Written by Kara M.
In Southern California, we’re blessed with lots of things – beautiful weather, bright sunshine, and weather that makes it easy to spend time outside almost every day, to name a few. The trade-off? Many of us don’t have much private outdoor space. Our homes are often built close together, and things like busy roads, noisy neighbors, and unsightly views can make it difficult to enjoy our limited yards and outdoor areas.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be difficult to transform your yard, patio, or even balcony into an outdoor oasis. All it takes is a little creativity, and the right plants to create your very own secret garden where you and yours can enjoy secluded time outdoors enjoying everything our Southern California climate has to offer. Here are some of our favorite plants for creating hedges, screens, and privacy.
When you think of traditional hedges and topiaries, the boxwood may be one of the first plants that comes to mind. This dense plant is made to be pruned and can be easily molded into a variety of shapes. Its tight branches and small green leaves provide lots of privacy, whether planted as individual shrubs, or groomed to make a long hedge. To maximize privacy, a hedge may be the best option. However, these plants also look attractive when planted individually, and can either be allowed to grow naturally, with minimal pruning, or can be pruned into a variety of shapes with more aggressive pruning. Additionally, this plant is well-suited for topiaries and outdoor pots.
When properly cared for, the boxwood can reach 15 feet in height, and lives for more than 40 years. If you are looking to border your property with a living privacy fence, this might be the plant for you.
The golden privet is another fairly traditional hedge plant, although its leaves, which are a striking yellow or light-greenish tone, also make it a great accent plant in an otherwise deep green garden. The color of the plant can vary depending on the amount of light it receives – the more sun it gets, the lighter it will be.
This fast-growing plant can reach heights of up to 12 feet and can live as long as 30 years. Its dense foliage creates privacy, shielding your yard from nearby neighbors, or street traffic. It’s also very tolerant of urban pollution, making it a great choice for city-dwellers.
Compact Cherry Laurel
Rounding out our more traditional hedge offerings is the compact cherry laurel. This low maintenance shrub can be used to create privacy either when trimmed into a hedge, or when grown as individual plants. This beautiful plant not only provides privacy, but it’s also stunning to look at, and works well as the centerpiece to any garden. In addition to shiny deep green leaves, it also produces dark, almost black fruit, and bright white flowers.
The cherry laurel is happiest in full sun to partial shade, is not particular when it comes to soil, and is resistant to urban pollution. When well cared for, these majestic plants can grow to 12 feet in height and live for up to 50 years.
Climbing America Rose
Hedges aren’t the only kinds of plants that can provide separation from the world around you. In fact, one beautiful way to create your own secret garden is through the use of climbing plants. One of our favorites is the climbing America rose. When encouraged to grow on a trellis, pergola, or lattice, this distinctive vine can create a privacy screen that is both functional and beautiful, producing coral-colored blooms that both look and smell attractive.
This plant can be fairly high maintenance, requiring regular care and pruning, but we believe that the end result is worth it. This variety is fairly fast growing, but can be leggy at the bottom, so if you want total privacy from the ground up, you may want to invest in a low-profile plant to fill the space nearest the ground.
Mediterranean Fan Palm
Palm trees aren’t exactly rare here. In fact, depending on where in Southern California you live, you might see them, kind of… everywhere. However, when most people think of palm trees, they envision sky-high, mature trees, reaching upwards, bare except at the very top. A young Mediterranean fan palm doesn’t look like this at all.
Instead, this stout, hardy variety produces clumps of green foliage, fanning out more like a bush than a tall tree. This evergreen shrub boasts a rounded shape that looks best without any pruning, making it pretty low maintenance. Additionally, it grows very well in outdoor pots, making it an excellent choice for a container garden, or a row of privacy and shade providing potted plants.
Sky Pencil Japanese Holly
If you’re looking for a completely different aesthetic, we have to recommend the sky pencil Japanese holly. While not a traditional shrub or hedge plant, this striking variety can provide some shade, separation, and privacy when planted side by side in a neat row. This incredibly unique plant is tall, thin, and narrow, with dark green foliage reaching straight up into the sky. Giving a somewhat stark appearance, it is eye-catching enough to be a statement plant, while still providing functional privacy and shade. Although tolerant of urban pollution, it can be very particular about the type of soil in which it grows, making it important to keep the surrounding soil rich and acidic.
Alphonse Karr Bamboo
We’ve saved one of our very favorites for last. When it comes to creating a privacy screen around your yard or property, it’s hard to beat bamboo. Bamboo, in general, is fast-growing, and relatively low maintenance. Alphonse Karr Bamboo, specifically, is a dense evergreen perennial that has a fine and delicate appearance, making it an attractive addition to any garden.
This variety can reach as high as 30 feet at maturity and will live for about a decade. Additionally, bamboo is highly sustainable, making it an excellent choice for any eco-aware gardeners out there.
Whether you are looking to shield your yard from passing traffic, or trying to create some separation from your neighbors, plants can help you achieve your goal. Traditionalists can plant dense, attractive hedges, flower lovers can coax roses and other vine flowers up trellises and lattice, and those looking for something slightly more exotic can cultivate bamboo, or unique Japanese holly. We hope that whatever you choose to create some privacy and separation in your yard, you’re able to enjoy your new secret garden. Happy planting, Green Thumbs!
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