If your back garden offers a gorgeous view of your neighbor’s rusty cars, or their kids’ toys scattered across the yard, then a privacy screen may be in order. Privacy screens vary wildly, and may be simple and cheap or ornate and expensive. This article looks at a wide variety of screens and plants that will grow on them, with one thing in common: they can all be put up in a few days by the homeowner with moderate construction and gardening skills.
A cheap wooden lattice attached to two posts set in concrete is the easiest form of privacy screen to put up. Dig two holes about a foot deep, four, six, or eight feet apart, depending on the width of your lattice sheet. If you are looking for a good solid structure, use two four-by-four posts; otherwise, two-by-fours generally work well. The posts should be pressure treated if possible. Use a level to ensure that the posts are straight up and down, and pour wet concrete into the holes to cement them in place.
Let the concrete “set” for three to four days. If the posts are in a sunny, dry location, you may want to place old wet towels over the concrete after the first day. (Place the towels on the concrete during the first day, and they’ll become a permanent part of the landscape.) Concrete that dries too quickly becomes brittle and loses strength. A damp towel ensures that the concrete will finish drying slowly, for the strongest possible setting.
Once the concrete is set completely (it should go from being dark grey to being pale grey, almost white), then you can attach your lattice to it, simply by nailing it or screwing it to the posts. (Screwing it in place makes it easier to remove at a later date should you need to replace the lattice; see below.)
The biggest problem with this kind of privacy screen is that, unless you can find pressure treated lattice, after two to ten years, the lattice will begin to deteriorate and may need to be replaced—a real hassle if you’ve grown perennial plants such as roses, clematis, or jasmine on it!
The best solution, if you can’t find pressure treated lattice, is to plant annual climbing vines, or to go with a perennial vine, such as a clematis Type C (named varieties include ‘Betty Corning’s,’ ‘Jackmanii,’ and ‘Crimson Star,’ among others) which needs to be cut back to a few inches above the ground each year. This gives you an opportunity to examine your lattice for damage and replace it if necessary.
Attaching the lattice to the posts so that the bottom is a few inches off the ground will help it last longer.
If you don’t want the hassle of replacing the lattice every so many years, consider a resin alternative. Some of these can look quite good (usually the more expensive ones, unfortunately), and the resin lasts much longer than the lattice. Resin screens often offer you a choice of colors, as well; be aware that light colors, especially white, may turn green over the years. Either go with a darker color, plant evergreen vines over it, or be prepared to clean it yearly.
If you have plenty of cash to spend on your privacy screen, go with a wrought-iron trellis. Often wrought iron trellises are more open than lattice or resin privacy screens, but they add an air of elegance to the garden. Be prepared to plant bushy evergreen vines if you want privacy.
Different areas will require different plants. A sun-loving vine in a shaded or partially-shaded area will either die away completely or else be thin and spindly; hardly good privacy material.
It’s important to be aware of your options as well as your location when planting privacy vines. Roses, jasmine, clematis, and wisteria are all popular choices, but there are many others. Woodland ivy may be more appropriate if you are working in a shady location.
Honeysuckle is a robust grower in the south, but it dies back in the winter. This makes it an excellent choice for a lattice privacy screen because you can cut it back to replace the lattice when necessary, and still have strong growth the next year. However, it would not be an appropriate choice for a wrought-iron trellis where the trellis was merely the framework for the screen, and the actual privacy was provided by the plants grown on it; you would spend four to six months of the year without a privacy screen.
Your local landscape nursery will be able to give you specific suggestions for your garden depending on location, sun, soil, and your specific needs. However, do visit two or three nurseries, as any one nursery may be more interested in selling you their particular plant than in giving you the best plant for the area. Once you have two or three recommendations for one plant, you can be fairly sure that you have the best plant for your needs.
By combining the right plants with the right trellis, you can screen off unwanted views with relative ease.
By Keesa Renee DuPre