Green Screens: Planting for Privacy

Gardeners can create layers of screening plants to create privacy, enclosures, and drama within the garden.

Using plants as screening is the prettiest way to block an unsightly view, demarcate space, channel traffic, or form the walls of an intimate outdoor room. A green screen can be anything from a single eye-stopping specimen to a uniform hedge, to a mixture of evergreen and flowering shrubs, to a vine-adorned fence. The type of plant that does the screening influences the overall personality of a garden as well as the amount of labor required to maintain it.

Ascending Evergreens

Robust, columnar evergreens make a tidy, effective, year-round green screen.

Often, the first plants that spring to mind for screening are three evergreens: Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica, Zones 6-8), and arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis, Zones 2-7). Each has a formal aspect and grows at warp speed; Leyland cypress tops out at 75 feet, Japanese cedar at about 50 feet, and arborvitae at 40 feet. Appealing as immediate gratification is, very tall plants can change patterns of light and shade, be difficult to prune, and, worse, grow out of proportion with the rest of a garden. For this reason, gardeners seeking a more manageable evergreen screen have more compact varieties of these trees from which to choose. North Pole® arborvitae has a narrow, conical habit and tops out at 15 feet, and Rein’s Dense Jade Japanese cedar is a choice variety that reaches 25 feet and has very dense growth.

Hedging Plants

Skip laurel has spires of white flowers in mid to late spring and glossy, evergreen leaves.

Another traditional hedge plant is Skip laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’, Zones 6-9).  It grows moderately fast, is dark green and dense, thrives just about anywhere, tolerates pollution and drought, takes pruning, and reaches about 12 feet. Unfortunately, deer love it.

Deer won’t bother spicily aromatic dwarf bayberry (Myrica cerifera, Zones 7-9), an evergreen that can eventually reach 10 to 15 feet but is generally much shorter. Its loose habit is casual, but for a more formal look, it takes well to shearing. Growing in wet or sandy soils, sun or shade, it isn’t bothered by salt spray or high winds and is ideal for seaside gardens. Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica, Zones 3-7) is equally tolerant of tough growing conditions but is hardier and shorter, reaching between 5 to 10 feet.

Prague viburnum is an evergreen spring bloomer with a less formal appearance when used as a screening shrub.

A uniform clipped hedge is at home in a formal garden. Informal gardens allow for looser, more textured shrubs, such as the deep evergreen Prague viburnum (Viburnum x pragense, Zones 5-8).  It will reach 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide quickly in the sun or part shade.  It grows in full shade but won’t produce the fragrant, creamy white May flowers that are followed by showy black berries. The equally informal All that Glows® Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) is a pleasing deciduous viburnum that is tough and creates a fine screen. It takes well to shearing, has glossy leaves, and white flower clusters in late spring followed by clusters of deep blue berries that remain attractive into fall.

Screening Grasses

Feather Reed Grass has a stark upright habit and creates a fine green screen from summer through winter.

Informal gardens also allow for out-of-the-box thinking.  How about a screen of ornamental grasses?  Drought-tolerant, deer-resistant switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a tall, airy, native and some cultivars can reach up to 6 feet or more. The award-winning ‘Northwind’ (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind,’ Zones 4-9) is vertical with olive-green blades and soft panicles that top out at 6 feet. It grows quickly in a single season. Another grass with a vertical appeal is the classic Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’), which reaches 4 to 6 feet. It’s upright green panicles age to warm tan by fall and remain attractive through winter.

Or how about grasses and shrubs in combination? Deer-resistant blue fountain or clumping bamboo (Fargesia nitida, Zones 5-8) reaches 10 feet tall or more.  Clumps are dense, but the thin. Erect canes have a linear appearance that contrasts handsomely with bold, broadleaf evergreens in the foreground, such as Beale’s mahonia (Mahonia bealei, Zones 6-9)–a deep green shrub with prickly evergreen leaves that grows up to 10 feet tall and nearly as wide. Another complement would be Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium, Zones 6-8), which grows to 6 feet or slightly more and spreads to 5 feet wide. Fragrant yellow flowers bloom in the earliest spring. (Click here to read more about Oregon grape holly.)

Mixed Screens

Mixed screens, comprised of varied plant material and media, provide continuous appeal.

