All four shrubs in pots making a nice privacy screen
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Butterfly garden and living privacy screen

A few weeks ago I went to the land registry office in Woodstock to see if I could get a survey of our lot, since our lawyer’s office was seemingly not bothering to get one from the builder’s lawyer and apparently the builder’s lawyer wasn’t bothering to answer calls or emails regarding the matter. Having already emailed my lawyer’s office several times and being told they were still trying to get hold of the builder’s lawyer, they are now not answering my emails asking when we’d get our survey. (Not sure who is worse—the builder, builder’s lawyer or our own lawyer’s office.)

By law we’re supposed to get a survey before we close on the purchase of the house since it is brand new. However, I didn’t realize at the time when we signed that it was missing (not sure where my head was at), and it was only when I finally received our paperwork (several weeks later and after having to remind them), that I noticed it was missing.

More than five months later, we still have no survey (don’t think my lawyer’s clerk liked me mentioning that fact and that I was surprised the deal went through without the survey as that’s when the replies stopped).

Anyhow, we need the survey to put up a fence, which would not only give us the privacy in our back garden that I crave, but also allow me to plant more trees and shrubs. Without knowing exactly where our lot line is, I don’t know where I can plant shrubs that will eventually hide a boring fence. If I could put up a living fence I would, but I need the survey for that too. They also take a long time to grow and provide adequate privacy, and then you have to make sure none die leaving gaps in the fence. Since we didn’t get a survey, we have already lost a growing season.

As well, there are kids in the neighbourhood who love to use our lot as a short cut. Our neighbours behind have three—one’s only a baby and the other is a tot, but the oldest boy, and the kids next door to him, play with some kids on our road, so they use ours and our next-door neighbour’s lots as a short cut back and forth. Even the mum walked through one day calling her son back for dinner just as I came out to water the garden (probably a regular occurrence that I don’t usually notice).

Last week, the boy cycled through the corner of our lot (we have a funny angle and kids don’t recognize boundaries), past me relaxing in the sun after gardening. He looked over to say hello and in the process nearly crashed into one of the new shrubs I had just planted. So, no doubt a living fence would be subject to damage as they cut through.  Not that I don’t like kids, but I do like my privacy and I don’t want my garden to be damaged—especially as the kids get older and more boisterous!

So a sturdy wooden fence is the best option as it provides instant privacy and protection.

Anyhow, back to the survey. I did get one but it was no use as it only shows the whole subdivision (for my UK peeps, that’s what they call land that’s divided into building zones here) with measurements for each lot. However, what l need is a survey that shows our individual lot with our house plan on it and measurements from the house to the lot lines.

So l had mentioned this to our neighbour (the one in the huge corner lot who has been waiting since 2012 for new neighbours to share the expense before putting up the rest of her fence) and the lack of joy I was still getting from the lawyer’s office, and she said they had decided to wait till Spring to put up the fence now. With six or seven weeks of Summer left, that meant I had to continue enduring a lack of privacy if I wanted to enjoy the outdoors.

Another neighbour, seeing me sitting out in the garden with J’s mom on the August long weekend a few weeks ago, offered to build me a privacy screen if I bought the lumber needed (what, did he read my mind or something?). Although he said he’d make it so it could be used on the fence, I didn’t want to waste money on fencing that we’d be paying for again in the Spring. Judging by the difference between the one he’d already built and our neighbour’s, we’d notice quite a difference.

So last week (2 weeks ago now—as I ran out of time to take photos and publish this till now), I looked up various ways of creating a portable privacy screen. Wrought iron trellises are expensive as are wooden ones and they would probably not stand up for very long on my uneven grass (I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve twisted my ankle on the lumps and bumps). I’d also need climbing plants to provide privacy and there’s not much growing season left.

There were various pictures of bamboo and evergreen screens in pots (mostly galvanized steel pots that looked like old bath tubs) but with a hardiness zone of 6 in southern Ontario these types of screens would probably not survive the Winter here.

So I looked up different types of evergreens that were suitable for growing in pots and in zone 6 and how to look after them over the Winter. There were loads of coniferous evergreens and aborvitae (whatever they are?) but the ones suitable for pots are the slow growing variety that would either be too small to provide a screen or too expensive to buy at the right height.

Boxwood was an option, but it is kind of boring, and probably expensive at the right height. Holly seemed to be the best option as it would have berries that would also attract birds. I looked up all the different varieties in zone 6, saving pictures and info on the ones I liked best. Holly could be grown in a pot and over-wintered, as long as it received a good watering in November before the big freeze, was moved to a sheltered spot, and received additional waterings whenever the weather warmed up. Awesome, I thought. I’ll get a few of those and take my iPad with me so I get the right ones.

So I asked J to get me three more barrel-style pots, like the one on the porch, and on Saturday (last week), I visited my local garden centre to see if they had any holly. However, they were already winding down for Autumn, with 25% off their evergreens, but had not yet got any holly in. I also wanted another Juniper Sky Rocket to plant on the corner of the house to provide a bit more privacy from the road, but they didn’t have one of those either. They did have some Emerald Cypress in my price range, but only 3 and I needed 4. Their shrub selection was looking depleted, and what they did have were all too small.

