Room With A View
When my husband and I bought our house, one of the reasons I wanted it was that most of the windows looked out into the front and back yard. I wanted a garden I could enjoy from the inside and outside of the house - garden rooms that would be an extension of the house - at least in the summer. I envisioned the scene unfolding from my dining room windows - layers of textures and flowers, vibrant color schemes, paths beckoning and little surprises popping up here and there. I was so caught up in this little fantasy that I didn't pay much attention to the real view - and it left a lot to be desired. Our property was small - the backyard was a rectangular space of about 90 x100 feet. The property line was only 10 feet from our next door neighbors windows, so when we moved in, this is what I was looking at. We have great neighbors, but this wasn't the view I had in mind. They probably weren't all that thrilled about looking at my windows either.
There was no way to have a garden there without some sort of structure. Initially, I thought about planting some type of hedge to enclose our backyard and act as a backdrop for the other plants, but I couldn't think of anything that would grow quickly enough without eating up a lot of space. I was eager to have privacy and structure as soon as possible, so it was going to have to be a fence.
We didn't want it to look like we were creating a fortress around our house, so my husband and I spent a lot of time puzzling over how we were going to screen in our yard without creating an eyesore for the rest of the neighborhood. After looking at lots of fencing that was either too short, heavy looking or way out of our budget, Phil agreed to design and build it himself. To keep it from looking heavy and overpowering, he left three quarter inch spaces between the boards - kind of like a venetian blind. He sunk 10 foot pressure treated posts into the ground and filled the holes with cement. The fence was built to a height of 7 feet, with crossbeams constructed from 2x3 pine and 1x2 pine for the pickets. Building it out of pine kept the cost down, the most expensive part were the pressure treated posts.
Phil put caps on the top of each post, cut from 2x6 pine and beveled on a table saw. As a final touch, he added molding around the bottom and painted it white to match our house.
Both us liked the look of the fence, and our neighbors approved, but I was a little worried about those spaces. I thought we might not have enough privacy, but once I started planting, the fence receded into the background and I could barely make out what was on the other side.
Thinking of the view my neighbors would see, I worked on the outside of the fence first. As I had limited space, I chose tall plants that wouldn't get too wide and could be cut back later - buddleia, a variety of ornamental grasses, daylilies and heliopsis. It seemed a little bare when I first planted it in the spring, but as soon as it warmed up, the grasses and buddleia took off. I grew honeysuckle and clematis up the fence to break up the space. Here's what it looked like after I planted it.
On our side of the fence, I planted the structural plants first - here are a few of them, a small dogwood, several varieties of pine, and a japanese maple.
I layered in perennials, smaller shrubs and groundcovers next. The fence quickly became an integral part of the garden and provided support for the vines I added.
Planting in layers thickened up the screening and added depth, texture and color to the beds. I didn't do it all at once, every year I add more to it. It's taken a few years for the trees and shrubs to mature, but this is what it looks like now.
Our enclosed garden room has more than fulfilled my fantasies and has become and one of our favorite places to hang out in - our neighbors wander over every now and then too.
Here's the view from our dining room table - I'm still tweaking the plants, but its a lot more entertaining than looking at my neighbors windows.