I’ve had several questions lately along the lines of “What do I plant to block out my neighbours?” “What do I plant to cover a big concrete wall” Or, in our neighbourhood (soon to be home to the second busiest transit hub in Toronto, after Union Station) “What do I plant to cover the rail corridor sound wall?” The common denominator here is the need for something that grows tall and, ideally, flat, so as not to eat up the rest of the yard/garden.
If you want something that will provide solid coverage year round cedars are my first choice, as I explained in this post.
But if you’re only really concerned about how the warmer months, there are some other great options. My choice, for my front porch, is wisteria:
Our house is quite close to our neighbours on one side. And while I love those neighbours very much, it’s nice to have some privacy on the front porch (both for us and for them). I had a simple frame built with the reinforcing wire mesh used for concrete, planted a wisteria at the base of it, and then stood back…wisteria likes to GROW.
Wisteria can have gorgeous purple blooms in spring. I’ve grown this wisteria for 14 years. It bloomed once, after about 8 years. I’ve read that you need to be rough with it in order to get it to bloom–mine has never been fertilized, it gets watered when it rains, and I hack it back hard, yet I get nothing. Because I find it so useful as a privacy screen I overlook the lack of blooms. But I still wonder why…
I need to reiterate though, that wisteria is a very vigorous plant. In the summer I trim it back every 3 to 4 weeks in order to keep it from climbing into the roof soffit. Contractors have told me they’ve seen wisteria actually lift decks and roofs, so you need to be vigilant about keeping it under control if you’re growing it somewhere where it could cause damage.
Just to give you a sense of how aggressive this vine can be, take a look at these photos I took of a wisteria eating a house during Garden Walk Buffalo in 2016:
That can’t be good for the roof! But if you need something that fills in quickly and provides dense coverage, wisteria is your plant:
Just make sure your secateurs are sharp, and keep them handy!
Another vigorous vertical vine for privacy is trumpet vine Campis radicans. I spotted this one a few weeks ago in Toronto and had to stop the car for a photo:
It’s a VERY vigorous grower and with those trumpet shaped blooms I’m sure it’s beloved by hummingbirds.
Here’s another shot of one in a Buffalo garden, climbing a utility pole:
I also like orange flowered trumpet honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens, like this one I spotted at home on the Long Branch by the Lake Garden Tour:
My father has one of these growing in his garden in Sudbury and has ongoing problems with mildew on the leaves. I haven’t seen the same issue in Toronto–either I’ve just missed seeing the problem here or it does better in a slightly warmer climate (Sudbury is growing zone 4 and Toronto is growing zone 6).
Vines are one option for covering a vertical space but trees are also a good choice. I mentioned cedars, but there are several deciduous trees (i.e. trees that drop their leaves) that can also work really well. My favourite tree for this is the columnar beech (Fagus). The purple leaved varieties are very popular but I really love the “normal” green variety. Mostly because the leaves are a stunning bright green when they first emerge in spring.
This photo shows a Toronto front yard with several ‘Dawyk Gold’ beech creating a great sense of privacy. At the time of this photo they’d been growing there for 10 years:
Dawyck Gold leaves turn a more subdued green in summer, but the spring colour is so spectacular I had to plant one in my own yard (and you know that if I’m giving up space for a tree in my urban garden it’s got to be a good one!)
In terms of other columnar trees to consider for privacy I’d include columnar oak, but note that it’s not a very skinny tree–mature specimens end up about 10′ across. The great thing with oak trees though, is that they usually hang onto their browned leaves all winter, so they can provide privacy–or camouflage an unsightly view–almost all year long.