How To Create Privacy In The Garden

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Musings

How to create privacy in the garden?

There are several options if you have a large area.

But take a narrow garden, add in a small urban space, and you’ve got yourself a challenge.

So is the case with my rooftop garden in Tel Aviv. It has no privacy on 3 sides. The front of the rooftop is abutting the street and looking straight across to another building, all with terraces.

How to deal with it?

First, I had raised containers built the length of the front which is about 20 feet. The width is only 2 and a half feet. Because of this, it’s difficult to plant more than some grasses, or small bushes and trees.

I needed erect ornamental grasses for the back of the border. I was lucky enough to find Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’. Known as switch grass, it’s an erect, silver green grass, known for its showy flowers. They can grow up to 7 feet tall with feather like panicles up to 2 feet tall. The flowers are pinkish red and eventually turn to a silvery gray. In autumn, the plant turns to a golden yellow. When the sun filters through, it takes on an orange hue which is breathtaking.

An introduction from the oh- so- talented Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm, this native grass is a perennial that just keeps on giving. It’s drought tolerant, deer resistant, does well in sun, can handle clay soil, and is non-invasive.

Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’

For the middle of the border, I chose Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ – Dwarf Fountain Grass. It’s  clump forming, has green foliage, grows up to 40 inches tall when it flowers – July through September – and can handle full sun to light shade.

Although it’s overshadowed by ‘Northwind’, I thought it had some excellent characteristics and would offer a transition to the front of the border plants.

The front of the border – this is where I had a chance to play. My rule of thumb,  especially in a small garden, is to be bold, use several of one variety, and always -repetition, repetition.

I chose to use 4 plants based on their shapes, flower and leaf colors, and textures.

The 3 silver leaved plants, Pelargonium sidoides ‘Burgundy’, a gazanzia variety with pink flowers, and a lavander variety, give the front a cohesive look. Add in Carex ‘Prairie Fire’ with its outstanding brazen color and the sharp edges of the container are immediately softened – draped with a subtle tapestry of shapes and colors.

I have never created a garden where I’ve been totally pleased with the results. But with this one I am. Maybe I’ve become more accepting as I’ve gotten older, maybe it’s because I’m working with such a tight space, or maybe I just love this slice of a garden on a rooftop in the city.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. How have you created privacy in your garden? If so, how?

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the recently published 10th Anniversary Edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book".  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, and CBS Radio New correspondent.

Click on Fran's website,, to sign up to receive a free gift: "The 38 Creative Tips That Are Preventing You From Leading A Richer Life" and to read articles on creativity, well-being, gardening, and spirituality.  

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Fran Sorin
Fran Sorin

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15 Comments… add one

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Michael Cook August 16, 2013, 9:16 am

I tried watching the video, and it’s private, too! You may need to adjust the settings on your YouTube page, if you want people to see it.

Diane August 16, 2013, 12:22 pm

To begin with I planted 135 Leyland Cypress on the perimeter of my 1/2 acre then created deep shrub borders into the turf to reduce area of lawn…

Fran Sorin August 17, 2013, 12:12 am

Eddie – It was a mistake. They’re now public. Thanks for letting me know. Fran

Fran Sorin August 17, 2013, 12:22 am

Diane –
135 leyland cypresses is pretty impressive. I used them as a divider between my neighbor’s driveway and mine. They are such fast growers that for the first years I loved them. BUT as you probably already know, they become wild and require quite a bit of maintenance. AND when healthy, they are stunning. Thanks for sharing. Fran

Andrea August 17, 2013, 11:18 am

Thanks so much for this. I garden on a second floor balcony and was thinking of doing this exact thing (grasses for privacy) however I live in Maine (zone 5) and am afraid that if I invest in some big ornamental grasses they may not survive the winter. Do you have any tips for helping perennials through the winter in a situation like mine?

Fran Sorin August 18, 2013, 1:05 am

Hi Andrea –
You’ve got a great variety. Here are a few that are hardy through Zone 4.

Feather Reed Grass – up to 6feet high and 4 feet wide
Botanical name:Calamagrostis x acutiflora. (I’m in love with this grass – have used it several times)
Hardy in Zones 4-7

Indian grass – up to 8 feet high and 2 feet wide
Botanical Name: Sorghastrum.
Hardiness: Zones 3 to 8.

Maiden, eulalia, or silver grass – up to 8 feet tall and 4′ wide
Botanical Name: Miscanthus sinensis.
Hardiness: Zones 4 to 8.

Switchgrass – up to 5 feet high (I think it’s closer to 6′)
Botanical Name: Panicum virgatum.
Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9.
*** What I’m using in my garden

All are terrific grasses. Enjoy! Fran

Janet Sarandon August 18, 2013, 3:17 am

I already watched the video. It’s great! I learned so much from your video. I’m thinking of doing this at my balcony. Thanks a lot! :-)

Debra Lee Baldwin August 18, 2013, 2:50 pm

Great topic, Frannie. When my neighbor put a chain link fence along our property line, I planted ivy on my side and wove it through. Took three years, but it’s now covered!

Fran Sorin August 19, 2013, 6:13 am

Thanks Debra. Chain link fences are pretty darn ugly so covering them ASAP is a must. Smart move with the ivy. Even on the East coast, it will give you throughout the year coverage~

Fran Sorin August 20, 2013, 3:10 am

Janet – am glad that the video was helpful to you ~ Fran

Benny August 22, 2013, 8:54 pm

I am so glad your article really helped me.

Moss September 6, 2013, 4:58 am

Great ingenuity with limited space there, I’m finding privacy is becoming more of a requirement when designing new garden than it ever has been. Using the 4 plants based on texture etc is an idea I might have to keep in mind myself for the future!

Fran Sorin September 9, 2013, 8:22 am

Am glad you enjoyed the article – this is just one of many ways to create privacy but on this particular site – it worked well. Fran

Alex August 16, 2015, 3:00 pm

some great tips there Fran! We like to use lavender when tying different flowering elements together too! your final video doesn’t seem to be working either.

Fran Sorin August 18, 2015, 4:48 am

Alex- thanks for letting me know about the video. Will check it out. Lavender still comes up for me as one of the great drought and disease resistant perennials—with several other benefits included. Fran

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