On Gardening: Falling leaves prompts urge to create privacy with baffles

Published 11:52 am Thursday, January 3, 2019

All this cold rain has finally convinced my trees to molt their remaining Autumn leaves, and I’m feeling exposed.

Though I’m not secretive at all, don’t feel like hiding and don’t have much to hide from neighbors, I do appreciate the feeling of not living in tight urban confines. Over the years I have done a lot to create an intimate garden where I can relax without feeling like someone is breathing down my neck.

Creating a suitable veil of privacy without coming across as aloof or reclusive is a real dilemma. The traditional approach of using tall hedges or fences, especially in large areas like along busy roadways or the unnervingly tight confines of most suburban settings, is not always practical or social.

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Over the years I carefully sited evergreen shrubs and small trees here and there, leaving a few openings to enjoy “borrowed” views of neighboring lawns and certain plants while still retaining a more open feel and good air circulation in my tiny garden.

There are still seasonal gaps, and some projects that really ought to be screened including my ramshackle outhouse-looking tool and potting shed and a messy leaf pile/composting area. They need toning down without my adding more walls, fences, or plants which take a long time to fill in anyway.

But then this week, while entertaining friends outdoors I noticed stuff I forgot about during the leafier seasons. Namely, neighbors’ windows, porches, kids’ play areas, glaring night lights, and other not-so-nice views and sounds that distracted us from enjoying a quiet muse by an evening fire.

So I’m employing a simple privacy hack. It’s not time- and space-consuming like a high maintenance hedge, or an expensive solid fence which may not be appropriate. It’s an easy, half-day project called a baffle.

Fast, inexpensive, and usually not as objectionable as a fence by neighborhood associations, a baffle is simply a small or partial screen, most often partly open to allow air flow. If you have ever shaded your eyes from the sun using your just one hand positioned just so, you have the concept of a landscape baffle down pat.

The simplest baffle can be made from a colorful stained glass or old window frame hung from your porch or suspended between trees. But the most common is a bit larger and free standing, working like a well-hung, strategically-placed clothesline but designed like a low, sturdy, miniature highway billboard.

Imagine two posts with lattice, well-spaced short fence boards, corrugated tin, or outdoor-quality fabric placed between them, vertically or horizontally, in just the right spot to partially block a specific view.

A baffle can be small or large, simple or highly detailed, close or far away, and repeated as needed and still come across as neighborly. Place one very close to your patio, deck, or bathroom window to instantly screen out a larger or more distant view; the larger the view that needs screening, the closer you should place a baffle – again, just like moving your hand closer or farther from your eyes to shade the sun.

It can be painted and decorated, and with finials or birdhouses topping the posts. Or tone it down with shrubs, or cover with vines. Hint: Plant perennial evergreen vines for long term, but in the short run plant fast-growing annuals such as cypress vine, day-blooming morning glory, evening-blooming moonflower, or even gourds. Whatever helps it blend in.

No need to fret over seeing the bad side of other peoples’ gardens, or subjecting them to yours. Well-positioned baffles are easy, fast, inexpensive, and work well – without causing a neighborly row.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.