Alone, evergreen Sky Pencil holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’, Zones 5-8) is ideal for a medium green screen in a narrow area.  It reaches 10 feet, but stays 3 feet wide and under, grows in the sun or shade, isn’t fussy about soil, and needs no trimming. It is sensational when alternated in a hedge with just about any shorter flowering shrub. One choice might be deciduous flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa, Zones 5-8).  Quince grows to about 6’ tall and bears pink, red, or white early-spring flowers, followed by tart fruits that can be used in jams and jellies. Its thorns deter deer, but there is a thornless and fruitless variety called Double Take Orange( aka. Double Take Orange Storm), which has double flowers of deepest orange that make it well worth growing.

Privatizing Climbers for Fences

Sometimes a well-espaliered tree, like this apple, makes its own green screen.

Sometimes, for reasons of space and time, only a fence will do.  Espaliered trees or shrubs like apples, pyracantha, and camellias (Camellia species, zones 7-9), or a woody vine, like climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris, Zones 5-9), are great choices for added fence or green wall screening that goes a long way to improving the view.

Blazing Garden Plants For Autumn Glory

As the season grows cooler, the old flower heads of tall sedums darken. (Image by Jessie Keith)

In the fall, many plants begin to wither and fade away quietly from the garden.  Some pass so gently into dormancy that we often don’t notice their departures. Happily, there are other high-spirited exceptions that refuse to exit meekly. Instead, they fire up their flowers, fruits, and foliage to keep the garden showy late into the year. These individuals—perennials, shrubs, and trees–wait until the end of the growing season to put on flamboyant autumn displays, going into winter in a blaze of glory.

Colorful Garden Plants for Autumn


Fine-leaved Hubricht’s bluestar has beautiful fall color. (Image by Jessie Keith)

The bushy eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9) and fine-leaved Hubricht’s bluestar (T. hubrichtii, Zones 5-9) are quiet individuals in the spring and summer garden. They produce spring flowers of the gentlest blue and feathery mounds of summer foliage in an unobtrusive Garden-of-Eden green. Then, one fine autumn day these retiring beauties undergo a stunning metamorphosis.  Suddenly, bluestar’s green foliage radiates a dazzling, show-stopping golden orange. There is a miniature, spreading, fine-leaved form, called ‘Georgia Pancake(Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia ‘Georgia Pancake’, Zones 4-9) that reaches only about 6 inches tall and spreads to 2 feet wide and is equally attractive in fall.

Deer resistant bluestars grow to a bushy 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide when grown in average soil and full to partial sun.  At planting time give them a boost by amending their soil with Black Gold Garden Soil, which has a little added fertilizer to get plants off to a great start.

Tall Sedum

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a perennial fall favorite.

In spring, perennial Autumn Joy sedum (Sedum telephium ‘Autumn Joy’, zones 3-8) becomes a neat, round, 18-inch mound of succulent, pale green leaves.  In mid to late summer, stems of domed, pink flower heads cover the clump and are bee and butterfly magnets. As the season progresses, the color of the aging flowerheads deepen until in late fall when they radiate deep rose-red.  After frost, the flowers turn rich copper. Another exceptional tall sedum is the knock-your-socks-off ‘Mr. Goodbud‘ (Sedum telephium ‘Mr. Goodbud’, zones 4-9), an award-winner that is slightly shorter and has brilliant domed flower heads of purplish-pink.

Tall sedums prefer full sun. As long as their soil is well-drained and holds average moisture, they will grow well.

Little Bluestem

Little bluestem Blue Heaven™ turns brilliant shades in fall. (Image by Proven Winners)

Sun-loving little bluestem Blue Heaven™ (Schizachyrium scoparium Blue Heaven ‘MinnblueA’, zones 3-9) grows into an upright, 2-4-foot clump with soft gray blades that are streaked with sky blue and tipped with dusty purple. This well-behaved grass maintains its discrete coloring until the days begin to shorten. Then, its quiet hues flame a fiery burgundy-red that turn orange-brown as they dry.

Blue Heaven little bluestem prefers full sun and grows best in average, well-drained soil. In the heat of summer, it will take drought.

American Beautyberry

Beautyberry tree or American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) transition of unripe green to ripe purple or Beautyberry Shrub with Purple berries

Our native (Callicarpa americana, zones 6-9) is a fast-growing shrub that reaches 3-6 feet tall and wide.  Its shy, lavender or white summer flowers usually go unnoticed.  It isn’t until autumn that this native lives up to its name. It becomes a showy beauty when the insignificant flowers ripen into glowing purple berries that encircle the stems like jeweled bracelets. A bird favorite, beautyberry shows its finest when grown in full sun to partial shade and moister garden soil amended with Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss. As long as its berries are not snapped up by birds, they remain attractive until early winter.

