A living fence is more than an evergreen hedge

I admit it. One section of my lawn is particularly ugly. Between crabgrass and wavy terrain from mole tunnels, my lawn of shame is as annoying to me as it is to my neighbor. We will call him "Bob." Bob's lawn is impeccable. It's that dream lawn, where you see yourself walking barefooted on the grass to reach your Adirondack chair facing the ocean. Yes, I have lawn envy. Bob, smart landscape designer that he is, created a living fence extending about 15 feet long to separate our two lawns. The thick patch of gorgeous vegetation that makes up Bob's living fence prevents the undesirable grass in my lawn from creeping into his lawn from paradise.

What is a living fence?

A fence, in general, keeps something or someone in or out of an area. A living fence is a barrier made from living plants. One type of living fence is a hedge, like boxwood or holly, which may mark all or part of a property line. Evergreen hedges, however, are not the only plant material to create a living fence. Flowers, non-evergreen shrub varieties, or ornamental grass are equally cable of creating a barrier.

Living fence height, width and purpose

A living fence that grows tall can create privacy and block undesirable views. To block the view on the other side of your living fence, choose plants that will grow more than 5 feet tall and have a wide spread. A living fence created from medium to short vegetation blocks foot traffic but not views. Tall or short, a living fence may also block unwanted vegetation. When planted on raised soil, a living fence can help direct surging rain water flow. The width of the fence may be 2 to 5 feet, depending on plant selection.

Living fence design

The outline of the ground around a living fence may be straight or wavy lines. Bob's design is straight on the long sides with curved ends. Much like a landscape island, a living fence may start and end without butting up against an obstacle or without completing surrounding an area.

The tall plants in Bob's living fence are rose-of-Sharon shrubs. Day lilies, ornamental grass, and black-eyed Susan offer medium height. Mexican heather fills small openings around the border.

I also created a living fence in my yard (shown below). I chose a country style garden barrier that provides blooms from spring into fall. Lily of the valley, daffodils and iris start the bloom process in spring. As those flowers fade, yellow yarrow, purple coneflower, deep blue salvia and lavender Russian sage take over for summer color. In the fall, on the backside of the living fence, a row of chrysanthemum finishes out the growing year.

For your own living fence, choose plants of varying heights and colors that go together. Ornamental grasses are an option instead of flowering plants. The tallest plants form the center line of the living fence. Separate the tall plants with medium height plants. Use short plants (6 inches or shorter) to fill gaps and as a border.