Planting for Seasonal Privacy

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Planting for Seasonal Privacy

Earlier this year, I shared an article focusing on how to design a garden that doesn’t block all of your winter sunlight.

The next design element to address is how to also create a garden that provides privacy during the warmer seasons when sunlight is more abundant and we spend more time in the garden.

In densely populated urban areas, our homes and gardens are often right on top of our neighbors. Pedestrian-filled sidewalks may be just beyond our favorite spot in the garden. And our neighbor’s open windows may be adjacent to our favorite summer napping spot on the patio. Fortunately, with a little thought, it is easy to create private garden spaces even if your neighbors are only a few feet away.

Where and why we require privacy varies significantly from garden-to-garden. In every case, begin by considering how much height you really need in order to create your seasonal screening. Sometimes, you may require a plant that grows several feet tall. In other cases, you may only need a much smaller plant. One of the best ways to make this determination is to have one person stand in the area where the screening is needed while another person stands (or sits) in the area to be made private. As you view the person standing in the screening area, evaluate how much of their height and width is required to provide the privacy you need. That’s how big your plant will need to be in order to achieve privacy. And, remember to be sure your planting bed is big enough for your plant choice as it matures.

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The best choices plant choices for seasonal privacy are generally herbaceous perennials, annuals and deciduous trees and shrubs. In other words, pick plants that grow tall and produce a lot of foliage from spring through fall but don’t maintain height and foliage in winter. A few strategically placed evergreens among these plants will provide winter interest. Just be sure they won’t block all that precious winter light as well.

As you layer plants into your beds, keep in mind that as those seasonal plants grow to their height each season, they will create shade in their sun shadows. Take care not to layer lots of small sun-lovers below them in spots where they will be overly shaded and unable to thrive. As well, these plants, which provide great seasonal privacy, may also cast shade into your favorite spots in the garden. This is great if you need protection from the blistering sun, but if you want to soak up the last rays at sunset, take care when placing your plants so they don’t block every bit of light.

Art and structures are another means for adding seasonal privacy. Open, wire fencing makes for a lovely sweet pea supports in spring. Vertical trellises give vines like clematis and rose room to travel up in summer, yet light may shine through them in winter. And, any piece of vertical art – even a large, weatherproof pot -- offers interest throughout the year.

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Need plants that grow tall in summer but are cut short for winter? Consider blending perennials, edibles and annuals:

  • Sunflowers: Whether you choose to grow annual or perennial varieties, sunflowers are a great choice. Plus, they’re cut to the ground come winter.
  • Corn with runner beans: Want your privacy and want to eat it too? Consider growing some corn with runner beans. The bean flowers will attract hummingbirds, provide more food for you, and help add much needed nitrogen back to the soil as the corn depletes it.
  • Artemesia lactiflora (Guizhou Group): This purple-stemmed, spreading perennial gains self-supported heights upwards of five feet each summer and is topped with tiny white flowers.
  • Salvia: If you require only a few feet of height to create privacy in a sunny location, consider any number of decorative Salvia for interest and pollinator attraction. ‘Black & Blue’, ‘Hot Lips’ and Pineapple Sage are beautiful and beloved by hummingbirds.
  • Miscanthus: This hearty, decorative grass comes in a range of sizes. Check with your local nursery to select a variety that grows well and isn’t invasive in your area.

Need to get your privacy started earlier in spring? Consider adding deciduous shrubs to your border.

  • Ribes sanguineum: The flowering winter currant begins to leaf out just as it blooms at the beginning of spring. White to deep pink flowers attract hummingbirds to gardens in zones 6-9. Before they drop, its fall leaves turn a range of orange, yellow and red.
  • Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’: This deciduous shrub provides reddish, peeling bark all winter. Then, as it seems winter will never end, it puts on a display of fragrant pink blossoms followed by a cloak of leaves by early spring.
  • Magnolia stellata: Numerous cultivars of these early spring bloomers offer a range of colors as well as fragrance in the early spring garden. Just keep their suckers pruned to maintain form.