They say good fences make good neighbours, but so can privacy screens! Many of us live in condos, townhouses or in homes with smaller lots and this means that we are much closer with our neighbours than perhaps we want to be. Or it may not even be that- perhaps you have a south facing patio which becomes unbearably hot during the summer months without shade. A privacy screen can provide that shade relief you are looking for.
In a home you may be able to erect a trellis or install a permanent screen option, but those are often boring to look at or in many cases not allowed by Strata bylaws. So what can one do to increase their privacy? Use plants of course! Here we are going to discuss some of my favourite options for creating a vegetative privacy screen for different kinds of exposures and what settings they would be best for.
These stunning plants are rhizomatous perennials, meaning they have a tuber-like rhizome which produces stunning tropicalesque foliage and large colourful blooms. Their foliage ranges from bright grass greens, to variegated yellow and green to dark bronze. Also depending on the variety their heights range greatly. 'Stuttgart' Canna for example can grow from 48"- 60" while there are dwarf varieties that only get to about 18"-24" in height such as 'Julia' or 'Cleo'.
Cannas are very adaptable to most soil conditions, ranging from well draining potting soil to bog like conditions. Just be sure to plant them in a sunny exposure to get the most out of the bright foliage. Be sure to fertilize them with a product which is higher in phosphate to encourage their blooms throughout the season. Canna Lilies are considered annuals (zone 9-11) here on the Coast, so if you would like to enjoy them year after year, you will have to lift them from their pots in the fall and store them during the winter. This can be in a dark, cool location sandwiched between newspaper.
If you are on a balcony you can plant your Cannas in a series of pots lining the area you want to screen with flowering annuals. Keep in mind the height of you pot and the ultimate height of your plant. If you are wanting privacy while sitting on your balcony, then aim for that height vs if you want to provide privacy for a window, then think of that height. You may want to choose a taller plant variety or taller pots to give you that extra few inches you may need. You can also plant them in your garden or in the ground to screen a fence or a patio from the sun during the heat of the day.
'Purple Fountain Grass' Pennisetum setaceum rubrum
'Purple Fountain Grass' is an annual grass which sports an eye-catching foliage and fun seed heads for late season interest. This clumping style ornamental grass produces green and purple foliage in dense masses and delicate seed plumes in a gorgeous bronze colour. This grass becomes quite full and lush (24" wide by 48" tall) so provide it with ample space within a pot or in a garden bed. They will produce a dense screen when planted en masse, so it is a wonderful option for a privacy screen.
'Purple Fountain Grass' prefers full sun conditions but will also tolerate light shade. These low maintenance plants are considered drought tolerant, so provide it with regular watering while it is becoming established and then reduce to once or twice a week once mature.
Dwarf Pampas Grass - 'Splendid Star' Cortaderia selloana
If you are looking for a perennial grass option to provide privacy year after year, then 'Splendid Star' dwarf pampas grass is a wonderful option with its bright green and yellow foliage and gorgeous white plumes of seed heads (perfect for cutting and drying!). These stunning grasses love full sun and tolerate light shade and prefer well draining soils, so do not plant in boggy areas or in dense potting soil.
For a patio option, plant this ornamental grass in a large container as it can spread 3-4 ft and become 3 ft tall. In a small space, you will only need one or two of these grasses to give you all the privacy you need. If you are looking for a foliage fence, these stunning grasses make amazing hedges. Plant in a grouping en mass to break up sight lines or keep sound in around your fire pit area.
These grasses can be left uncut for majority of the season and into the winter to provide privacy for most of the year; however you will want to cut them down in late winter - early spring to make room for the next seasons new growth.
Clematis are one of the best options you are looking for a flowering privacy screen. You can erect a cedar or metal trellis on your deck by attaching it to the railing (if you are allowed, check with your strata) or by staking it in to several large pots in which you can also plant your clematis. I recommend ceramic pots for this purpose because their weight will help prevent tipping in the event of a windy day.
Clematis will climb up the trellis with delicate tendrils and spread across the surface throughout the summer sending off lovely blooms ranging from deep purples, to pinks to white to creamy ivory. They are deciduous perennial, so they are a wonderful option in the garden and on the deck for the spring and summer; however they will not provide privacy all year round.
There are many many choices for clematis, and therefore I will refer you to Mike Lascelle's blog 'Choosing the Right Clematis' .
Depending on your aesthetic, you may not be a huge fan of the loose look of grasses and therefore a great option for you would be conifers like 'Lemon Cypress' Cupressus macrocarpa and Yews Taxus baccata depending on your space.
On a patio in a larger cedar planter or series of pots, Lemon Cypress is an eye-catching choice for a privacy screen. These chartreuse green columnar growing conifers are often sold in 4" pots and can be placed beside one another in a pot like a hedge. Ultimately they will grow to 8ft over the span of 10 years, so eventually you will have to place them in a garden, but in the right container they are a great fit for a good amount of time.
Yews are superstars of the shade. If you have a shady spot in your yard or patio, these conifers are great. Sold in a variety of pot sizes, you can choose the height you desire for your space. These deep green conifers lend themselves nicely to pruning and shaping, so they won't get out of hand in containers and are a super reliable plant for privacy in your garden. They do produce red berries in the fall which we do not recommend that you or your pets eat. Although the flesh of the berry is edible, the seed within it is not, so don't even try.
What and How to Plant A Privacy Screen
I like to create subtle privacy screens on decks and patios using layered pots and containers which stagger the heights slightly. Not only does this produce a chic look, but it doesn't look exactly like you're tired of looking at your neighbours.
Cedar planters like these provide visual interest and yet large enough growing space for your grasses or conifers. Depending on the height of the screen you need you may opt for all raised boxes like one in the centre or you may choose for lower pots and taller plants depending on your needs. I do recommend going with one medium: either all cedar wood or all ceramic/fibrecrete for a more polished cohesive look.
So if you are living the condo life, but not loving the lack of privacy, here are some attractive options for your garden this season! Come into the store and nursery this weekend to pick out your plants with the help of our knowledgeable staff.