Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cultivating privacy

When we bought our house almost a decade ago, there was a nice open field (large for city standards) and an old barn behind our house. I've mentioned before that we then found out in 2011 that we didn't have a square yard as we thought, abutting this nice field, but more of a zig zag. We found out because the owner of the open field and old barn was finally able to develop the land as he'd wanted to do for years. So long, old barn. So long, open space. So long, privacy. In its place went two twins (four homes total). On the other side of the property the owner stuck another twin (two more homes) in the most awkward of spaces (in another home's front yard!!). And one more single is set to go up two houses down from us. We now have four families behind us and two more new ones (in addition to existing neighbors) who can now see into my yard if they are so inclined.

Naturally, this has destroyed the privacy that I so cherished. And while my new neighbors (the ones I've met, anyway) are lovely, I'd like to be able to eat dinner, have a glass of wine, or scratch my butt in the yard in peace.

After musing over my bushes for a couple of weeks, I decided to move things around this past weekend. It was in the high 50s and partly sunny both days - glorious weather for someone pining for spring. My mother talked me out of moving the bush right next to my back door and suggested I move it closer to my fence. She also suggested that I purchase a somewhat established evergreen - a nice idea, but I'm a bit impatient and wanted to move things RIGHT NOW! I was originally going to move the lilac tree next to the dwarf lilac bush but thought it would be too lilac-y. Instead, I decided to move the viburnum next to the dwarf lilac bush.

Before: My front yard privacy superfecta  (from L to R) - hydrangea, half-dead dogwood, lilac tree, viburnum, butterfly bush)
Before: The current view from my back patio with two new homes and my current doctor neighbors' patio in front of them.  The fence to the right is my property line; in front of it is the dwarf lilac. Missing: Lovely blue porta potty by cut-down trees behind neighbors' patio.
Though I've dug out my fair share of bushes (the house's previous owners had an affinity for cone-shaped yews), I haven't done it in a couple of years and forgot how much work it is. The process is roughly as follows: dig, dig, cut taproot, dig, cut taproot, dig, cut taproot, get dirt in mouth, dig, scratch face with branches, dig, cut taproot, push, pull, cut taproot, dig, dig, cut taproot, success!

Once the viburnum was out, it was smooth sailing. I just had to dig a new hole and water. I'm super pleased with how it turned out and think it'll add a really great privacy screen to that part of the yard. I was surprised at how tall the bush has become - probably 8-9 feet already.

After: Viburnum next to dwarf lilac. Once the foliage returns, I think it'll be a nice screen from the neighbors.

But now I'm less pleased with the front of the house. The superfecta is no longer - the viburnum has been moved and the butterfly bush is being removed shortly. I need ideas for a bit of privacy (grasses, maybe?) from the street. And even though I think it looks a bit ugly now, I'm excited for yet another project! After all,  gardening is most fun when you're moving/adding/subtracting things around!

After: Hole where the viburnum was, and awkwardly placed lilac tree in front of half-dead dogwood. 


  1. Lots of challenges here! What a delight to have these problems. How about getting rid of the half dead dogwood and putting in a smokebush for screening on the corner. It will get big and dramatic, and most of the screening will be at a level where it blocks the street view. It's a fast grower.

    The viburnum screening the back view of the neighbor's patio is great. How about adding some layers below or in front of it? A shrub layer will add complexity to the view so you are not just blocking a sight, you are directing the eye to see something other than the far patio and house. Depending on your sun / shade there, you could add hollies (either deciduous winterberries or evergreen blue hollies). Or azaleas. Or my favorite, fothergillas. Any shrub would add depth to your screen. It's disturbing to see all the changes around your private garden, but fun to design for it.

  2. Laurrie, thanks for your ideas. Funny enough, I was thinking of your great use of layers as I was digging out the viburnum. I was going to add perennials in front of the bushes but will look into a small shrub. I also love the smokebush idea for the front!