Thinking about Privacy
Privacy is an important element of many home landscapes. Here are some considerations when you are thinking about creating a more private space.
Is the space urban or suburban?
If your client is in an urban area, space is the immediate issue. However, this doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.
One option is using a vertical garden to shield your customers from prying eyes. For homes that are surrounded by taller buildings, an arched trellis with climbing vines can serve as a solution.
Another possible screening strategy for urban areas is to use raised planters with thick ornamental grasses, such as feather reed grass, which soften the barrier between your client and the outside world. We created one such project in Morton last year.
Formal or informal?
Obviously, for customers who do have more space, the design possibilities are much broader. Depending on the style of the house, current landscaping and the owner’s desires, living privacy screens can be as formal or as informal as the client prefers.
“A natural look can consist of a mix of plants arranged in a staggered fashion,” says Debbie Friedman, principal and designer for Bethesda Garden Design in Bethesda, Maryland. “A formal look can be one plant in a row or hedged.”
Older, regal-looking houses may be more suited for a formal trimmed hedge. Privet, boxwood and Japanese barberry are common shrub choices for the traditional privacy barrier.
When going for a natural look, layered plantings create a vibrant texture. Mix a selection of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals so that there is a healthy variety. Staggered planting of shrubs, perennials and trees make the barrier seem less harsh, but still creates the seclusion your client wants.
Evergreen or sometimes green?
When it comes down to the actual selection of the plants, determine whether your client is concerned with privacy year-round or if they don’t mind the backyard being visible in the winter.
Evergreens are the popular choice due to their fast growth and constant foliage. Friedman advises using evergreens such as skip laurels or Hicks yew for midsize barriers and Green Giant Arborvitae for taller screens.
Deciduous trees have their perks as well, with pretty blossoms in the spring and bursts of fiery colors in the fall. Small trees such as Japanese maple and flowering dogwoods can help spread out the base of a mixed screen.
“If a new McMansion is being built next door, I often recommend planting a combination of pointy-topped evergreens and wide-headed deciduous trees,” says Cathy Carr, principal of GreenHeart Garden Designs in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Carr also suggests Green Giant Arborvitae, along with Cryptomeria japonica and Nellie R. Stevens Holly, as good evergreen choices for the Zone 7 climate in which she works.
“River Birch is good for damp sites and Sugar Maples have terrific fall foliage color,” Carr says. “Both are fast-growing.”
The final thing to consider when selecting plants for the living screen is the future size of the plant. Don’t plant shrubs and trees closely together just to get some instant privacy. Keep their mature sizes in mind and give them the proper space to grow, otherwise they will crowd each other and won’t get the sunlight they need.
“You don’t want to plant a 60-foot-tall shade tree when you only need to block the neighbor’s upstairs window that’s 20 feet high,” Carr says. “Installing larger trees requires a major commitment to watering, so maintenance is always important.”
Source: Jill Odom-Total Landscape Care