Consider Existing Structures

Don’t be afraid to take advantage of your neighbors’ terrain as well. “Existing structures are part of a space’s borrowed landscape,” says Whitworth. “Plants of a particular size, color, or texture belonging to the neighbors can be used to make your yard seem larger, without end.”

For example, large plants and trees bordering a neighbor’s property can be co-opted into yours to add another, taller layer to your living wall, as if they were an intentional element of your backdrop. And if you’re lucky enough to have a yard bordering an attractive neighboring fence or arbor, you can incorporate these existing visual elements as accents in your own space.

But you’ll also need to consider existing structures of the less pleasing sort, like the Longs’ neighbor’s white vinyl fence. It held little appeal, so they used it to divide the space, strategically placing plants like purple-leafed heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) and golden oriental spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) in front of the fence to camouflage it.

Add Detail

Privacy plantings are always more appealing when texture, color, and finishing touches are attended to. In the Longs’ yard, Whitworth added an arbor in front of the living wall to keep guests focused on the garden’s details. “The [Longs’] arbor actually makes the neighboring house seem smaller. It probably seems like a strange place for [the arbor], right in front of all the other plants, but it was a way to minimize the impact of the house,” says Whitworth.

Flowering vines like honeysuckle and trumpet vine can also stagger and soften the garden’s lines and keep the eye focused on details instead of the lack of square footage. Garden art, like an unobtrusive sculpture, will promote interest and provide a small visual break in the plantings. But make sure you select art and sculptures with an understated color scheme—they will bring out the best in the existing color palette of your new privacy planting.

By heeding little details like these, the Longs’ living wall now serves the exact purpose they’d hoped it would. “In our desire for privacy, we wanted a natural and interesting plant-filled area,” says Patty, who, along with Bill, has found their living wall far more appealing than any vinyl or wood fence could have been. “We love the variety of plants and always look forward to their blooms as the season progresses.”