Create a Backbone
A traditional hedge is a common way to create privacy, but it tends to lack contrast and textural variation. Instead, delineate a private space by planting groups of larger, more unusual plants, which will grow to create a living wall around the perimeter of your yard. Whitworth suggests using conifers and broadleaf evergreens as the main structure, then adding support with deciduous trees and shrubs, ornamental grasses, and fast-growing perennials. A few of her favorite choices are evergreen viburnums and California wild lilac (Ceanothus) coupled with variegated maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’) and porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’).
Big, thick plants may seem like the perfect solution for privacy, but can actually take up too much space in petite yards. “In a small space like the Longs’, we layered instead,” Whitworth says. “I chose plants whose shapes interlock, like an arching plant with a narrow base underplanted with evergreen mounding grass or culinary herbs to provide the solid cover.”
Whitworth suggests pairing a burgundy rosy glow barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Rosy Glow’) with shade-loving plants like hellebores.
It’s also important to create year-round interest in a garden by combining plants that interact well. Deciduous plants (those that shed their leaves with the changing seasons) might seem counterintuitive when designing a private space, but they provide a much-needed textural break from evergreens and can become points of interest in winter, especially if they have winter buds, bark, or berries, or if they have an eye-catching shape. Try red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), and burning bush (Euonymus alatus).
Most of the plants that Whitworth suggests for privacy plantings can be found at Portland Nursery (multiple locations, portlandnursery.com). The selection, size, and price will all range widely depending on your choice of plants and the time of year.