Designing loose shrub border along fence

alygal(PacNW z7)August 7, 2011

Am starting to plan and buy shrubs for a loose border along side the fence of a problematic neighbor. I plan the back row of evergreen/conifers to be apporx. 6-8 feet.

The site is to the south as I face it, meaning the plants will be facing north and getting sun from behind and above? There is a fare bit of sun exposure during the day, direct sun from 9 am to about 3 pm. Then it is in open shade. Across the street are Doug firs which cast shade in the afternoon.

I am leaning towards a mixed/layered border of evergreens, natives, and exotics. But oh the choices! I am overwhelmed.

I'm thinking I need help with choosing conifers/evergreens for the back row.

I am collecting a few plants here and there to plant in the fall. I already have two Hydrangea 'Limelight' which I would like to work in. I also have a few different rhodies I would like to incorporate in. Those are supposed to grow to max. 4-5 feet, so perhaps in front of the taller shrubs.

I also have some Ceanothus 'Victoria' which I could use or use elsewhere (I am on a 1/2-acre).

Some plants that come to mind that I know will do well in our area are Nandina 'Moyers Red', Camellias, Mahonias, and the usual evergreens one buys at the big box stores.

As you will see in the photos there is a holly tree which casts some shade. There are two smaller shrubs which I would love to pull out but cannot because of the neighbor. She claims that her family had put up the tree and shrubs years before she put up the white fence. All this was years before we purchased our house. Still, I don't want to create more problems so I won't take out the tree for now but will work with it. The shrubs are forsythia which she clips from her side of the fence.

Appreciate any thoughts or suggestions.

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I would probably start with a land surveyor to find out exactly where the boundary is . . .

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 7:30PM
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Keep the tree and have her dig up the hollies to her side of the fence and tell her to do a better job pruning.

A tree that size, assuming it meets your needs, can not be easily replaced, so think carefully before removing it.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 10:12AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

As English holly is a serious weed here the thing should be taken out anyway. The lawn shape should be modified so there are no straight runs. Draining the gutter onto the lawn with an ugly black slotted pipe should be reconsidered. In addition to the eyesore aspect an undesirable wet area may be possible during the winter, when the lawn does not need extra water.

Hiring a garden designer to draw up a border plan might turn out to be worthwhile for you.

No woody plant reaches a predetermined height and then halts, while remaining attractive and healthy. 5' is pretty low for panicle hydrangea. 'Moyer's Red' splays open badly. Many heavenly bamboo in this area are now showing significant problems with foliage mildew. If you really are in USDA 7 many kinds of camellias will have hardiness issues during colder winters - there is some periodic damage to susceptible sorts even in Seattle (USDA 8).

In a colder area the ceanothus might also burn sometimes. Otherwise 'Victoria' (probably correctly 'Skylark') is a better doer here than most kinds of ceanothus.

Stock from big box stores may often have been allowed to wilt or even shrivel before purchase. Watering can also be missed at large independent outlets, plus plants have often been well fertilized at production facilities and then cut off once arriving at retailers. Best bet is to make frequent visits and grab things as soon as they have been priced, right after they have come off the truck.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 12:31PM
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pinusresinosa(MN Z4)

I agree with the first response. If your property encompasses the tree and shrubs, I'd just remove them. Either way, I'd think about your own fencing before planting.

Something's odd about the fence and those existing shrubs/tree. I don't like speaking ill of others, but your neighbor seems like they might be a real pill.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 3:14PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

If you've decided appeasement is the best strategy with the neighbour, then planting more stuff that creates gradual change is a good method.

I'm not clear on whether you want a uniform conifer wall or a variety of them. But either way, if you want to front them with rhodos etc, you'll need your border made deeper. If you want specialty conifers, then check in with the conifer forum for selection and places to shop.

As your stuff grows in and starts to interfere with the existing shrubs, you can start pruning them more aggressively and gradually remove them. By then she will have lots of other stuff to obsess about :-)


    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 3:58PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Beyond the apparently dysfunctional relationship you have with your neighbor, it sounds like it would be well worth getting the boundary line properly surveyed to sort out your rights. The double layer of shrubs you envision will best be done with a much deeper width bed, and may not be in good proportion with the remaining lawn and garden. I'd suggest that a single row of evergreen shrubs of one type either formal or informal to a 4/5' height with a fronting mixed border of perennials might give you more screening and privacy from your neighbor while also in better scale with your own garden. It is hard for me to picture such a neighbor, and only you can ultimately assess how to deal with this issue. If it were me, at a minimum I'd want to know who's property ended where, and hopefully if things work to your favor, offer to dig up the forsythias and give them to your neighbor to replant on her side. Maybe offer to purchase another Holly for her garden too, before removing the old one. Wishing you a stress free resolution, and avoiding a potenti ongoing low grade feud...

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 6:28PM
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It looks like your neighbor owns the fence, correct? I'd choose plants that won't do any damage to the fence (no poking through with limbs that could get fat & stress the pickets, nothing that drops berries that could stain it). Do they power-wash the fence? If so, leave a buffer of empty space between your shrubs and their fence so you can hopefully put up plastic to deflect the high velocity soapy water.

