By Marty Ross
Even friendly Midwesterners like a little privacy sometimes! It’s great fun to hang out on the porch or work in the front yard and catch up with the neighbors and the local dog walkers. But sometimes you want to just sit quietly, without engaging with the whole neighborhood.
Plants can help, especially where a fence is too abrupt. A mixed hedgerow of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs puts a pretty face on our need to be alone. Think of this idea as an old-time fencerow but with plants you choose instead of the scrubby trees and shrubs planted by squirrels, deposited by birds, or sown by the wind. A Twisty Baby black locust tree backs this grouping of (left to right) dwarf blue spruce, shrub rose, weigela, dwarf Alberta spruce, and beautyberry (Callicarpa).
When planning a border of trees and shrubs, look for plants that thrive happily together in the selected part of your garden. If that is an open area, all the plants have to be sun lovers. Remember to consider soil moisture: Do rain gutters empty across your planting site, or is it a dry spot? When you shop for plants, look for a combination of forms and textures that pair well through the changing seasons. Include native plants to attract birds.
Dense evergreens provide privacy year-round. They also make good windbreaks, and extend shelter to birds. A few deciduous trees or shrubs may add strong fall color — and give your garden variety and depth.
For a more interesting screen, shop for woody plants with varying mature sizes. A hedge of just one species, such as lilac, won’t be as interesting as a mixed hedge of lilac, evergreens, dogwood, magnolia, and chartreuse sumac.
A single-species privacy screen is practical, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty. These upright arborvitae are more attractive when paired with colorful companions such as dwarf blue spruce and red shrub rose. With a single-species privacy screen, be sure to choose a hardy species. Losing even one spoils the uniform look.
If you don’t have room for a hedgerow, put up a good-looking fence. Even a short fence physically and psychologically conveys that the area inside is a sheltered preserve. A fence never outgrows the space, and it doesn’t need pruning, shaping, fertilizing, or watering. Fences also make effective backdrops for plants.
In a place where you might like a fence but don’t want to feel closed in, a screen of lattice panels makes an easygoing and friendly privacy screen. Painting the lattice takes time. But, depending on the color you choose, it gives your garden a punch of brightness or adds understated sophistication.
Privacy really can indeed look good — from the inside looking out, or the outside looking in.