June 24th, 2012
For many of us, gardening provides a respite and escape from the daily stresses in our lives. To make your garden even more of a retreat, you can add plants for privacy and create a place to get away from the rest of the world.
Add plants for privacy
Plants are a great way to define a space and create a feeling of seclusion. Use perennials, annuals, vines, ornamental trees, and shrubs alone or in combinations to create a living privacy screen and soften the look of a wall or garden structure.
Pots of plants. Line up containers of your favorite perennials, annuals, or bulbs for a fast and easy way to define your space and add seasonal color. Select plants that you love and enjoy taking care of—you don’t want your oasis to become a maintenance burden. Tall plants in pots can create a private nook within a few steps of a house. For extra height and privacy, add trellises to large containers and train elegant vines such as clematis to go over the trellis. Keep in mind that containers need frequent watering and you may have to bring them indoors for the winter if you live in a cold climate.
Small trees. Small, ornamental trees can also create privacy. Many small trees reach only 25 to 30 feet tall and feature interesting flowers, foliage, bark, berries, or form. One good tree for screening is the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum f. pendulum, Zones 4 to 8). The cultivar ‘Amazing Grace’ has layered weeping branches and grows 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide. When choosing a small tree, do your research and avoid planting one with messy fruit or seeds—it can be a chore to clean up the mess. If planting space is limited, choose a dwarf variety that grows well in a container.
Ornamental grasses. With their graceful, arching foliage, ornamental grasses are a good choice for creating thick, fast-growing walls of privacy. Taller grasses, such as zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, Zones 5 to 9), purple-leafed fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, Zones 9 to 10), and Karl Foerster feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Zones 4 to 9) work well as screens. Ornamental grasses are highly resistant to insect and disease problems, tolerate heat and drought, and require little pruning. But they need full sun (at least six to eight hours a day) and well-drained soil.
Hedges. A well-clipped formal hedge is a beautiful way to define your space, but it requires regular pruning and takes several years to become a living wall. For a formal evergreen hedge, consider the yew (Taxus spp.). This classic hedge plant has fine needlelike foliage and grows in sun as well as shade. Hardiness depends on the species. Boxwood (Buxus spp.) is another classic plant for hedges. This dense, small-leaved evergreen grows from 1 to 6 feet tall, depending on cultivar.
Small shrubs. If you prefer something more casual and easier to maintain than a clipped hedge, group a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs to create privacy. By planting species with different mature heights, shapes, and colors, you can layer the plants into a lovely wall of privacy. Some varieties of tall shrubs such as serviceberry, viburnum, and lilac require little maintenance. Or use small shrubs such as Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica, Zones 4 to 9) to create a low hedge.
Vines. Elegant annual or perennial vines can define your space and provide privacy and shade. Both groups are easy to grow and can climb up and over garden structures and supports. For a perennial vine, consider Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia durior, Zones 5 to 8), a fast-growing twining vine that will cover an arbor or pergola in a single season. Its large 4- to 10-inch, heart-shaped leaves form a solid screen for privacy and shade. Or consider a fast-growing annual vine such as a black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), with vibrant orange, yellow, and white flowers with black centers.