How to Add Privacy to Overlooked Gardens using Pleached Trees

As industry leaders in all things pleached, we pride ourselves on the expert content of our website. Our Pleached Trees Guide tells you everything you need to know about ordering, receiving, planting, and caring for this kind of tree, and our extensive range has been helpfully categorised to simplify the selection process. 

With the technical ‘know-how’ covered, we thought it may be useful to take a step back and look at why you might decide to grow pleached trees. There’s no denying they can be an investment in both time and money, so we know it is important to feel fully informed about whether they are the right choice for your garden. 

What is a pleached tree?

Firstly, let’s make sure we’re all clear on what we’re actually talking about! Pleached trees are often referred to as ‘hedges on stilts’, which we think sums them up perfectly. A row of trees is trained onto a supporting network so that their crowns merge together to form one dense mass (just like a hedge), which is elevated off the ground by bare trunks. The mass is usually regularly clipped to form a neat, straight, rectangular shape, though more adventurous gardeners have been known to train two parallel rows into a raised tunnel. 

The pleaching approach is appreciated for what you might call its ‘low garden footprint’, by which we mean it gives plenty of dense, lush, leafy growth high up, yet takes up little room lower down. The ground around the bare trunks tends to offer the part sun/ part shade conditions ideal for many perennials, annuals, and shrubs, making pleaching a great way to squeeze as many plants into an area as possible.   

Pleaching is by no means a new idea, having been around for thousands of years. It is thought to have originated in ancient Europe, the word ‘pleach’ deriving from an old Gaelic word ‘plechier’, meaning ‘to braid’. Farmers are said to have developed the technique as a way of adding extra height and security to their hedges, and it was also used as a defence against cavalry during the reign of Julius Caesar. The style later became popular amongst the European elite, who used it to create grand avenues and tunnels to show off the size and skill of their garden teams. The style continues in popularity today, cropping up frequently in both traditional and contemporary garden design. 

Pleached vs pleached espaliered trees

One thing worth noting is the difference between pleached trees and pleached espaliered trees. While similar in that they’re trained along a flat plane, espaliered trees are not encouraged to form a dense block or screen. Instead, the aim is to keep single branches trained on separate tiers, usually as a space-saving approach for productive fruit trees. You’ll probably see these if you ever visit a walled kitchen garden or market garden. 

How to use pleached trees to add privacy to an overlooked garden

From talking to our customers, we know that the number one reason most of you choose pleached trees is for a quick, attractive solution to a privacy issue. 

Many of us are overlooked by neighbours and will be familiar with that niggling, self-conscious feeling when we’re out in our gardens. To address this, you may have considered raising the height of a fence or wall, though you’ll soon have discovered there are laws about how much you can do this without planning permission. 

The maximum height can vary depending on the local authority, though it’s typically 2 metres for back gardens and 1 metre for the front (this includes fence toppers). Another potential stumbling block is that you might find the structure is not even yours to change! Historically, yours is the fence or wall on the left as you stand with your back to your house, though this isn’t always the case and you’re advised to check the deeds and chat to your neighbour before making any alterations. 

The next logical step is to plant a hedge or row of trees, for which there are no laws regarding maximum height. The law does state, however, that these mustn’t have an adverse effect on your neighbour, so it’s always worth discussing any planting plans before going ahead (there’s a theme emerging here… keeping the neighbours sweet is so important when it comes to anything concerning your boundary!). 

Let’s look at the three main options and break down why you might choose one over the other. 

Standard hedging 

Pros: lower cost than pleached trees

Cons: can take years to grow above the height of the existing wall or fence; occupies the most soil space out of the three options; requires regular maintenance

Row of freestanding trees

Pros: low maintenance; can be lower cost than pleached trees, though if you go for specimens mature enough to achieve the same quick results there’s not a lot in it

Cons: often become too large for the space – a problem which can be costly and challenging to rectify

Pleached trees

Pros: very quick and pleasing results; most efficient use of space; no danger of becoming too large (provided they’re regularly trimmed!) 

Cons: can be high cost due to the several years of care and training required prior to sale; requires regular maintenance involving a ladder

More tips for boosting privacy in your garden

So, now we understand why pleached trees are such a popular way to increase privacy: they create a high screen, fast; take up less room than a hedge; and are highly attractive. Don’t stop here though, there’s plenty more you can do! Read on for more clever ways to further enhance that welcome sense of seclusion. 

  1. Add living screen plants

We’re extremely passionate about our range of living screens and think far more people should know about these clever ‘quick fixes’! Ivy screens offer a low cost, wildlife-friendly alternative to fencing or hedging; hedging screens are essentially pre-trimmed, instant, modular hedges; and trellis screens take the work out of training climbers and wall-trained shrubs by coming as lush, leafy, ready-made panels. 

Whether you use living screens to partition off a seating area, create a garden ‘room’, or simply obscure the view across a boundary, they offer staggeringly quick results. Using them in conjunction with pleached trees is when we really start to enter ‘instant garden makeover’ territory. 

  1. Install climbing plants

A well-placed structure such as an arch, obelisk, or pergola can be surprisingly effective at blocking out a view, particularly when covered in climbing plants. It’s hard to beat the mighty star jasmine for this with its handsome, glossy leaves and clusters of spectacularly fragrant white flowers. However, if it’s speedy growth you’re after, look no further than our range of ivies. These much-underrated plants are one of our favourite secret weapons – fast-growing, reliable year-round greenery, nectar-source for pollinators in the cooler months, and above all, exceptionally low maintenance! Definitely due a ‘fashion moment’. 

  1. Increase your fence height

Of course, if your existing fence is lower than the maximum height stated by law, and you are responsible for it, you are well within your rights to increase its height. Trellis fence toppers can be a quick and low-cost way to do this and can be used to support climbing plants and wall shrubs. Just remember the total height must not go above 2 metres (or 1 metre in a front garden) and – you know what’s coming – consult your neighbour first! 

  1. Install low seating

Here’s one for the supple and flexible amongst us. Lowering the level of seating by a few centimetres can be a surprisingly good way to shield yourself from view. From pallets covered with large cushions to low-lying luxury loungers, there is a solution to fit every budget. You could even go down the zen, meditative route with a padded bamboo mat. 

  1. Install an awning

We tend to think of awnings as being for shade, but of course in the right position, they can offer the ultimate instant privacy screen as well. Awnings are usually made of fabric or metal and are typically attached to the exterior wall of a building. There is a huge variety of options available, including stationary or retracting, and traditional or contemporary designs. You can even get awnings with a remote-control operated retracting mechanism. No more squinting self-consciously on the patio! 

We hope you’ve found this guide interesting. Rest assured, wanting to prevent our neighbours from overlooking our gardens is a completely natural instinct and a common wish among many of our customers. Using pleached trees to achieve quick privacy not only benefits you, but it is also a natural, wildlife friendly solution and a sustainable one at that. It is well documented that planting trees is one of the best things a homeowner can do in the fight against climate change, so what better than a whole, beautifully clipped row of them?! And while we can’t make any promises, we’d make a fair bet your neighbour will appreciate the seclusion it offers on their side too. 

Head over to our pleached trees page to explore the range where we’re quietly confident your perfect match awaits. As ever, don’t hesitate to give our friendly and knowledgeable team a call with any questions, we really love talking about this stuff! Drop us a line on 01257 494 095

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