I'm just thinking the worst because your neighbor sounds difficult to deal with.

A friend had a berm & many shrubs planted to give her yard some privacy, it was exposed on 2 sides. I can't advise you on what conifers will do well in your zone, but I can tell you what has worked (and not worked) in her landscape now 8 years later ...
Planting white pines gave her near-instant privacy, but is now crowding everything else. I think they were put in to be a temporary measure but she loves the way they block visibility in the winter so she's torn about getting rid of them.
Planting several different kinds of a single plant worked well. She has a ton of lilacs which extends the bloom time.
Planting bushy perennials at the feet of those lilacs works well to hide their less-attractive leggy bits. But she finds the perennials & lilacs compete for water in the summer so she put in a soaker hose.
She has some purple-foliaged shrub/trees like a purple sand cherry - that adds some nice contrast when nothing is in flower. Purple is the only colored foliage she went with, so the effect is calm.
She had one big shrub with leaves with white margins. It always looked sickly from a distance, even though it wasn't. Since you'll be seeing this area from a distance you probably want to stand WAY back from variegated foliage to figure out if you have the same thoughts about those plants.
She wanted something for the local wildlife to snack on, so she added rosa rugosa for their rose hips. They are pretty and they tolerate the sand/salt from the road nearby - but they aren't so pretty in winter. It's a love/hate relationship.

Is there a wealthy neighborhood or town nearby that you can drive through? That's my fall back position when I know I want to do something but I'm not sure what will look good. I go look at what combinations look good in other people's yards!

Good luck with the planting and with the neighbor.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 9:22PM
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alygal(PacNW z7)

Thanks for all the responses.

Yes, we plan on having a survey done this fall. I have called three survey companies in town and our county assessors office and discovered our county street was never surveyed. The houses were built before proper surveying was done. The lots to appear to be true to what our county assessors office shows on their GIS mapping system. A few other neighbors have expressed interest in going in with me to have their lots surveyed so it ought to bring the cost down.

This neighbor has been a pill for years and I've written about her elsewhere. This last March she had her husband take several shrubs I had planted 3' out from the fence. He admitted to this deed to other neighbors but denied it when I confronted him. There are some mental health issues at play here which is one reason I don't wish to antagonize. You never know what people will do these days.

This evening I went on an open garden tour in north Portland (OR) put on by our Hardy Plant Society. Picked up some great ideas there from small urban gardens. One place had a row of arborvitae trimmed down and quite dense. They state they only have it trimmed once a year. In front of the arborvitae were some rhodies, trees, and other shrubs.
I have included a photo below. This is a front garden "room." The sidewalk is on the other side of the arborvitae hedge. I am thinking I might like to create a similar room and make our front area very private.

Either that or put up something very thorny!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 2:38AM
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Based on previous actions, would a living fence live with those neighbors? I would be sorely tempted to put up a 6' privacy fence as soon as the site survey was completed.

You likely will have to make the bed deeper although it looks pretty deep near that holly.

The East Multnomah Soil and Water District has some great tours and classes also to give you more suggestions.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 4:27PM
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alygal(PacNW z7)

We have actually planned to put up a temporary bamboo fence to prevent these people from spraying Roundup on our plants. They did this once before. That way we can plant and give the plants a chance to become established. The neighbor claims 2-feet on our side of the fence is hers.

That fence has been there since 1994 and might be considered the boundary line now by right of "adverse possession" regardless of where the original line may have been.

And yes, we will pull the bed out to make it deeper. We left it as is until we could decide our next plan so it does look rather dismal and sad.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:05PM
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Since the boundaries have never been accurately surveyed maybe they think you're taking over their property...

Instead of these midnight guerilla raids to put in plants and counter-attack with spraying round up why not just talk to them and agree to some binding arbitration that the surveyed line will be the boundary. Who knows maybe the line is at an angle and you're both half right.

Look for a win/win situation and not a winner take all

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 6:32AM
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alygal(PacNW z7)

Well as I mentioned there are mental health issues at play. The SWAT team has visited this woman's house twice in the 14 years we've lived here, using our yard as a staging area.
There really is no negotiation with this neighbor. She has antagonized not only us but every neighbor on this street. She is well known to our local police for making false calls. She inherited her house and plot of land from her elderly mother. She is estranged from much of her family.

But this topic has digressed from what I was originally asking about.

After the survey, regardless of which way it goes, I believe our best design for the privacy we require will be to go with a arborvitae hedge in the back, closer to the boundary line and then layer looser shrubs in the front, pulling the bed out by several feet. I have some smaller vine maples and Japanese maples in starter pots now as well as the rhodies and hydrangeas mentioned above. This will reduce the lawn significantly but that's okay.

If the holly and shrubs turn out to be on my property I'm yanking them out!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 11:37AM
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Hey, a living fence of trees and shrubs sounds like a very good idea. How about supplementing that with a 6' high chain-link barrier j-u-s-t inside the surveyed boundary line? It would serve as a concrete reminder for your neighbour, helping her to appreciate where her rights end and yours begin. On your side, the foliage would grow into and conceal the structure. Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 5:35PM
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