Not everyone has a view of a stunning mountain valley or an elegant water feature when they look beyond their property. (For those who do … well, I hope you appreciate what you have!) Most of us have only … neighbors. Sometimes several neighbors! You see them and they see you. Sometimes, houses are so close to each other that 2 or 3 (up to 7) neighbors can look directly into your yard as you try to relax.
The Fence Has a Limit… But Not the Plants!
In most cities, you’re allowed to erect a fence of up to no more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) high. Few bylaws permit anything higher. Unfortunately, that’s not always enough. Especially when there’s a raised deck or when the neighbors are not the friendliest people in the world. So, you can’t raise the fence, but you can certainly install a screen right in front of the fence and let climbing plants grow there to give you the peace you deserve.
A Sturdy Structure
The goal here is to erect a structure more than 6 feet (1,8 meters) tall, one which will be both very sturdy and also decorative in winter, when the structure will be bare of foliage. For solidity, you should opt for a foundation cast in concrete. You can find stainless steel post stirrups in any hardware store that you can install in a hole filled with fresh concrete. Once the concrete hardens, you only have to fix posts into these stirrups. Between the posts, install the trellis. It can be of wood, steel or stretched iron wires. I do hesitate a bit about recommending wood trellising, as it does tend to warp over time. Also, it can be easily torn off in windy locations. So, you need a structure that is solid, but offers little wind resistance.
Choosing a Climbing Plant
To accomplish your mission of hiding from the neighbors, look for a climbing plant that grows rapidly and vigorously. You need good density, too. Remember those prying eyes!
I wouldn’t recommend climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris). It’s just too slow growing.
Most clematis (Clematis spp.) are not good options either. They’re a bit limited in height: few are more than 10 feet (3 m) and they’re not usually very dense. Plus, if you are lucky enough to have a yard that faces south, your neighbor will benefit more from its flowers than you, as they tend to face the sun.
The best options are usually climbing plants grown for their attractive foliage.
Virginia Creeper Gets It Done… and Quickly
For vigor and density, you can’t do much better than Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9) and its cousin Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata, USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8). They can easily reach more than 30 feet (10 meters) in height. Both plants have berries that attract birds and their leaves turn a beautiful red color in fall. When they reach the top of their trellis, they arch downwards like rain, adding extra volume. And that is why it’s important that the trellis be strong. It will have to support quite a load!
These two plants cling to structures using suckers. They can therefore cling to the trellis slats without having to wrap around them. Unfortunately, Japanese beetles adore them, practically shredding their leaves if they are numerous! If these pests a problem where you garden, Virginia creeper and Boston ivy won’t be the best choices.
The Gentle Giant
Another nice option is American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). Vigorous and very hardy (USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8), it too will reach the kind of heights you might need to block your neighbor’s view of your private space: 10 to 12 feet (3 to 4 m). The foliage is rather ordinary, except for its golden yellow color in the fall. Also, its flowers are insignificant. However, if you plant a male plant and a female plant, the female will produce very decorative orange berries in the fall. This species is very vigorous, but not to the point of smothering the surrounding vegetation. Don’t eat the berries: they are poisonous.
Make sure you plant an American bittersweet (C. scandens), not an oriental bittersweet (C. orbiculatus), as is the latter is considered an invasive species in many areas.
My third choice is Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla, formerly A. durior). It produces very dense, large, heart-shaped leaves and can grow to 30 feet (10 m) tall. And it’s shade-tolerant. Although it produces curious yellowish green flowers in the shape of an old-fashioned clay pipe, they’re so well hidden by foliage that you’ll probably never notice them. It’s hardy to USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8, although in zones 4 and 5, a cold winter may kill off the upper part of the plant. Not to worry: it will grow right back come spring!
A Perennial Climber
The plants above are considered climbing shrubs, as they have woody stems that survive from year to year. Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a climbing perennial. It dies to the ground each winter and grows back to its full height each spring. It’s a full sun plant with toothed and lobed foliage. The variety with golden foliage is very pretty. There are many cultivars of hops and, of course, some are sought after eagerly by craft beer enthusiasts. It’s a very vigorous plant given to producing offsets that you’ll have to remove. Other than that, it’s easy to grow!
Careful Positioning Does the Job
Of course, this “hide from the neighbor” operation won’t be successful unless you set up your trellis in the right place. So, take some time to do the calculations. Get out a lawn chair and place it in spots where you like to relax in the yard. That will identify the places where you have to block the view. Also consider whether it is better to locate the screen near the property line or near the house. In the latter case, you may want to consider, rather than a trellis, a pergola or some other decorative structure just off your deck.
Sometimes all you need is a simple screen 7 feet (2 meters) tall and wide to bring you total peace of mind.