Privacy is a prized commodity in today’s squeezed urban living.
Our little outdoor retreats are conjoined at the gas grills, and we’re trying to figure ways to isolate ourselves from those all around us.
Often that task falls to our landscapes, and fences come first. Certainly, wood fencing and brick or stone walls give great visual blockage, but they’re also, shall we say, rather like prisons. Plants can step in to soften them.
Vines are your best bets for relaxing the harshness of walls. But you’ll need to know how each type of vine climbs and which will be the best match for your particular structure.
Some types of vines twine around their supports, winding around wood or metal as they grow upward.
Carolina jessamine and the various honeysuckles are classic examples. They’re great on wrought iron or spiraling up wooden trellises, but they have no way to cling onto a rock or brick wall.
By comparison, other types of vines have suction cups or root-like appendages that hold them fast against almost any type of surface. English ivy, Boston ivy and climbing fig (“fig ivy”) are all in that boat. They can climb up a solid brick wall like adhesive tape sticks to flesh. That’s fine when it comes to brick or stone, but it’s not so good when it comes to window screens or siding.
Shrubs become the next big list of privacy plants, and that’s actually where most people spend most of their time thinking. “What types of shrubs would make the best privacy hedges?” they ask.
Let’s establish a few ground rules before we start taking names.
First, a plant needs to be evergreen. It’s nice to have some kind of shrub with colorful flowers in spring or fancy foliage in fall, but if it doesn’t have leaves five months each winter, it’s probably not going to make a good privacy plant. So, it needs to be evergreen.
And it needs to be adapted. There’s no point in planting a row of some sorry-dog plant that is just going to pout that we’ve asked it to grow in North Texas soils or climate. Oh, and did I suggest that it needs to grow to the height and width that you want without a lot of repetitive pruning and training?
Do a little homework on height. Take a piece of PVC pipe marked off in 1-foot increments. Have someone hold it up out where you’ll be planting your screen, and then you sit and stand in various spots in your landscape. See how tall the plant will need to grow to offer the privacy you need from the curious neighbors’ second-floor windows. This is a critical phase in picking the best possible plant.
I’ll leave the bed layout and planning to you and your landscape designer, but we can discuss plant choices and spacing. It’s generally best to set plants about