5 Types of Imaginative Walls and Screens

A variety of walls and screens, hedges and fences combine to form the basic framework of the property for privacy and security, and sometimes to block out unsightly views. They also delineate certain areas as independent segments and provide a protective screen from the elements, wind in particular. Many walls and screens will even reduce noise, which is an important factor if your house is near a major road.

Established creepers soften a solid wall constructed alongside a driveway.
This pretty wrought-iron screen is a relic from a demolished theatre.

The materials used for walls and screens particularly are as vast and varied as those utilized in the construction of the house itself. Bricks, timber, precast concrete, stone all have a role to play.

In gardening terms, landscaping is generally categorized as being either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. The erection or construction of walls and fences, paving and anything else which requires solid materials – brick, stone and so on – falls under the former classification, and all planting, including that of hedges, under ‘soft landscaping’.

Pinks and a subtle shade of yellow cascades over a stone wall in the front garden of a country home. Photo © Janek Szymanowski
Ground covers, including the silvery-grey snow-in-summer, smother a low, stone retaining wall. Photo © Janek Szymanowski

In practice, a well-planned yard garden will always employ a combination of the two landscaping techniques, combining hard, rigid materials (a stone or brick wall, for instance) with foliage and flowers to provide the vital softening effect. 

Types of Wall & Screens

1. Fencing

Constructed from either wood or metal and wire, fences are a common and effective means of enclosing a property, even though they are considerably less durable than walls.

There are many types and styles of fencing, walls and screens. A partially solid timber structure will make a good windbreak, although it will not block out noise as effectively as a high wall. A post-and-rail fence will simply define the boundary. while a wire mesh fence will serve the same purpose and offer some security (provided, of course, that it has the height). Well planted, it will also form an effective windbreak.

Pool fencing is partially obscured by planting. Photo © Janek Szymanowski

The type of fence chosen will depend on the style of your outdoor area as well as on function. Post-and-rail is perfect for a farmhouse garden, while a picket fence is more appropriate for a cottagey look. Trellis and lattice-work fences are ideal for the Victorian garden, as is decorative wrought-iron, while more delicate bamboo is better suited to a Japanese-style exterior.

If you need solid fencing for the perimeter of your suburban property, consider vertical or woven panels, or palisades (posts nailed to horizontal rails). Another possibility is a wooden stockade of cut timber, railway sleepers or poles.

If you have a swimming pool, you may be required by the local authority to fence the area. Here, special galvanized metal fencing is most commonly used, although there is nothing to stop you erecting some other type of fence – provided it is at least 1.2 m or 4 ft high and has no cross-pieces on the outside to enable a child to climb over. Remember, too, that gates leading into the pool area should also be self-closing and self-locking.

2. Hedges and Plant Screens

A screen of foliage is an attractive alternative to brick, stone, concrete, even timber. Rich in pattern and texture, it will filter light and introduce welcome contrast to the yard and garden. Formal hedges and informally planted barriers are both excellent for providing privacy and screening against the wind.

Even though a hedge will take longer to create than a wall, it is the cheaper option, and one which will blend with the environment, providing a good looking backdrop for other plants. It will also take up less space than most informal borders.

Well-trimmed hedges are a feature of an English Country-style garden. Photo © Janek Szymanowski

Hedges are a centuries-old means of screening and enclosing and are most common in the formal garden. However, they are appropriate to other styles, including the informal Cottage garden and backyard.

The type and size of hedge planted will depend on its particular function. A boundary hedge will usually be allowed to grow to a reasonable height, while a hedge around a formal flower bed may be only a few centimetres high. A hedge screening an area within the yard will be about 1,8 m or 6 ft high.

Common plants traditionally used for formal hedging include yew, box and the deciduous beech. Eugenia brasiliensis is a good choice for a thick boundary hedge. Just be aware that it will grow to a height of about 4 m or 13 ft, and planted for hedging, it should always be carefully trimmed, to encourage bushing, and kept to a maximum height of about 2 m or 6 ft.

