Originally created 08/27/99

Screens add privacy without shutting out the world around you



I finally finished what I hope will be the last privacy screen in my garden. It went up like a snap -- with a few tools, but not a lot of skill. The screen resembles a regular wooden fence, except it's much smaller, with wider gaps between the slats. And it's built from the top down, instead of from the ground up.

In our little front garden, we don't need walls, just a bit of privacy here and there. To determine where to place these screens, I sit in my chair on the front deck and get the kids to stand where I don't want to see them. No, not really -- I stretch out my arms and use my hands to block unsightly views (mostly glaring street lights and passing traffic).

Now, instead of a 6-foot-tall barrier, we have smaller, carefully placed, billboardlike baffles positioned among shrubs, flowers, and vines. There is privacy where needed, but the good views and neighborly relations are preserved. When folks come by and we want to say "hey," we just stand up and wave. If we prefer privacy, we sit still.

In generations past, folks did the same thing with porch shades and big shrubs. Now we erect arbors and baffles and hide behind climbing roses, Carolina jessamine, gourds, cypress vine, moonflower and other vines. I've even used invasive but sweetly scented Japanese honeysuckle, but I keep it under control.

Once we decided where to place the screens, my son and I used a plain old manual post-hole digger to set posts. I set the 4 x 4-inch posts about 18 inches deep, pouring half a sack of ready-mix concrete (mixed with water into a pancake-batter consistency), into each post hole. I used a carpenter's level to straighten each post and let the concrete set up a couple of days before nailing on cross boards and heavy-duty outdoor fabric.

Most people use boards between the posts, and I've seen some very effective screens made with wood lattice -- especially the heavier, pressure-treated kind. (Vines can really tear up the cheap, thin ones.) I also use sections of heavy-gauge wire mesh -- the kind used when pouring concrete. (You see rolls of it around construction sites.) I love the rusty color and the way it disappears in my garden. Also, it's sturdy enough to withstand the wear and tear of heavy roses or gourds and other vines that need pulling down at season's end.

For small baffles, I use pressure-treated pine fence boards, with an inch of space between each board for air circulation. After each section is complete, I use my jigsaw to cut the tops of the boards in a post-to-post rainbow-like curve for a contemporary look. I finish it with a coat of homemade stain: bluish-green paint mixed half-and-half with wood preservative.

No need to build an un-neighborly fence when simple-but-strategically placed baffles will do. Softened with vines and shrubs, no one notices our privacy but us.

SOUTHEAST TIP OF THE WEEK:

Check climbing vines around the house to make sure their shoots and tendrils are not getting under eaves or window facings or becoming attached to wood.

Felder Rushing is an eighth-generation Southern gardener and regional writer for Garden.com.