If you need to create privacy from neighbours, mask an ugly view, create natural divisions in your garden, or create a feeling of enclosure around a seating area, plants that have a screening effect can be very useful in the garden. They also change with the seasons, offering interest throughout the year.
Screening plants differ to hedges - they are less dense and less formal, allowing glimpses of what is beyond while creating an informal boundary. Some, such as bamboo and grasses, are dynamic, rustling gently in the wind. They take up less space than a hedge, so are a good choice for smaller gardens and courtyards.
You could also consider planting a tree to create privacy and to screen neighbouring buildings. Read about our recommended screening trees.
Choose the largest plants that you can afford, for more immediate impact. Here are some ideas for fast-growing plants for screens.
Bamboo makes a great contemporary screen. Go for a non-invasive clump-forming variety such as Fargesia nitida. Once the plants have reached your desired height, snip the tops off. Bamboo can be grown in containers, making it a good choice for screening a patio, roof terrace or balcony.
Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is a lovely deciduous climber that forms dense cover if grown up a trellis. It has rich green leaves and white, scented flowers in summer – ideal grown near a seating area. Cut back after flowering to keep it within bounds.
Ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis 'Kleine Silberspinne' make attractive, fluid screens that are also tactile - it's impossible not to run your hands through them. Plant in a row for an attractive, hazy screen that changes throughout the seasons and looks particularly good in autumn.
Dogwoods offer interest throughout the year. They provide more cover in spring and summer, when they have attractive foliage (and flowers) but come into their own in winter, when their colourful, glowing stems are revealed. Good for creating a natural boundary.
Vines, such as Vitis vinifera (shown) are fast-growing and will not only cover a trellis but the top of a pergola, for example, making them a good choice for creating privacy in the spring and summer (less so in winter). And you'll have the added advantage of grapes to enjoy.
Pyracantha (firethorn) is an easy-to-grow shrub that will fill out to make a dense screen. It has creamy-white scented flowers in summer, followed by berries in autumn, loved by birds. It can put on 50cm of growth a year. Use it to disguise an ugly building such as a shed, or to create a 'divider' within the garden.