Gardening: Screening plants allow you to enjoy more privacy

Little Gem southern magnolia being used as a privacy screen.

Little Gem southern magnolia being used as a privacy screen.

Special to the Star-Telegram

Privacy is a prized commodity in today’s squeezed urban living.

Our little outdoor retreats are conjoined at the gas grills, and we’re trying to figure ways to isolate ourselves from those all around us.

Often that task falls to our landscapes, and fences come first. Certainly, wood fencing and brick or stone walls give great visual blockage, but they’re also, shall we say, rather like prisons. Plants can step in to soften them.

Vines are your best bets for relaxing the harshness of walls. But you’ll need to know how each type of vine climbs and which will be the best match for your particular structure.

Some types of vines twine around their supports, winding around wood or metal as they grow upward.

Carolina jessamine and the various honeysuckles are classic examples. They’re great on wrought iron or spiraling up wooden trellises, but they have no way to cling onto a rock or brick wall.

By comparison, other types of vines have suction cups or root-like appendages that hold them fast against almost any type of surface. English ivy, Boston ivy and climbing fig (“fig ivy”) are all in that boat. They can climb up a solid brick wall like adhesive tape sticks to flesh. That’s fine when it comes to brick or stone, but it’s not so good when it comes to window screens or siding.

Shrubs become the next big list of privacy plants, and that’s actually where most people spend most of their time thinking. “What types of shrubs would make the best privacy hedges?” they ask.

Let’s establish a few ground rules before we start taking names.

First, a plant needs to be evergreen. It’s nice to have some kind of shrub with colorful flowers in spring or fancy foliage in fall, but if it doesn’t have leaves five months each winter, it’s probably not going to make a good privacy plant. So, it needs to be evergreen.

And it needs to be adapted. There’s no point in planting a row of some sorry-dog plant that is just going to pout that we’ve asked it to grow in North Texas soils or climate. Oh, and did I suggest that it needs to grow to the height and width that you want without a lot of repetitive pruning and training?

Do a little homework on height. Take a piece of PVC pipe marked off in 1-foot increments. Have someone hold it up out where you’ll be planting your screen, and then you sit and stand in various spots in your landscape. See how tall the plant will need to grow to offer the privacy you need from the curious neighbors’ second-floor windows. This is a critical phase in picking the best possible plant.

I’ll leave the bed layout and planning to you and your landscape designer, but we can discuss plant choices and spacing. It’s generally best to set plants about

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The Cambridge family join Sir David Attenborough for garden screening of A Life On Our Planet

From Good Housekeeping

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, met up with Sir David Attenborough last week, as they all attended a very special outdoor screening.

The Cambridges and Sir David met up in the gardens of Kensington Palace to watch the environmentalist’s upcoming feature film, David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet.

Alongside lovely photos taken at the outdoor event, the official @KensingtonPalace Instagram caption posted in the caption: “With a shared passion for protecting the natural world, they continue to support one another in their missions to tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges our planet faces.

“This includes working together on The @EarthshotPrize, the most prestigious global environment prize in history – further details of which will be shared in the coming weeks.”

The caption also revealed some lovely details about the meet-up, including the fact that Sir David gave Prince George a tooth from a giant shark, called a carcharocles megalodon or “big tooth”.

“Sir David found the tooth on a family holiday to Malta in the late 1960s, embedded in the island’s soft yellow limestone which was laid down during the Miocene period some 23 million years ago,” the caption explains. “Carcharocles is believed to have grown to 15 metres in length, which is about twice the length of the Great White, the largest shark alive today.”

We’re sure that Prince George loved looking at the tooth, as his happy smile in the second photo shared in the Instagram post proves!

The whole of the Cambridge clan, and Sir David for that matter, were wearing smart outfits in coordinating shades of blue for the occasion, with the TV veteran in a navy suit, Princes William and Louis in blue jumpers, George in a blue checked shirt, and Charlotte in cute blue shoes.

The Duchess of Cambridge looked stunning as usual, in a light blue denim shirt dress, which appears to be the Marley Belted style by designer brand Gabriella Hearst.

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