of an issue, screens can be made permeable. This also has the effect of filtering the wind, helping to avoid turbulence. Metal sheets can be laser-cut to entice and tempt into the garden beyond. Slatted fencing can also be useful for tempting views (and light) through, while still offering a degree of shelter.

Hedge your bets

Hedges are perhaps the ultimate way of screening off an area, either within the garden or along its boundaries. You can choose between evergreen or deciduous, large or small, formal or informal (think smart clipped conifers compared to a billowing hedge of roses). Hedges are great for wildlife and filtering out noise and pollution too. Formal hedges, like the yew hedge in the photo above, are a bit more work to maintain than other types, but they make a fantastic backdrop to garden plants and flowers.

It’s all about the angle

Screening doesn’t always need to be solid. It all depends on the angle you view it from. This sculptural screening feature from a Gold medal-winning garden at the Chelsea Flower Show looks solid when viewed head-on, but reveals unexpected views when seen from the side. A series of narrow trees such as Italian cypresses or ‘Skyrocket’ junipers could perform a similar function in even a relatively small garden, blocking out an unwanted view from the house while still allowing light through to the garden.

Well-trained pleasures

These pleached trees (trained forms on a clear stem) do a magnificent job of providing privacy without taking up too much room at ground level. They require a significant investment in terms of time (to train them yourself) or money (to buy them ready-trained) – but compare their cost to a decent sofa or home furnishings and it doesn’t seem that expensive.

Pleached trees need pruning every year to maintain their shape, but are worth it for their year-round beauty. Some, such as crab apples, feature delightful spring blossom, while hornbeams keep their russet-coloured leaves year-round, providing extra privacy in winter.

Break it up

If large areas of fencing look too dominating, use a combination of plants and mirrors to soften the look. Growing climbing plants on trellis panels can be extremely effective. Make sure mirrors are suitable for outdoor use – lightweight plastic mirrors tend to work well; they should be angled to avoid throwing people’s reflections straight back at them. Old windowframes make ideal holders for garden mirrors.

Add a dash of colour

If you’re blessed with good quality screening that just looks a little dull, it’s worth considering painting or staining it. Not only should it extend the wood’s lifespan, adding colour can really make your plantings sing. Here a deep blue wooden fence sets off the autumnal colours of a Virginia creeper perfectly – what's more it's a self-clinging climber so it doesn't need tying in to wires or trellis and makes a great low-maintenance feature.

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See our easy-to-follow page on keeping your hedge in shape

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