Staghorn Sumac

Sumac Tiger Eyes turns brilliant shades in fall.

Sumac Tiger Eyes (Rhus typhina Tiger Eyes® ‘Bailtiger’, zones 4-8) never suffers a dull day during the growing season.  In spring, finely cut, bright golden-yellow leaves stand against the pink stems of this shrub and make it a colorful standout from the moment its leaves first emerge. It stays colorful into summer, though the leaves may revert to green. Then, in fall, the foliage of Tiger Eyes® converts to riveting oranges and scarlets, putting on a display that is an extravaganza of dazzling, brilliant color. It may also produce spires of deep reddish-orange fruits that will stay attractive into winter.

This fast-growing North American small tree quickly reaches 4-6 feet tall and wide in full to partial sun. It is drought-resistant and tolerates poorer soils but still appreciates a soil amendment, like peat moss, at planting time.


Sweetspire turns shades of purple, orange, yellow, and red in fall. (Image by SB_Johnny)

Little Henry dwarf sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’, zones 5-9) is a great all-purpose shrub that thrives in the sun or shade and looks fine massed in a border or as a foundation plant. It can even naturalize in a woodland.  This petite, 3-4-foot-tall shrub tolerates periods of drought as well as moist soil.

Drooping, elongated clusters of fragrant, ivory flowers blanket the plant in early summer, attracting hordes of butterflies.  The clean, shiny, green foliage is free from serious disease and insect problems and unappealing to deer. In fall, Little Henry’s shiny green leaves turn shades of flamboyant orange before deepening to glowing garnet-red. Its color is most vibrant when the shrubs are grown in sunnier locations.

Spectacular garden plants that look good through summer, but also to put on vivid displays in fall, are doubly cherished.  They extend a garden’s showy season by going out in a blaze of glory.

DIY Potpourri From The Garden


Potpourri is a mixture of aromatic plant parts that captures the essence of the growing season for yearlong enjoyment.  To create your own, gather leaves and petals that are attractive as well as fragrant. Preserve them by thorough drying, and mix them to heighten their aroma and looks.

Potpourri Plants

Dried rose buds add scent and beauty to summer potpourri.

Some classic dried potpourri additions with exceptional fragrance include lavender flowers and leaves, rose buds and petals, and elderflowers. Pot marigold petals are also a favorite for orange-yellow color.

A lavender that performs well in almost any climate is Phenomenal™ (Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal™, 2-3 feet high), a true hybrid hedge lavender. French lavender (Lavandula stoechas, 1-3 feet high) is another easy-to-grow species with its showy tufted flowers, strong scent, and good drought tolerance. This one is a little more tender, surviving to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10. (Click here to learn how to grow your own lavender.)

Roses with fragrance and pretty color include the easy-care, reblooming, peach-colored shrub rose At Last® or the bi-colored (strawberry and cream) hybrid tea Double Delight™. These roses yield both small buds and petals. Cut small tight buds and harvest rose petals by gripping the full-blown flowers, pulling gently, and catching nicely separated petals. Keep the petals whole. (Click here to discover more tough, fragrant roses.)

Tiny elderflower blooms also dry nicely and add a sweet, summery scent to potpourri. There are many ornamental elderberries for the garden with nice flowers or you can pick the flowers from native elderberries along roadsides.

Scented geraniums are another essential ingredient with aromatic leaves that retain their scent. Different species and cultivars have different scents including rose, citrus, and mint as well as those with the subtle smells of fruits and chocolate. (Click here to learn more about growing scented geraniums.)

Mints and lemony herbs of all sorts will also offer bright flavor to potpourri. Some of the more pungent than others. Lasting options include lemon verbena and lemon balm. (Click here to learn more about lemony herbs.)

Growing Potpourri Plants

Scented geraniums grow well in pots and offer a variety of pleasing scents.

Most of the summer plants for potpourri are common garden plants that thrive in full sun and well-drained, fertile garden soil. In-ground soils should be fortified with quality compost for best performance. Tender potpourri plants, such as scented geraniums, grow very well in containers. For these, a porous potting mix, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, is a good choice.

Drying Potpourri Plants

Hanging is one of many ways to dry plants for potpourri.

Thorough drying is absolutely crucial for the creation of a potpourri.  Moisture in leaves or petals may cause mold and put a damper on their scent quality. Adding drops of essential oil (lavender, rose, etc.) can help fix a stronger fragrance.

