Plants for privacy screening in the SF Bay Area
June 2, 2013 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Could any of the great gardeners on Metafilter offer advice about what to plant along a fence to create some privacy screening?

My house is on a corner, with my backyard fully visible along the street. I'd like to put construction debris there and to use the backyard without feeling exposed, so I'd like to plant something that will cover the wrought iron fence, create privacy, and make it pleasant for people walking along the sidewalk.

I've been considering both perennial vines and vining annuals. Vines I've thought about are jasmine, morning glory, native honeysuckle, and vining roses. Annuals I've thought about are pole beans, sweet peas, or tomatoes.

The fence is north of the house, along the western edge of the property. Nothing much shades it on the west. There are some scattered deciduous trees about 40' away. It gets afternoon sun. The fence runs between a stucco house and a ramshackle garage. The main fence is about 12' long, then there's a gate, then there's another 3' section right by the house. The house is in Oakland, CA.

This is my wish list in order of priority:
- will quickly cover the 6' tall, 12' long section of wrought iron fence and hide my messy back yard
- can grow in containers
- can fairly easily be kept from looking "messy," e.g., not having lots of dead bushy undergrowth (the neighborhood has some vacant properties and street litter, so anything that doesn't look well-maintained starts to blend in with the places that are abandoned)
- has flowers that smell nice, or at least produces food
- can fairly easily be kept from destroying the house and garage
- will not somehow escape the pots and aggressively invade my neighbors' yards (via wind or animal transfer of seeds, or maybe via amazing roots that dig through the base of the pot)
- is non-toxic to bees (neighbor has a hive), children, and cats
- can be managed with maybe 2 days of focused attention per year, plus regular watering and feeding
- ideally won't exacerbate anyone's allergies
- ideally has purple, blue, or white flowers (the stucco is an... antiquey muddy light gray-green that looks good with lavender, and in my opinion looks not good with black-eyed susans or neon pink passion flower)

The appeal of a vine is that I can probably plant it and ignore it for a year or so (is that right?). But I'm a bit worried about a vine taking over, getting thick and "messy," being the wrong kind but hard to remove, and helping the garage return to the earth more quickly than it already is.

The appeal of an annual is that I can get something growing now without having to be sure it's the right long term plan. But I wonder if they will have just barely created adequate screening before they die off, turn brown, and have to be torn out, leaving me with no screening in just a few short months. And would they require additional staking along the way?

It's obviously pretty late in the year. To add to the challenge, my budget is fairly low. I'm resigned to having to spend something, but I couldn't go drop $150 on three fairly large vines at $50 each.

I realize that some compromises will be necessary. Thanks for any advice!
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about Abutilons? They grow super fast, perfect for part sun, their flowers are gorgeous and attract hummingbirds, and they come in a bunch of different colors. A gallon pot will run you about $20.00 and since they grow to be about 8 - 12 feet tall & wide you can cover a lot of space for not so much money.

If you want to spend a little bit more money, Tibouchina would be a nice addition, with some New Zealand Flax around the sides.

Pink Jasmine is lovely, smells nice and grows pretty fast. It's usually not that expensive and with the right care, they can spread out quite rapidly, so much so that you have to keep an eye on the vines getting into places you don't want it to go because it will root and start another plant pretty easily if one of it's vines is slightly nicked and is buried in soil.

Morning Glories grow from seed pretty quickly; the seeds are hallucinogenic and the plant is toxic to dogs & cats, so that might not work out for you.

Hope that helps!

posted by echolalia67 at 3:28 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

And since you aren't that far away, try taking a trip over to Annie's Annuals over in Richmond. They have some absolutely stunning plants that do very well here.
posted by echolalia67 at 3:31 PM on June 2, 2013

Just chiming to say "hops"! They grow very fast (although wouldn't screen year-round, produce a usable by-product (for beer!), and the bees would love them!
posted by dbmcd at 4:53 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would recommend a row of Arborvitae. They're evergreens, so they cover you year round. They don't require a lot of upkeep and they're very attractive looking.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:25 PM on June 2, 2013

Another thing that can look really nice in containers are some of the ornamental grasses like Mexican Feather Grass, Carex, Purple Fountain Grass. The Mexican Feather Grass can be invasive but it's so pretty, IMHO, that I don't particularly mind. Pampas Grass, however, is the devil and it's import to California is banned because it is so invasive.

Salvias come in all sorts of colors (lots of purples and blues), can get quite tall, and some of them smell wonderful. I'm a big fan of the Allen Chickerling & Pozo Blue.Mexican Bush Sage would definitely fill the bill as far as color (purple) and rapid growth.

Now as someone said above, containers actually need more attention to watering because the soil in them dries out so easily. Is building a long, somewhat tall raised bed an option?
posted by echolalia67 at 5:28 PM on June 2, 2013

I had akebia growing at my old house (near Seattle, I don't know how the growing conditions compare). It grew quickly. Mine was not in containers, but it never spread. The fruit is edible if, uh, maybe not all that delicious (unless you're an old Japanese person, according to my Facebook friends). The flowers were beautiful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:57 PM on June 2, 2013

Response by poster: I just want to say that I am appreciating all these suggestions! Several of these might fit other spots in my front yard as well.

I could certainly break a few holes in the patio if necessary. If I plant jasmine in the ground will it tunnel under the concrete to other open areas like bamboo does? Would it be impossible to get rid of if I decided I didn't like it? Morning glory?

Also, what about clematis? It looks nice, but I heard it takes a few years to really get going?
posted by slidell at 9:01 PM on June 2, 2013

A nearly wild type Passion flower will be nearly lavender blue, rather than pink. They fit all your requirements, except in my experience they don't do well over several years in a container, and they might take a year or so to cover that size of fence densely enough to screen. This will be pretty true of anything you plant, unless you buy it really big and expensive to start with - so I'd probably buy a roll of bamboo or brush matting to act as a screen for the first year whilst the vine you have planted in the ground becomes established.
posted by cromagnon at 12:46 AM on June 3, 2013

I could certainly break a few holes in the patio if necessary. If I plant jasmine in the ground will it tunnel under the concrete to other open areas like bamboo does? Would it be impossible to get rid of if I decided I didn't like it? Morning glory?

Jasmine doesn't tunnel under concrete, fortunately. It spreads itself through it's vines, so it would be fairly easy to control. Morning glory reseeds itself but like I said the seeds are a hallucinogenic (scary to think of a toddler picking them up and eating them) and it's leaves are toxic to pets.
posted by echolalia67 at 8:18 AM on June 8, 2013

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