Monday, June 10, 2013

Privacy and Screening in DinkyDo Garden

For a suburban backyard within spitting distance of Washington DC, we're pretty lucky in the views department. The home came with an attractive wooden fence, and mature trees are present in each surrounding yard. You can save yourself a little green by using your neighbors' existing plantings when you plan your own garden. Also, though an investment, careful placement of purchased trees and large shrubs can block out what you don't want to see (as well as what your neighbors don't want to see). Good plants make good neighbors!

Behind my "Betty" Magnolia tree (at left) is a neighbors' larger Japanese Magnolia. They bloom at the same time, and though slightly different colors, they blend into one mass of pink. They also work in concert to block a very large home two lots away, at least spring-fall (both are deciduous). Our Magnolia was purchased after an old apple tree that was here finally bit the dust (splitting in half during "snowmageddon"). We placed it where it would provide a barrier between our home and patio and the neighbors' homes and patios. In the center, a crepe myrtle gives an extra pop of hot pink in summer, fitting right in with my color scheme. To the right, we have a perfect view of green. The tall oak is majestic, and the hollies are always full of birds.

Another pop of color I like--the day lilies peeking over the fence
As you move to the right corner, however, you come to a view of a neighbor's house and elevated deck. Now let me be clear, I don't think these neighbors have any interest in looking into my backyard, but I think most people agree that looking at trees is an improvement over looking at houses. This is especially true at night when lights can be distracting.

We're addressing this corner with our own holly tree. When the lilac in front of it looses its leaves, it will be nice to have a backdrop of green.
American holly
As you turn the corner, the fence is taller. Because of the shape of the house at left, you only see a sloping roof. Above is a red maple, nice in fall of course, especially in combination with the Virginia creeper vine on the neighbor's shed, which turns a gorgeous shade of burgundy. My enormous native honeysuckle does not have to block anything, it just commands all the attention--especially when hummingbirds visit.

Up to the other corner, where a cherry laurel just appeared one day--after some lax grass cutting, I suppose. It grew so fast and was in such a good spot, we decided to keep it. I have discussed it with the neighbor, and he seems to be fine with it. I hope he likes the shade it provides, and because it is deciduous, he gets full sun in winter. It has the bonus of providing a barrier to our busy street.
 For reference, here is the back of the house as you turn the corner.
And on to the other side of the yard. This was my biggest challenge, privacy-wise, as there were some large openings onto a side street. With this being a shade garden, and a black walnut (and its allelopathic properties) nearby, I planned this garden more carefully than any other. First up, the spot that opened onto the side street was the perfect spot for a serviceberry tree.
Elsewhere along the fence, the neighbor's trees form a natural screen. I tried to plant perennials and shrubs of various heights, and they along with the Virginia creeper vine on the fence, make a connection with the greenery above.

There is one last opening, and I have the perfect plant in mind--a bottlebrush buckeye--if I can just find one! In addition to filling this space, it will block the neighbor's window and my compost pile.
Unless you have a luxury of a large wooded property, it is important to create a sense of privacy in the garden when you live in a large city. With carefully placed plants--and a little luck--you can do it!


  1. A bottlebrush buckeye is a great choice - wish I had one! I have also had the experience of struggling with unwanted views. The neighbor across the alley had a huge above ground swimming pool that was a kind of peptobismol pink.