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Options for fast-growing, screening scrubs

We're in north-east England in the countryside and I want to fill some gaps in our screening coverage to the road and a footpath passing our house around our half-acre garden, nestled up against the edge of an old woodland.

My current thoughts are:

  • Leylandii is the easiest/fastest and we have the scale for it but it's so ugly as well as having other problems. I also don't really want to plant something that will be 100' tall if nobody tends to it!
  • Western red cedar is something I've read is the best like-for-like Leylandii alternative - not quite as fast growing but will sprout new growth/branches, looks nicer. I do have some places we want quite tall screening due to the slope and this is what I plan to use here.
  • Laurel (bog standard Portuguese) is my go-to option since it grows fast, is easily managed, will grow as large as needed and is (to me) just an attractive plant. But it stands out as artificial especially if pruned, and you have to prune it to get a dense screen right?
  • We have a lot of holly and yew growing wild here, which fit in nicely but neither is fast growing.
  • Beech. It's native and grows in the woodland anyway, can be pruned to encourage screening and tends to hold its leaves over winter. But I don't know how fast it grows.

Beech is the only deciduous option I'm aware of but I've never grown it before. We do want dense coverage of some quite large areas including down to ground level, which is why evergreens and laurel in particular are my default option. 

The perfect plant would be something that grows densely, naturally without having to be pruned into an obvious hedge - I'd like the average passer-by not to even notice it. But this maybe doesn't exist :)

Any suggestions on something more interesting, or comments on my current options? I assume most will be anti-leylandii and I am too, it has its uses in larger areas but as I discover other conifers I hope not to even need it!



  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,353
    I'm sorry - but anything that's 'fast growing' doesn't magically stop growing, so by all means plant laurel [probably the quickest ] but you'll have to regularly maintain it to stop it growing to an infinite height. Ditto Leylandii. 
    Beech or Hornbeam will retain their foliage if kept at around ten to twelve feet, but again, they'll take several years to reach about 2 metres. 
    Thuja plicata combines the attributes of both laurel and beech - evergreen like laurel, but better behaved, and slower growing like beech/hornbeam. It's also far more attractive than leylandii.
    Holly and yew are also slower growing, and holly is particularly attractive as a hedge, and highly beneficial to wildlife.
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    What height are you looking for eventually? Choisya Ternata can be quite natural looking if you loosely prune them from time to time. Flowers twice a year, fragrant flowers, but only reaches about 2 meters but quite fast growing after the first year.
  • If you don't mind non-native, and the site isn't too exposed, then Pittosporum tenuifolium offers a fast evergreen hedge that looks reasonable, and will come back from dead wood. You'll need to cut it, but it's not a disaster if you forget. I had it up to ten feet in about three years on heavy clay. I also had hornbeam up to a similar height in four years. I did prepare the planting tenches very thoroughly.
  • MisterBoyMisterBoy Posts: 52
    edited February 2019
    Well no plant has an infinite size - though Leylandii for practical purposes will just get bigger and bigger - but sure I take your point. Some of the spaces we have, a laurel even at very large size would be OK but I'm fine topping things like beech/leylandii to curtail their height. The thing I wish I didn't have to do is prune them aggressively e.g. with hedge trimmers, to get a dense foliage. I'm not aware of any plant which naturally will be very dense, whereas obviously any of those mentioned can be if they are maintained... but then they LOOK manicured.

    I'm not familiar with either hornbeam or Thuja plicata so I'll look those up. Thanks!
  • RubytooRubytoo Posts: 1,465
    edited February 2019
    Some cotoneasters, so many different ones to choose.

    I agree thuja is the next best thing . But nothing beats a nice Yew or Holly.

    Is having a raised earth bank an option, with a run of shrubs along would add height, but may be dry.
    Just some ideas to throw in the mix of hedging....?
    Who's next :D
  • RubytooRubytoo Posts: 1,465
    Thuja plicata is Western red cedar :)

  • Rubytoo said:
    Thuja plicata is Western red cedar :)

    Oh, thanks for that! This IS the one which is commonly used as a Leylandii alternative, right? Grows nearly as fast, regrows from brown wood, pleasant smell, etc?
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,353
    Hornbeam is very similar to beech - but copes with wetter sites.  If you plant either in a double, staggered row, they'll thicken up and become a dense hedge relatively quickly - depending on how well the  site is prepped  :)

    Yes - thuja is a much nicer alternative to Leylandii. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • WaysideWayside Posts: 845
    As a non ever green hazel does well for me and field maple and dog wood. All three are great if you have a good metre width. And once established you can hack hard. I am in se. 
  • jaffacakesjaffacakes Posts: 434
    I am looking for some plants that go to about 6foot to fill in gaps for summer screening and will go with Leycesteria golden lanterns and the green form also. Might be an option for you too. These will look quite natural in a woodland setting.
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