Gardeners - help me increase privacy!
January 23, 2022 1:34 PM   Subscribe

How do we make our shared deck more private?

So far in my moving process, you've all helped me with movers and with showerheads. Now I have a question about privacy.

Our new condo has a deck (yay!) but that deck is essentially one big deck shared with the condo next door and separated at our shared wall-line by, at present, a framed metal divider with, basically, very wide mesh - it's not a chain link fence, but it's basically one aesthetic step up from that. And it's totally see through - the metal forming the "mesh" forms about one inch squares.

The last owner of our condo covered said divider with these super-hinky bamboo panels that look like cheap roller blinds, and we want to replace them with something natural.

The divider is about 6-7 feet high and 11 feet long, and for the purposes of this question please assume that the divider cannot be altered, removed, or replaced with something different. It is, however, unclear whether we can grow vines directly on it - I'm going to bias towards "no", to be safe, but I'm still seeking clarity on that from the HOA. Planter boxes of any shape are fine.

My first thought was bamboo in a narrow planter box that runs along the length of the divider, but there is a bewildering array of types of bamboo, and most of them grow to like 20 feet tall. I was hoping for something that wouldn't grow that tall, something a little lower maintenance than having to prune it on a weekly basis to keep it at the same height as the top of the divider.

So. What sort of thing could I put in a planter box (or boxes), along the 11 feet of divider wall, that would:

- Grow tall enough to provide privacy/not allow us to see through to our neighbor's deck and vice versa
- But grow slowly enough to that height that I don't have to maintain it constantly
- Not be super wide or so lush that it takes up a ton of deck space (think tall and slender rather than medium-sized and round)
- Maybe flower? Maybe not? I'm open to pretty colorful flowering things as opposed to a pretty-but-dullish wall of greenery, but I know very, very little about gardening or plants (thus the question!)

I'm in Portland, OR, for purposes of recommending plants that will work for this need.
posted by pdb to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What direction does your balcony face and how many hours of sun exposure (when it is actually sunny in Portland) does the area get? Those two things will drive what kind of plants might be appropriate.
posted by teamnap at 1:55 PM on January 23, 2022

Response by poster: Ah, right, forgot that bit! The deck faces due east and is uncovered, so it will get direct sun exposure until noon-ish when the sun will be behind our unit, which is on the top floor of the east side of a large, square building.
posted by pdb at 2:00 PM on January 23, 2022

Below is a link to Portland Nursery info on plants appropriate for use as privacy screens. I would look at the partial shade evergreen vines. You can buy or make a narrow cedar planter box (may need 2-3 in order to span the 11ft width) that you can then use to plant the vines. Make sure you line the box(es) with landscape fabric before filling them so you don’t loose soil through the drainage holes. If you cannot use the current divider as a trellis because of the HOA rules just buy simple cedar or metal ones and attach to the inside of the box(es). This is essentially what I have on a balcony and it works very well. I have a deciduous clematis which needs more sun than 4 hours a day so you’d probably want an evergreen that can tolerate partial shade. You can think about planting a vine that likes more sun than you have but just know it probably won’t flower very heavily.
posted by teamnap at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

Look into horsetail, it’s attractive and I’ve often seen it in containers.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:16 PM on January 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Is your deck elevated or ground level? This could make a difference as larger planters (the kind you'd need for a screen like the one you want) are quite heavy once they're filled with hydrated soil and if the deck is elevated, it could increase the weight to a dangerous degree if the decks were not designed to hold a heavy load.

If you are able to put in planters, I'd install tall rectangular planters made of fiberglass or similar material that resists cracking and plant Pittosporum or Podocarpus. Both are evergreen so your screen won't die back and both grow relatively quickly and take well to pruning into a shape that suits your needs. Of the two, Pittosporum will grow faster. There's also a purple variety of Dodonaea viscosa that's gorgeous and fast growing, but it is a bit messier when it sheds its seeds. It will also need pruning to keep it shaped to your needs.
posted by quince at 2:00 PM on January 24, 2022

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