Q. How can I create privacy in my small suburban garden?

Trees can create a leafy look that’s perfect if you’re overlooked, says Dawn Isaac 

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Trees are the answer to hiding your garden from interested neighbours; you can plant a few smaller, multi-stem specimens in all but the tiniest garden, creating a mini woodland effect. The key ingredient is patience. As the Chinese proverb says: ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ But don't be downhearted. You may already have some established trees that you can add to and plant around. And even if you have an empty plot like this one here, it's encouraging to remember that the younger trees are planted, the better they establish and the faster they’ll grow.
There’s more good news too: woodland gardens tend to be light on the hard landscaping, which means you can avoid the most expensive part of any garden build. Once established, they’re also relatively easy to maintain, provided you mulch well to retain moisture and keep the soil well fed.
Of course the trick is to get the planting right. Start by building up layers, with the top tree canopy underplanted with smaller trees and shrubs, and a low woodland floor layer growing beneath everything else. To break up a green fog of leaves, scatter in some changes of texture and inject some colour. This is relatively easy in late winter and spring as there are legions of bulbs pre-programmed to do their thing before the tree canopy steals the light. For summer and autumn, use the shade-loving perennials listed overleaf. 

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THE PROBLEMS
1 Bare walls make the garden seem boxy and hemmed in
2 Lack of planting means there’s no seasonal interest or colour
3 Absence of trees and tall plants means the garden is overlooked
4 Without plants the entire garden can be seen all at once
5 Large neighbouring house wall is a bit of an eyesore

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THE SOLUTION
By introducing trees and shrubs the garden immediately enjoys more privacy, shade and shelter. These leafy plants create habitats for wildlife and can bring seasonal flowers and berries for colour and fragrance. By planting in layers there’s interest at different levels with plenty to look at and explore.

Frame the entrance Made from peeled oak sections, this rustic arch marks the entrance to the woodland path 

Exploit reflected light The pale colour of this gravel reflects light and makes the path easier to see and navigate. It’s also easier to walk on than bark chippings

Mulch beds Tree roots are greedy for food and water, so mulching beds with organic matter in spring or autumn helps all plants to thrive

Add multi-stemmed trees When a tree produces multiple trunks its energies are diverted, leading to a smaller tree. This makes them ideal for a small garden

Create layers of planting Smaller trees and woodland shrubs create a lower layer beneath the upper canopy, and shade-tolerant species will cover the woodland floor below

Choose a wooden seat A simple seat made from logs and wooden planks fits with the theme perfectly, offering a vantage point to sit and enjoy the garden

Stack up some stumps A pile of cut tree trunks creates both an attractive garden feature and a perfect wildlife habitat in the form of a simple stumpery

Soften the hard edges The hardness of the brick wall has been visually softened by growing an ivy to cover it. This can also be used to clothe the fencing, making the boundaires disappear

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