One of the more common questions we get at the nursery and one that has often caused the most stress for the person asking is “How can I hide my neighbours….shed, garage, messy yard, treehouse, kids, barking dog, windows, patio…!” Well, you get the idea.
We get a ton of screening questions and interestingly, most people seem to limit themselves to Emerald Cedar hedging or a large evergreen tree. Many people don’t really think about the delightful options, they want to put up a big block and do so in a hurry and I understand that. As a landscape designer I have also gone into backyards that look like a green jail, with giant green cedar bars, or are so dark that only moss and slugs grow well but the client is unwilling to part with the massive laurel that is 15 feet wide as well as high because is hides the neighbours shed when they sit on their deck…which they don’t do that often now because it is so dark!
I am here to tell you that with a little bit of creativity and outside the box thinking and a little research and plant know-how, you can have your privacy when you need it and have your screen be a stylish part of your garden!
First, the basics, we already know the who…
What are you screening?
A shed, a window, an outdoor patio right next to your own patio, road noise etc?
Seems like a silly question but you would be surprised how many folks have planted a giant expensive evergreen hedge and waited and waited for it to grow high enough to block out the neighbour's upper deck view of their patio when a lovely Columnar Beech or Red Sunset Maple or even a pergola with flowering vines would have done the job immediately and taken care of the screening WHEN they were enjoying the patio…later spring through beginning of fall.
Do take a look at the sightlines and map them out in the yard. If it’s a window, get a sense of how high. You can estimate or use a stick, or get a bearing on something nearby. Will a screening item on a deck block the sightline or will you need something closer to the object.
Noise, privacy, lights?
The how is the fun part! Here are a few handy truths…
Deciduous trees and shrubs are almost always faster growing and take less of a yard footprint than evergreens.
Vines on wood lattice or wire grids can grow blindingly fast… especially annual vines like runner beans…6-10 feet in one season…and the things pay rent! If I need a quick wall, I will often pair these with the Tropical Ipomea (Morning Glory…the Annual kind…dies reliably with the first frost…honest!) I love the hot pink and sky blue trumpets in the Ipomea seed mix.
The direction of your lattice or screen has meaning:
- Diagonal Lines create movement and energy…if you want a serene patio oasis, don’t use those tiny squared lattice sheets you can buy from DIY stores.
- Vertical lines create a focal point…or exclamation point…it will draw the eye.
- Horizontal lines create a sense of rest.
- Rectilinear lines create a sense of solidity, sturdiness.
Roofs, canopies even implied ones create a sense of shelter/privacy even if you are not completely sheltered.
The closer the screening object is to you, the smaller it can be and still screen you. A well placed patio umbrella and a small potted tree near your fave reading spot on the patio can create an immediate sense of privacy from the neighbours upper deck vs. a tree planted at your property’s edge closest the offending window. Though sometimes all three things working in concert is needed!
One of the more important points I do try to make when designing a screen for a client is to make something lovely they would rather look at, than just a big green block. In many instances the right plant in the right place solves the problem, in other cases, a little bit of creativity not just makes a screen, but creates a welcoming area people are drawn to. In the pictures above are two potted japanese maples used as screens.
There are some amazing reference sites out there and I’m sure you can add to these, but I’ve wiled away many an hour adding pictures to my folders and getting ideas. If you need inspiration and haven’t taken a look at these sites before I think you should take a wander over to these as well.
Specifically I would love you to take a look at Fencing, Pergola and both wooden and metal grid trellises on these sites. The ideas are endless.
Another favorite haunt is Surrey New and Used…I have sent many a customer here for goodies as well. I have found some stained glass pieces to hang on a pergola to block a neighbour's window at my parents house and I have found some great old windows for my garden.
In Part 2 of this series (coming soon), I'll share with you some of my favourite plants for screening and hedging.