Design a Plant Screen for Backyard Privacy
Learn how to turn trees, shrubs and vines into screens for a private backyard.
E-mail This Page to Your Friendsx
A link to %this page% was e-mailed
For lots of folks, the backyard is a sanctuary a place to unwind, to enjoy family gatherings or connect with nature. But those things are hard to do with a two-story monster of a house looming large behind you. So when it comes to landscaping, privacy is usually a top priority.
If you need a tall privacy screen, a fence doesn't usually do the job plus, in some areas certain codes and regulations restrict what you can build. "I have a great solution," says landscape designer Michael Glassman. "How about planting a living screen? Our design goal is to screen off the neighbor's walls." According to Glassman, a great place to add a structure is in front of a great big blank wall. By planting a few vines, you can go from boring to beautiful.
Structure creates depth as well as height. The homeowner salvaged rustic cores from the lumberyard, and they'll get a new life trimmed as an arbor or pergola dressed in lush vines. But before you construct anything, check with the local building or planning department to find out where you can legally build. Regulations vary from lot to lot, and if the structure is not up to code, you may have to tear it down.
For this project, the posts are cemented at least 18 inches into the ground. Three posts are positioned vertically six feet apart and three more posts are placed four feet across from those. Next, attach rafters to the top of the posts (figure B). Glassman suggests creating a cantilevered effect across the top to draw the eye beyond the structure while adding both dimension and interest.
Next, hang galvanized wire for the plants to grow on. The number of wires depends on the vines and how dense you want the screen to be. Also, string wire along the backside of the pergola to eventually screen the neighbor's view and create a sense of depth. The plants selected for the pergola include male and female kiwis, wisteria and evergreen white climbing bower vine (Pandorea jasminoides). After planting and watering, start training the vines around the wires (figure D).
From a landscape standpoint, the area right off the door is extremely important. When you walk out the door, you want to see the landscape, not the house behind you. Glassman recommends using large evergreen trees because they're big, bushy, keep their leaves all year-round, and they give you instant screening. Another good option is the redwood tree, which can grow several feet a year. Three redwoods in a row along this fence will create a hedge that blocks the neighbors' view in just a few years. In planned communities, the codes, covenants and regulations can dictate which trees and shrubs you can grow, so double-check with the association before you plant.
Glassman creates a secret garden within the landscape by creating internal screens. Standard trees like the pineapple guava (Fiejoa sellowiana) are single-stemmed, with the growth concentrated at the top. Likewise, the hop bush can grow up to 20 feet tall.
The flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum) adds lots of color with bright yellow flowers, and lower growing wild lilac will gently break the wall effect by creating elevation changes among the trees (figure G). To draw the plantings together or accent a blank wall along the house, patio or fence, Glassman uses decorative iron screens.
For this project, the screens create the entryway to the secret garden. He plants the screen with a flowering vine; like the pergola, the screens need to be cemented at least 18 inches into the ground (figure H).
"I love the plants we've chosen to enhance their beauty," says Glassman of a white climbing rose, which is situated one side and clematis on the other (figure J). Join the two screen sections together beautifully with a piece of copper tubing along the top edge.
Sometimes the eyesore is right in your own backyard. A flowering vine will not only screen out an air conditioner but the neighbor's window as well. Glassman suggests using an evergreen trumpet vine and a tall-growing bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) in front of the fence for additional privacy (figure L). Be wary when using deciduous trees and shrubs; they lose their leaves in the winter. For year-round privacy, consider planting a non-deciduous backup screen. For example, dwarf fruit trees are great for fruit, but lousy for screening, so Glassman recommends planting an evergreen; here, he uses a weeping Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia 'Sempervirens').
"It's going to do double duty," says Glassman, "screening and providing shade for the patio." He also creates added dimension by combining bushes and vines that will add height, texture and color (figure M). The longer these plants have to grow and mature, the more privacy they'll provide the homeowner's family. For example, in a good five years, the redwoods will form a high-rising hedge.
So with a little forethought and patience, backyard privacy is well within your reach. But keep in mind that privacy works both ways. "By planting and building height, your screens become the neighbors' views, so you may want to let them know what your plans are just to be neighborly," says James.
Homeowners Heather and Andy Gersh are looking for an inexpensive way to revive their backyard — they'd like to update the...