One of the most depressing aspects of many new housing developments is the strange feeling you get that someone has planted an enormous meadow full of houses. Wherever you look, they're there: houses to the left of you, houses to the right of you, houses all around you. Sometimes you can see the houses on the street beyond the street... beyond the street... where your house stands.
Compare that with an "established" neighborhood. Even where houses have been built with the same density, there isn't that feeling of exposure, that lack of privacy that is so common in newly constructed developments. Why? In all probability, in the mature neighborhoods, trees and shrubs have grown up to create a natural separation between the properties. There's a sense of seclusion even when other homes are quite close by.
And you might notice something else about established neighborhoods: they're often not so noisy.
What can you do if you want to enjoy the benefits found in mature neighborhoods, but you don't feel like waiting another ten or fifteen years? Or what if you live on a larger piece of land and you sometimes feel as if you're in the middle of a windswept film set for "Wuthering Heights"?
The answer is... screening.
Creating some form of screening on your land can be a fun project and a very practical one, too. You can choose some form of fencing or trellis, or you can plant some fast-growing shrubs or a hedge. Or – probably the best solution – a mixture of both man-made screening and living plants.
It's a fact that a screen of fencing, shrubs and trees reduces noise by absorbing it and diverting it up and away from you. This is an important consideration if you live near a busy highway or your land backs up to a school playground. Plants dissipate sound waves and can reduce noise levels by up to 60%, according to various expert sources.
There's noisy, and then there's nosy.
Most likely you'd rather the neighbors couldn't watch your every move (but you DID put the hot tub on the back deck, didn't you?) so various types of screening can add to your sense of seclusion.
Screening can also help to break up different areas of your landscape to create interest and a degree of separation. For example, you could use screening to separate a lawn where the kids are kicking around a soccer ball from that little herb garden that will thrive better without the threat of ball bombardment.
What should you plant? Think of dense, leafy shrubs for maximum screening from the noisy and the nosy. But don't forget to add some plants that add to the beauty of your screening. One idea could be some Butterfly Bushes with their very attractive long purple blossoms, or Arnold's Red Honeysuckle.
And if you've tried e-mailing me and had a problem, please try again as I believe we've solved our technical difficulties.
QUESTION: "There is an area in our yard where we have planted (on two separate occasions) 2 birch trees. The trees live for approximately one year and then die at the end of summer. Is it a doomed area....ground cover seems to grow well, however the trees die. The spot is on a drip system that waters approximately 20 other trees that are thriving. Any ideas?" C/S Friend.
ANSWER: It sounds to me that you either have shallow soil in that particular area (where the rock underneath is close to the surface), or it is being sapped by the roots of a nearby tree. That would explain why you can grow a groundcover that has a shallow root system. Or the soil could be heavier in that location where the subsurface would hold water and the top would not. Hope this helps some.