By Danielle Braff
Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Landscapers and their clients are thinking outside the fence and going green.
Green fences use trees, bushes and a mixture of plants to create a privacy wall instead of the traditional wooden fence.
During a trip to France and England, Bill Mabe, a retired financial executive, and his wife, Kathy, an executive at Allstate, noticed that many people there used a variety of greens to create privacy and outdoor living rooms and gardens.
They decided to replicate the look in their sprawling New Albany, Ohio, backyard.
Their landscaper created a mix of bushes and trees to enclose their outdoor eating area, planted another set of trees and plants along the outdoor walking path and more to line their backyard for privacy.
Bill Mabe said the results were glorious.
“I think what I like about it is the privacy, but we also have a tremendous amount of height, and it’s like you have very high ceilings,” he said.
While wooden, iron and other metal fences are traditional, green fences appear to be gaining steam at a time when natural and sustainable options are trending.
Green fences also have the extra bonus of requiring little maintenance after the first year of installation, said Ohio landscape designer Nick McCullough.
“On the appropriate site, it will need water and nutrients in the soil, and you can trim them if you want depending on the style, but it doesn’t need much maintenance once it’s installed,” McCullough said.
In the first year, he said, the trees need to get established, which includes extra watering and soil checks.
“If it’s a good site, it will outlive us,” McCullough said.
A wooden fence, on the other hand, may need to be stained or repainted every few years and eventually will need to be replaced.
Green fences also don’t tend to have height restrictions, said Jennifer Hoxsie, design manager at Greenhaven Landscapes Inc.
“Wooden fences are often limited by municipal height constraints and are not allowed within certain [homeowners associations],” Hoxsie said. “Naturalistic and hedged plantings can be a great way to achieve the functional separation the client desires that is beautiful to look at, while meeting municipal and HOA constraints.”
For a home that she did in Glencoe, Hoxsie wanted to screen a neighbor’s large house from her client’s entry. A standard fence could only be built 4 feet high in the front yard, which wouldn’t have been effective.
“So we installed a 17-foot spruce along the border, and layered plantings in front to create a beautiful green fence,” Hoxsie said.
Evergreens could have been another option for that space, she said.
The key is figuring out which types of plantings would go well with the design of your landscape, and making sure they would do well in your climate. In some regions, green fences must be able to survive a hot and a cold season.
The National Association of Landscape Professionals said hedges are popular for green fences because they can screen views, reduce noise and create many different types of private spaces.
When considering different types of plants, you should choose those that provide a significant width, so that the fence is dense and hard to penetrate.
Height is also important to consider – the fence should contain foliage from top to bottom, according to the association.
Evergreens offer year-round coverage. For height, juniper and arborvitae are good options, said Tony Butterworth, senior designer with Christy Webber Landscapes and a member of the National Association of Landscapes.
Butterworth also likes Carpinus (American hornbeam), which is narrow and upright, and great for creating a screen. They do lose their leaves in the winter, but, he said, you’ll use your yard less in the winter, and when the trees lose their leaves, you’ll gain light in your home, so it’ll be a win-win.
Green fences do have a downside.
“The No. 1 reason to have a fence is to solidify boundaries, and if you put a hedge up, it’s not the most impenetrable fence,” Butterworth said. “Even if it’s higher, it’s not a great barrier, and if you have kids or dogs, it’s not a great barrier.”
Many of his clients compromise by putting up an iron fence and then placing greenery in front of it to soften or even hide the fence.
That way, the kids and the dogs don’t cross into your neighbor’s space, but the backyard still maintains a green feel.