Euonymus japonica is a useful evergreen which may be trimmed to a hedge as low as 1 m or 3 ft. Both hibiscus and oleander make good informal hedges. Just bear in mind that the sap of the oleander is poisonous. If properly trained, plumbago is another good choice for a colorful informal hedge.

Several small bushes may be planted to create a dwarf hedge, including some of the ericas (commonly known as heathers) cotton lavender (Santolina) and even ordinary lavender (Lavandula spica in particular).

Conifers make good barriers, and of course will grow to a considerably greater height than the standard clipped hedge.

For a formal hedge, choose plants of approximately the same height. An informal barrier of screening shrubs, on the other hand, should be varied in species as well as height for interest.

When planting hedges, walls and screens, be careful not to place shrubs too close together. Instant screening is seldom feasible, which is why so many people tend to over-plant. Always consider the eventual size of the species and rather fill spaces with (temporary) annuals to give color for a season.

3. Precast Concrete

Many homeowners who find a solid brick wall too costly opt for the precast variety. Available in a range of patterns and textures, including a type designed to look like brick, a precast concrete wall will enable you to enclose your property. The disadvantage is that these walls and screens are not particularly attractive, and generally need abundant planting to camouflage them.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to train climbers and creepers over this type of structure (they will not tolerate nails unless rawl bolts are used). Another solution is to place a wooden trellis in front of the wall. Additional netting or wire is another option. Ohterwise, simply plant large shrubs in a generous mixed border to hide the structure.

4. Screens

Solid walls or densely planted hedges are the obvious options for boundaries. Screens within a backyard are usually less substantial. A trellis or lattice fence, or even a simple homemade wooden framework, will effectively screen an area without blocking out light and. Moreover, they will allow a glimpse of what lies beyond. Planted with climbers, it will soon take on the look of an appealing foliage screen (see Hedges and plant screens, above).

A planted screen is also effective, although it will obviously take a little longer to establish.

An imaginative lattice screen forms a charming backdrop for seating in a Victorian-style garden, and, at the same time, hides a utilitarian shed. Photo © Janek Szymanowski

Walls and screens perform many functions. They will shield a service area where rubbish bins, washing lines and so on are kept. They will create an illusion of privacy around a swimming pool or in another part of the yard. If well placed, they will prevent the wind from buffeting treasured plants.

If wind is a problem, choose a screening device like a latticework fence or breeze-block structure, that will allow the full force to filter through it rather than have it come up against a solid barrier and create unpleasant turbulence.

Oval-leafed privet, Ligustrum lucidum, has been planted between roses to create an interesting and unusual hedge alongside a tiled walkway. Photo © Janek Szymanowski

5. Walls

Man has been building walls since the earliest times to keep out intruders and to demarcate his boundaries – functions that are as valid today as they ever were.

A wall, though relatively expensive (especially if it is to encircle a large property), is nevertheless quite quickly constructed and, if combined with foliage will add charm to any backyard or garden.

Built of stone, brick (which may be facebrick or plastered and painted), or concrete blocks, walls are also are a reasonably good barrier against noise and dust. They may be built to retain earth in the yard, where there is a change in level, for example, or where a sloping site needs to be terraced.

Solid walls and screens are particularly appropriate for the boundary of any property, while decorative breeze blocks, which allow air to circulate and minimize turbulence, are better suited to screens within the yard (see Screens, above). Where noise is a factor, solid walls are the more sensible option: the expense is usually worth it in the long run.

If you are planning a solid structure, consider incorporating planters or niches in which statues or other decorative features can be displayed. In a small yard, creepers will hide the hard surface while a climber such as honeysuckle, the canary creeper, the common ivy, Hedera helix, or ivy-leaved pelargoniums may be trained in a diagonal (criss-cross) pattern to add interest. If your yard is large, you may prefer to disguise the wall and, in addition, to plant a mixed border with trees behind and shrubs in front.

Another option is to incorporate espaliered trees (apple and pear are the classic choices), shrubs or climbers. Here the plant is trained against the wall to form a geometric, two-dimensional shape.

In a water garden a wall is often suitable as a backdrop for a fountain, perhaps one with a fish or cherub spouting water into the pond.

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