Hartley Magazine

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Landscape for Privacy— Marty Wingate shows how to plan now for next summer’s garden sanctuary

Have you ever wished your garden could feel more like a private hideaway? Perhaps your outdoor space has yet to be defined, or maybe the neighbors just added a second story that overlooks your back yard. Because winter is the best planning time for summer projects, this month I talk with Seattle garden writer Marty Wingate. Her newest book from Timber Press, Landscaping for Privacy—Innovative Ways to Turn Your Outdoor Space into a Peaceful Retreat, takes direct aim at privacy problems.

Marty tells me that the inspiration for this book came from two questions she fields regularly on her radio talk show appearances. Number one—What do I plant for privacy? And number two— How do I remove the (insert an invasive fast-growing plant here—say, bamboo)?

These two questions illustrate the lack of planning that often occurs when privacy issues come up. It’s tempting to plant something that will grow so fast that the intrusions into your yard will disappear tomorrow. But often, without forethought, you’re creating a gardening maintenance nightmare.

Marty suggests that you back up a bit in the process and do some creative thinking first. Start by defining areas by use. “Don’t try to turn the most public part of your property— the front porch, perhaps—into the most private”

Rather, she suggests, choose a part of the garden where you would like to spend more time, and then notice already existing elements that could assist you in creating a more concealed space. For instance, if your neighbor’s property runs a bit lower than yours, a privacy hedge that’s only four feet high would give you the sense of enclosure you need.

And sometimes, think structures, not plants. With that looming neighbor’s house, instead of a two-story hedge, how about an arbor to block the sightlines?  Especially in summer, the vines you’ll grow on it will be in full leaf.

“Seasonality is also key,” Marty says. “When deciduous plants shed their leaves, they allow some precious light into our winter landscapes.”

When shopping, consider a plant’s ultimate size. Marty suggests that you visualize your prospective plant in its place through the seasons. Will its proximity to well-used areas be a problem? “Flowers are lovely, “Marty says, “but what about the bees? Or fruit—if it’s messy fruit, this should be a screening plant set away from the sidewalk.”

With a little planning, your next summer’s garden can be the peaceful sanctuary you’ve always wanted.