Question: I am a novice gardener and would love your advice on what to plant beside my fence. I want screening, ie tall evergreen hedges/shrubs/trees to afford privacy from overlooking houses. The current shrubs are not evergreen, and they don't look neat. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: Choosing plants for screening is a question being asked increasingly to the RHS Gardening Advice team, as life outside our gardens encroaches. There are several good choices, but the sound deadening qualities are less easy to define. Evidence seems to be that plants are not especially good noise blockers.
The thickness of the barrier is the main factor - the thicker the better. Consider going for broad-leaved evergreens for the best effect - cherry and Portuguese laurels, as you suggest, for example, and also conifers, such as Thuja plicata, are likely to be as good as any plants. Magnolia grandiflora, Quercus ilex - the holm oak - would also give you a sturdy screen and can be kept trimmed to the height and spread that you need. Eleagnus ebbingei, too, would do a good job and has beautiful scented, although tiny, flowers. If you don't mind the thread of runners, bamboo would work too.
Send your questions for the RHS to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Only a few questions per month can be answered. For further advice on handling problems in your garden, visit www.rhs.org.uk/advice.