You cannot make potpourri until all plant parts are thoroughly dry. There are several drying methods to try. Here are four:

  1. Hang herbs in a cool, dry place until fully dry.
  2. Spread the plant parts on newspaper or paper towels on a tray in a single layer. Allow all to dry completely in a cool dark place.  This can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
  3. Dry materials in an oven set at 180 degrees F for about two hours or until the various plant parts are completely dry.  Larger, thicker material takes longer to dry.  Check frequently and remove the plants as they become slightly brittle.
  4. Use a food dehydrator for fast, efficient drying.

Potpourri possibilities are endless and depend upon personal preference and what plants are available in your yard and garden for harvesting.  Here are two reliable, wonderfully fragrant recipes. They can be used for linen or drawer sachets or home aromatherapy.

Classic Summer Potpourri

Mix ingredients gently to keep them intact and looking beautiful.


  • ½ cup dried rose petals
  • ½ cup dried lavender flowers
  • 1/3 cup dried small rose buds
  • 1/3 cup dried scented geranium leaves
  • one orange peel, cut into thin slices and dried
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2-3 drops of lavender or rose essential oil or both, mixed with a teaspoon of water.


  1. Mix all of the plant parts together in a bowl (make sure they are thoroughly dry).
  2. Sprinkle or spray dried plant parts with the cinnamon and essential oil and water mixture and mix gently.
  3. Seal the potpourri in a glass jar for at least a week to allow the fragrances to combine.
  4. When the potpourri is strongly fragrant it is ready to use!

Holiday Potpourri

Evergreen needles, bayberries, and rose hips are just some of the winter potpourri ingredients that can come from the garden.

Many landscape evergreens—pines, spruces, junipers, and Japanese cedars—give off spicy, resinous scents that evoke the spirit of the holiday season. Let these be the base of your winter potpourri.


  • 1 cup of dried evergreen needles or greens
  • 1 cup of dried bayberry leaves or berries
  • 1 tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
  • 1 orange rind cut into narrow strips and dried (orange slices also work)
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 10 drops cedar essential oil mixed with a tablespoon of water.

(You can also add the dried berries of holly, beautyberry, or pyracantha as well as rose hips and small pinecones for interest.)


  1. Mix all of the plant parts together in a bowl (make sure they are thoroughly dry).
  2. Spray or sprinkle them with the mixture of the cedar essential oil and water.
  3. Seal the potpourri in a glass jar to fix the fragrance.
  4. Set it out in bowls to scent your rooms.

These are two of many potpourri recipes to try. You may even create your own to suit your senses. The key is growing your own components for freshness and longer lasting scent.

12 Plants Deer Would Rather Not Eat

While it is true that starving deer will eat just about anything, it is also true that in times of plenty they have definite preferences. They’ll seek out their favorites–daylilies, hostas, lilies, liriope, and yew–and ignore the rest.

If you garden in deer country, avoid endless frustration by growing plants deer would rather not eat. Be sure to plant them in sites best for their growing needs. All of these plants appreciate fertile garden soil and would delight in soil amended with Black Gold® Garden Soil at planting time.

Here are a dozen attractive shrubs and garden perennials that deer find unpalatable. I have tested these plants the hard way, having gardened in a heavily deer-populated area for many years.

12 Plants Deer Resist

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’ is attractive, low-growing, and unfavored by deer. (Image by Jessie Keith)

1. Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia)

Plum yews are evergreen shrubs that closely resemble yews (Taxus), but unlike yews, plum yews remain unscathed even in deepest deer country. They are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9 and come in different shapes. There are three cultivars of interest: ‘Duke Gardens’ grows slowly to 4-feet tall and about 5-feet wide; ‘Prostrata’ reaches 2-3-feet tall and spreads to 7-feet wide; ‘Fastigiata’ is a narrow, upright form that reaches 10-feet tall by about 6-feet wide.

2 Beal’s Mahonia (Mahonia japonica ‘Bealei’)

The western native Beal’s Mahonia has pleasing evergreen foliage and primrose yellow winter flowers. (Image by Carole Ottesen)

Even a starving deer will eat almost anything before trying prickly, evergreen mahonia.  Growing at a moderate rate in Zones 5-8, handsome mahonia reaches 10-feet high by about 5-feet wide. Its showy yellow flowers are a welcome sight in winter. Grow it in fertile, well-drained soil on the alkaline side.

3. Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica)

Variegated Japanese Andromeda looks attractive even when not in bloom. (Image by Carole Ottesen)

Evergreen with lily-of-the-valley-scented flowers, Japanese Andromeda grows slowly and gracefully to 8 feet by 3 feet in partial shade and rarely needs pruning. Some varieties have colorful leaves or are variegated.  The attractive ‘Cavatine’ is a dwarf form that grows to 2-3 feet by 2-3 feet, and ‘Variegata‘ has pleasing variegated foliage. They survive in Zones 6-9 and prefer soil that is slightly acid, fertile, moist, and well drained.

4. Lenten rose (Hellebore x hybridus)

There are many cultivars of Lenten rose, and all taste nasty to deer.

Hardy, long-lived Lenten roses are peerless perennials.  They are deer-proof with late-winter to early spring blooms and attractive evergreen foliage. Plant Lenten rose if you live in Zones 4-8. When in bloom they reach 18-inches tall and 24-inches wide, and they prefer in partial shade. Fertile, well-drained soil is what they favor.

5. Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis)

Golden winter aconite blooms around spring crocus. (Image by Carole Ottesen)

Super hardy winter aconites are deer proof and will survive all the way up to Zone 3. Planted in fall-planted as small tubers, winter aconites will naturalize to spread over the ground in showy buttercup-yellow carpets that reach about 4-inches tall.

6. Sacred Lily (Rohdea japonica).

The evergreen leaves of sacred lily provide texture to dry, shaded gardens. (Image by Carole Ottesen)

Deer ignore sacred lily. This fuss-free ground cover grows happily in dry shade where it forms colonies that reach 2-feet tall.  Its thick, glossy, evergreen leaves provide textural interest and the plants of this East-Asian native can be grown in Zones 6-9. Showy cones of red berries develop after the inconspicuous pale-yellow flowers. Grow this in rich or poor well-drained soils with a slightly acid pH.

7. Phenomenal Lavender (Lavendula ‘Phenomenal’)

Lavender is another favorite garden plant that deer avoid.

Lavender’s fragrance, in both flowers and gray-green foliage, is pleasing to humans but keeps deer away from this sun-loving ornamental. Of the many cultivars of lavender, ‘Phenomenal’ is an exceptional performer that flowers heavily and reaches 2.5- feet by 2.5 feet.  It thrives in full sun, well-drained neutral to alkaline soil and appreciates a spot with good air circulation. Grow it in Zones 6-9.

8. Sweet Box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis)


Sweet box has amazingly fragrant early spring flowers. (Image by Carole Ottesen)

Sweet box forms an easy-care, 18-inch tall groundcover that thrives in moist, acid, well-drained soil in partial to full shade. Its glossy evergreen leaves are always neat and presentable, and the tough plants will survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 6-8.  In very early spring, sweet box produces tiny flowers with a vanilla-like fragrance that can scent an entire garden.


9. Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’)

Variegated Japanese sedge is evergreen, attractive, and deer don’t favor it. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Evergreen Ice Dance sedge is a deer-proof substitute for variegated liriope, a deer favorite. Growing about 18-inches tall and wide in partial sun to full shade, Ice Dance’s bright grass-like foliage is an excellent edger or ground cover for a moist spot with fertile soil. It is relatively hardy withstanding winters in Zones 5-9.

10. Japanese Roof Iris (Iris tectorum)

Japanese roof iris has pretty late-spring flowers and fans of pale green leaves.

After Japanese Roof Iris’ violet flowers fade, the neat, flat, pale green leaves form an attractive textured ground cover.  A vigorous grower in well-drained partial shade, Japanese roof iris reaches 1-foot tall and will grow in Zones 3-9.  The white-flowered form, ‘Alba, is another pleasing variety to grow.

11 Catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’)

Bees love the colorful blooms of catmint but deer do not.

Catmint ‘Walker’s Low is drought-tolerant, silvery gray, and grows to 24 inches by 30 inches. This mounding perennial requires full sun, well-drained soil, and is hardy to Zones 3-9. Its lavender-blue flowers appear in early summer and will rebloom if the plants are shorn after the first flowering.

12. Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

The carpets of Virginia bluebells will not be bothered by deer. (Image by Carole Ottesen)

Spectacular Virginia bluebells are native to much of eastern North America where they grow in woodlands. They naturalize, creating a carpet of blue in spring, and are remarkably hardy, surviving winters in Zones 3-8. The spring ephemerals disappear by early summer but put on quite a show when in bloom. They are superbly interplanted with ferns that take over when the Virginia bluebells go dormant.

Any of these plants will give your garden a chance to shine, even in the most deer-ridden areas. So, plant them with confidence.