The best screening plants to create a lush backyard oasis

Prettier, and more affordable than a fence.
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Growing a natural screen in your garden is far prettier – and much more economical – than putting up a wall, fence or trellis.

Watch: Charlie Albone takes us through the best screening plants for your garden

It may be a garden secret you want kept hidden, or a monstrosity next door you don’t want to see anymore, so a barrier is needed.

Decorative garden screens come in many fancy designs, but they can cost hundreds of dollars.

A brick wall is also expensive and can cast too much shade, likewise a dense hedge. A less expensive and more attractive option is screening plants – some can grow up to 4m tall, they all soften hard edges such as walls and add textural elements. Importantly, they’re colourful and decorative, adding a new highlight to your garden.

Let’s take a look at our favourite plants that are colourful and bright, and perfect to screen your garden with!

Related: 6 garden screening ideas to create privacy and block out eyesores

The 8 best screening plants for your garden

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With lush, upright foliage and a fast, vigorous growth habit, a mass planting of heliconias gives your garden a tropical look. Many varieties grow 3-4 metres high while smaller ones limit their height to 1-2m. They flower in spring and summer, attracting birds and butterflies. 

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Tall and terrific bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants around and will quickly give you the privacy you need. It comes in many shapes, sizes and colours – green, black, brown, gold, variegated, even stripy! Some like sun, others prefer light shade. Choose the one that suits your climate and aspect.

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Canna lilies

Tall, dense clumps of canna lilies turn awful into awesome, especially when they’re producing their showy flowers from spring to autumn. Flower colours range from pale yellow, to dazzling orange to bright red, and leaves can come in exciting variegations. They love moisture, so you can plant them on the edges of ponds or poorly drained spots.

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Ornamental ginger

Ornamental gingers come in a huge range of shapes and sizes, their long leaves are often variegated and they have spectacular, brightly coloured flowers that come in multiple forms and last 5-6 months in summer and autumn. They’re lush and add depth and texture to your garden. 

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Elephant ears

The impressive foliage of elephant ears can hide a multitude of sins. Choose either a plant with upright leaves, Alocasia, or leaves that point down, Colocasia. There’s also a choice of colour – from lime green to almost black. Some varieties are very tolerant of moisture and you can plant them to be the star of a water feature.

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Big, bold and beautiful, rodgersia can grow up to 2m tall and wide. The foliage makes a dramatic statement, while its summer flowers show a more delicate, mild-mannered side. 

Better tip: Rodgersia thrives best when grown in damp and partially shady parts of your garden.

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Goat’s beard

Growing to 2m tall, goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) – also commonly called bride’s feathers – puts out pretty plumes of tiny flowers in spring to early summer. The dense, billowing mound of foliage extends its appeal. 

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Chinese fountain grass

An Asian and Australian native, Pennisetum alopecuroides is one of the most beautiful and graceful of the ornamental grasses. Growing up to 60cm tall, the blades swing, sway and rustle in the slightest breeze, a whimsical distraction from what’s behind it. From early summer to early autumn it’s topped with soft, fluffy bottlebrush-like flowers. 

Hedge vs screen

Hedges and screens share many of the same functions, but they have big differences.

A screen is less formal than a hedge. This means it doesn’t need as much maintenance, including trimming and pruning to keep the right shape. A hedge is often made up of plants that have small foliage and need extensive pruning to stay in a fence-like shape. A screen, however, is more of a natural cover in your backyard, and will blend with other planting. 

And while a hedge totally blocks out what’s behind it, a screen can filter through natural light and provide partial privacy for your property. If you’re looking for an extensive level of blocking, then a hedge may be a better option for you. 

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Top reasons for a garden screen

Apart from screening plants being a beautiful addition to your garden, there are some practical benefits to installing them, including:

  1. Create privacy from neighbours.
  2. Get protection from wind.
  3. Muffle street noise.
  4. Divide areas into garden rooms.
  5. Create a microclimate, for example to cast shade for lower-growing, shade-loving plants.
  6. Attract wildlife.
  7. Hide unsightly features, such as water tanks and rubbish bins. Alternatively, build your own screen to hide rubbish bins!

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