So off to the bigger garden centre in Burgessville I went. There, they had loads of evergreens, but still no holly. I spoke to one of the horticulturalists there, and told her my plans. But she advised not to purchase evergreens as they most likely wouldn’t survive the Winter in pots and at the size I needed for privacy, that would be a big wasted expense if they died!

Instead, she recommended I buy deciduous shrubs and dig them in the ground before the Winter set in or find some way of protecting the pots. At less than $20 each, this was the best option, as they would provide instant privacy (placed in the right location) and I wouldn’t be losing too much if one or two did not survive (I’m not the greatest at keeping plants in containers outside as I either forget to water them or over water them, so this will be a bit of a trial anyway).

Since they go dormant in the Winter, I could probably put them in the garage as there is a window in the door so they’ll still get some light and I’m more likely to remember to water them—as long as there is room to put the car. Or I can just leave them in full sun next to the house, but I’m likely to forget to check on them as I probably won’t venture out in the snowy back garden often. More than likely though, I will plant them at the back between the trees that are already in the ground or get J to dig the ground behind the garage and bury the pots to protect the roots.

Anyhow, I picked out the four thickest shrubs they had that would fit nicely in my pots and that were under $20. Here’s what I got:

  • a Red Osier Dogwood (Carm will like that!)—which has dark red branches, white flowers in late May, grows well in wet soils and on slopes, and purple Autumn colour. Grows 2 metres high (zone 2)
  • an Amorpha fruticosa Indigobush Amorpha (light blue flowers in late-June)—A woody shrub with fragrant lavander flower spikes in Summer. Full sun. Attracts butterflies (oh good!) and song birds. Grows 10-15 ft (zone 3).
  • a Lynwood Gold Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Gold’)—has large, rich yellow flowers all along the branches, the most spectacular of all the Forsythias, grows 3 metres (zone 6)
  • and a Downy Serviceberry—early flowering, deciduous, showy white fragrant flower in drooping clusters,edible dark purple berries and grows 15-20′ high (zone 4-9).

I also picked up a white buddlea and two tamarisks.

  • Pink Cascade Tamarisk—has masses of pink blooms looking like ostrich plumes, blue green foliage, grows 6 feet high, likes full sun (zone 4)
  • White Profusion Butterfly Bush—a showy Summer blooming shrub which bears pure white flower spikes, attracts butterflies, grows to 1.5 metres (zone 5)

I love tamarisks, and this was the first time I remembered to look for them while at a garden centre. So I bought two (I thought they were different varieties because the leaves looked different and had the idea of planting them together as one was tall and sparse and the other was short and bushy however, judging by the labels, they are actually the same).

After dropping the shrubs off at home (wow you should have seen my car—I could barely see out the windows!), I popped back to the local garden centre to buy tree and shrub mix as it was quite a bit cheaper there than at the big garden centre and I had no room left in the car. I ended up buying three more buddleas (I love butterfly bushes) and then set to work filling my pots.

That was a laugh in itself. I started off in the garage, thinking I could sweep up any compost I spilled, and could work out of the sun, but then had to find a way to get big pots out to the garden. Using the dolly, which was missing the clips for the handle, I managed to get the first one out (just), but banged my knee on the metal bar in the process. When I took the second one out, however, it wobbled over the doorstep, and before I could stop it, the pot rolled off, spilling compost all over the grass. So, after scraping it all up, I decided to do the rest in situ in the baking sun, which was not the greatest of ideas either, as I could feel the bottom of my bare feet burning and had to put my flip-flaps back on!

I eventually got all four pots filled and arranged them in a curved line about six feet away from my seating area. I then sat on my hammock to enjoy my new-found privacy—semi-privacy that is. It’s not real privacy as I can still be seen by the other neighbours, but it blocks off the view of the back neighbour’s messy back yard and looks so much better than their mess.

After a few minutes rest, I set to work digging in my buddleas and created a pretty “butterfly garden” under the kitchen window. Now I have a nice view towards the other corner of the house, and hopefully the larger white buddlea will eventually provide some privacy from the windows in that direction.

I dug in the larger of the two tamarisks along the same line as my other trees—nowhere nearly as neatly as the garden centre man did the others, and dug the smaller one in on the other corner of the house. It’s probably not the best of places as they tend to grow large and floppy. I’ll probably move it once we get a fence up, if ever. But for now it will do.

I may even move the buddleas later too as they attract a lot of bees as well as butterflies (which is what I bought them for), and it may not be a good idea to have them that close to the kitchen window (even though we do have a screen on the window). Eventually, I’d like a nice herb garden by the kitchen window, so we’ll see.

Anyhow, what started off as a short post to accompany the new photos, has ended up huge. If you made this far, here are the photos!

1 thought on “Butterfly garden and living privacy screen”

  1. Portable privacy, I made these 2 planters for my daughter who lives in a rental – and needed some privacy. After some paint and plants – she ll be able to set them on her patio for instant privacy. Great for hiding an air conditioner also.

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