by Frank Niccoli
One of my favorite privacy plants is called the Fern Pine (Podocarpus gracilior) but it isn’t a pine at all. It does well in sun or shade and is very clean and pest free. It can be pruned and shaped as you wish. In fact, I pruned a line of Fern pines at a home in Palo Alto in a manner that the lower 8 feet of the plants were a dense hedge and the top 7 feet were opened up to form a very lovely lacy line of trees. It looked as if there were two different types of plants.
The Pittosporum family has many in its family that work very well as privacy screens. Pittosporum eugeniodes and Pittosporum tenuifolium are very similar in growth habits and leaf shape. Both have wavy leaf shapes of a light yellow-green, and both will reach heights of 40 feet although the ones at my home are kept at 12 feet. The main difference between the two is that Pittosporum tenuifolim has darker stems, the leaf color is a bit darker green, and is a finer textured plant than its cousin. Pittosporum tobira is also a great screening plant. It will grow in full sun and reach 10 to 15 feet of dense shrubbery in no time. Be careful with your pruning of this plant. It does not like to be sheared but will respond well to pruning. There is also a smaller version of Pittosporum tobira called Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheelers Dwarf’. It will reach about 2 feet tall and is a good choice for small-scale ground cover areas. Wheelers Dwarf is excellent around swimming pools.
The Hopseed bush (Dodonea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) is a bronzy green-leafed plant that is very good choice if you are looking for a hedge of a different color. In full sun the foliage is almost a purple; and although it will thrive in the shade, the leaf color tends towards the greener shades.
Camellias are great choices for those shadier areas of the garden. They will grow from 6 to 12 feet depending on the variety. They have the added attraction of having flowers. They do require some additional maintenance and are susceptible to some additional maintenance and are susceptible to some insect and disease problems.
Photinia fraseri is a showy screening plant. The new foliage is a fantastic bronzy red in the spring. It also has flowers that are white and quite fragrant. Watch for aphids on this plant.
Last but certainly not least is Xylosma congestum. This plant would win as the most versatile garden plant in California. Its graceful, spreading branches will reach heights of up to 30 feet. It can be cut at almost any height and shape that you wish. It can be trained as an espaliered plant, a small single or multi-trunked tree, a container plant, and a hedge. This plant is one of my favorites.