Near Miss: To Screen or not to Screen

Welcome! This is my first ever blog post and starting a landscape blog has been on my bucket list for many moons. I hope you find it interesting and informative, and if not, at least entertaining. My goal is to put out some good, solid, real world landscaping content that is a paradigm shift or two from what you might be used to. Here I am not going to be talking about tulips, pansies, or patting butterflies on their asses while you deadhead your perennial border; but rather, real world landscaping topics relevant to anyone who is interested in the subject or just wants to pull up a seat. Thanks for checking it out, and if you enjoy it, please subscribe and share with others because there is more to come. So here it goes:

What’s one of the most common functional goals that my clients desire in their plantings? Screening. Whether it be dividing an outdoor space, providing privacy from passing cars, or making that 10,000+ sq. ft. mansion next door disappear, these are just a few examples of the many scenarios designers like myself are challenged with every day. While a well planned landscape can add value to your property, both monetarily and from a personal satisfaction standpoint, poor planning, including improper tree and shrub species selections, can be costly and disappointing to say to say the least.

One of my wife Elizabeth’s and my new favorite weekend pastimes is driving around Atlanta neighborhoods when our two-year-old son, Reed, has fallen asleep in our car. When this happens, we tend to gravitate towards the more established and well-kept ones.

Being a professional landscape designer, I particularly enjoy observing a different set of mature landscapes I don’t get to see every day. I like to think of it as driving through an arboretum with many different levels of care. Each home landscape in the neighborhood has its own story to tell. We both love looking at what others have done with their homes and landscapes, and sometimes, regretfully, what they perhaps should have not done.

Beyond what I like and don’t like there is another category that I call the “near miss”.

near miss- n. something that fails by a very narrow margin: Her campaign for the Senate was a near miss.

The near miss category is one of those phenomena that is the hardest for me to accept. While the NM label could be pinned on the chest of a number of different categories, in this post I will give you a real world example. Take the row of Leyland cypresses in the first photo. Other than growing out into the road and obscuring motorists’ vision when making a left hand turn, they look great. Right?

Well maybe from that vantage point. Creeping forward and momentarily looking left, trying to check out that fabulous midcentury gem’s bold roof line, and hoping not to run into a pot hole waking Reed, (which seem so happen often enough when I take my eyes off the road for some reason (Elizabeth’s eyes rolling)), I couldn't help but notice the failed horticultural attempt (see photo below). If the person who had spec’d this row of Leylands had achieved their goal, I really shouldn't be looking right through them into the kitchen window, or admiring the Big Green Egg on the deck but looking at a wall of green.

You might ask something like, “Tim, how do you know that was even the goal in the first place?” Well, call me a forensic landscaper, but anytime I see a row of Leylands my automatic first thought is “what are they trying to hide?” and I'm usually right. Unfortunately for everyone involved in this case I get to see right through them. Who knows, maybe the owners who originally installed them are long gone. Maybe nobody cares, but the current owners probably do and judging by how well maintained the front looked, I would guess it is now a painpoint.

For far too long, Leyland cypresses have been the “go to” solution for more situations than they deserve and this example is no exception. Fortunately they seem to be used less often nowadays; but, here's the kicker: cryptomerias have quickly taken their place and under similar circumstances they can have the same issues. Hey, if you have wide open spaces with plenty of sunshine (even better if the installation site elevation is lower (downgrade) than the area where the screening is desired) then have at it. Even then, there are other options I would encourage you to consider.

To sum it up, it was a near miss and here’s why: In order to obtain the goal (screening) one mistake was made (plant selection). That mistake was not the nursery from which the plant material was purchased, not the installation techniques, not the hand watering, fertilization, pest outbreak, pruning, digging, weather, or even the mulching. It was one bad decision in proper species selection for the site. Good plantings start at the beginning. A problem recognized is a problem half solved.

So just what are the other options? In the next post, I will discuss functional goals, site considerations, and get into some alternative selections that would have risen to the occasion and served the intended purpose.

Photo above: Another example of a near miss

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