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  • Tim Wolfe

Near Miss: To Screen or not to Screen Part 3

As a native Atlantan, I really love the city’s symbol of the phoenix rising from the ashes and I know most people love a good comeback story. For this comeback story, we now need to look at the site as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and move toward a rebirth-- a resurgence, if you will. In the last two posts, we identified the problem with the Leylands, started discussing functional goals, site analysis, and touched on design criteria. We also took a look at site considerations that will shape our solutions for the clients.

One item that we did not discuss with regards to design criteria was height specifications for our replacements. While the squirrels living in the pines may have enjoyed the privacy provided by the Leylands, they did nothing for our homeowners. Since the home (location where screening is desired) is located downgrade from the road (adjacent to area where screening is to be planted) the critical screening need is from the ground up to around 7’-8’. Any additional footage would only be a bonus. This is a far cry from our Leylands that when planted in optimum conditions can reach a height of around 70’+. As I said at the end of the first post everything else may have been done correctly with the exception on one little detail: plant species selection.

The good news is that there are a lot of options for privacy and screening in the shade. The bad news is that I know there are people out there making the same old mistakes over and over again because I see it everyday. That's job security, I guess.

Being a professional landscape designer, I appreciate a well executed and cohesive planting scheme, and since the rest of the landscape has an Asian/ naturalistic motif, I’m inclined to keep that tradition alive. So rather than have a monocrop barricade-like planting that does not lend itself to this site for a number of reasons, I would propose to our clients the following as examples of suitable replacements to create naturalistic mix or drift style planting. I wouldn't necessarily use all the selections together, or limit myself to just these. I might use three of them and mix in a few other flowering favorites.

Elaeagnus pungens/ Elaeagnus

This is one of the first shrubs I started to dislike, only to fall in love with it again many years later. Perhaps it had to do with the nickname “uglyagnus” or my inexperience at the time not having encountered enough landscapes in need of extreme solutions. Now I can only compare it to the Vikings who named the green land they found Iceland and the land of ice Greenland to throw off unwanted visitors. Yeah it can get a little out of control and sometimes can be a little difficult to prune if you don’t know what you are doing, but when you need it, nothing else will do. I have seen Elaeagnus serving nobly in numerous roles where others would have likely given up. While I think it goes unnoticed, possibly due to the small hidden flowers, it has a lightly sweet and refreshing fragrance usually scenting the air in Atlanta around halloween. They also can make an impenetrable barrier that could rival anyone's barbed wire fence.

Illicium parviflorum/ Anise

Illicium parviflorum (anise) is made for the shade and for whatever reason they can often be found baking in direct sunlight. While they will “survive” in sun, they prefer more shaded areas. If you crush their olive-colored broad leaves in your hands the fragrance is similar to that of licorice or Jagermeister. This type of anise is a native of Florida where it prefers moist wooded locations. That being said, supplemental irrigation may be needed during periods of drought. I am also a believer that certain trees and shrubs work well together, and I have been pleased with the performance of anise under pine trees like the ones at our clients’ property.

Osmanthus spp./ Tea Olive

I love tea olives as much as any hardcore sports fanatic loves their favorite team. While i’m fond of Osmanthus fragrans, if anyone whispers the words 'Fruitlandii' or 'Aurantiacus' they've got my undivided attention.

Osmanthus x fortunei 'Fruitlandii'/ Fruitland Tea Olive

I used so many of them from about 1999 to 2010 that I think I almost wiped them into extinction in commerce here in the southeast. I know where there might be a few more left, and if you are really nice to me, I still wouldn’t tell you. I've had clients call me up just to thank me for including them in their landscape. I’ve even had colleagues ask me where I got them. I never tell and my answer is always something like, “I bet you’d like to know” or “hey, can I call you right back”.

They have creamy white flowers that bloom in early fall that are powerfully fragrant and will glow in the moonlight. The only downside to these are they are getting harder to find. But like I said earlier, I might know where just enough of them are for this project.

Osmanthus fragrans 'Aurantiacus'/ Aurantiacus Tea Olive

To me, nothing says summer is almost over and fall is upon us like Aurantiacus Tea Olive in bloom. The profuse orange fragrant flowers are a true attention getter. Back in September when it was blooming, my wife and I could smell it inside the house with the doors and windows closed. That may not be saying much since our house was built in 1920, but it makes for a good story.

Agarista populifolia/ Florida Leucothoe

Formerly known as Leucothoe populifolia , as if our jobs weren't hard enough already, the scientific community had to change the genus on us to Agarista. Now known as Agarista populifolia or by the common name Florida Leucothoe, or coast leucothoe, I have to say this shrubs deserves a hard look from anyone standing in our shoes. Its glossy green foliage, arching habit, and ability to swallow space in a woodland setting make it a good choice for our clients. A native of the southeast, Leucothoe performs extremely well in shaded areas and will tolerate sun with adequate irrigation. Leucothoe also produces hidden white creamy flowers in May (here in Atlanta) that smell like honey.

Viburnum awabuki 'Chindo'/ Chindo Viburnum

This glossy leaf, evergreen viburnum is another one of those shrubs that will grow just about anywhere. They are dense and compact with magnolia-like foliage. I view them as doing what those who use magnolias in shade for screening wish they would do, particularly in situations where space is limited. I wouldn’t recommend dragging one out in the middle of a triple canopy forest and expect it to perform well (although I know of one or two that did), but I do think that the site in which we are working would be perfect. The only issues I have noticed in the last 15 years I have been using them is that voles seem to like them and the leaves will droop in extreme cold temperatures, but they always seem spring back nicely.

Ilex Spp. Various Hollies:

I prefer hollies over conifers for screening most any day. I really can’t think of another genus that encompasses so many different, versatile varieties and hybrids ready to be deployed. While just any holly wouldn't serve our purposes (for example, helleri or sky pencil would not be a good fit), these are just two I would recommend for this project.

Ilex x 'Mary Nell'/ Mary Nell Holly

One of my favorites. I particularly love the spiny oval leaves all year and the abundance of magnificent red berries in late fall. I once made a mansion disappear in just a few hours by installing 10 or so on one property back in 2008. I was just there on Thursday admiring their glossy green texture amongst all the deciduous trees and ornamentals.

Ilex x screenplay/ Screenplay Holly

This is a new introduction from Itsaul Plants I’ve tried in my garden as well as a few clients. A cross between Ilex integra and Ilex latifolia they caught my eye right away but I wasn’t exactly sure what they were. The two spindly ones in 3 gallon containers I planted in my garden this past spring have flushed out nicely into beautiful swans. I think this one has promise due to being a holly without having stickers and with beautiful laurel-like foliage. As a consumer, you most definitely won't find this one at Home Depot or Pikes now or for a number of years, but keep your eyes peeled.


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