Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

Privacy matters in the backyard

If you're like many Canadians, you want privacy in your backyard. Not that your neighbours peer out their windows all day, but when you relax on your deck or patio, you want to feel you're away from the eyes of the world.

To obtain privacy, choose from three different degrees of screening: Opaque, semi-transparent and transparent.

Opaque is the most private as no one can see through this. Put an opaque screen as far from your sitting area as possible. Too close can cause claustrophobia. A solid wooden fence, stone wall or cedar hedge are all examples of opaque screening.

Try a trellis with climbing vines such as clematis, honeysuckle (Lonicera) or annual scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) to dress up the fence or wall. A cedar hedge works well but requires more space and maintenance and is slower to provide cover.

Semi-transparent refers to two different kinds of screening. It can be a fence with gaps in the boards -- a good neighbour fence that provides partial cover year round. Or it can refer to a deciduous shrub hedge that offers privacy during only the warmer months.

Since cities restrict fence heights, if your deck is raised, taller growing shrubs are a good choice. The added bonus is that certain shrubs provide both shelter and food for birds and other wildlife

These shrubs may include members of the Viburnum genus such as V. lantana (wayfaring tree) which has masses of flowers in June, berries in September, stands 3 metres tall, 2 metres wide and is drought tolerant. Bristol ruby weigela is 2 metres tall and produces reddish pink flowers in spring and blooms sporadically until fall. The hummingbirds love the nectar from these trumpet shaped flowers. Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) reaches 6 metres and has white flowers in spring followed by edible berries in June. Two years ago in my yard, waxwings settled into the shrub and didn't leave until they devoured every berry. Mix several kinds of shrubs for interest and different foods.

A third type of screening is transparent, but serves as a barrier. This is the chain-link fence or more attractive wrought-iron one. You may construct it to preserve a view but keep out the kids from the park. Plant a vine on either end of the fence to frame your view.

In sunny areas, try annual vines such as Cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) with its delicate fernlike leaves and tiny red tubular flowers, or purple hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab) which has hot pink flowers and burgundy seed pods. Hummingbirds love the flowers of both of these plants.

In a shady spot, try the perennial vine, Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia).

When you think of privacy, think screening. Space permitting, plant a deciduous shrub hedge or dress up a fence with vines. Not only will you create a more private space, but also you will offer food and shelter to birds, insects and small animals.

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