Landscaping to keep the intrusions of modern life at bay.
On a recent spring day, I watched a hummingbird in hovering mode as it nectar-fed from honeysuckle flowers in my garden. Backlit by afternoon sun, its beating wings created a color spectrum that flared from russet to cinnabar.
Taking a rest, the tiny creature alighted upon the trellis supporting the honeysuckle — choosing to perch in plain view. If I had known beforehand how long the hummer would remain there, I'd have pulled Sibley's Field Guide from the bookshelf to identify its species. But I dared not miss one second of this visit.
In retrospect, it was odd that he remained in the same perching spot for so long a time. Was it fatigue or inquisitiveness that kept him immobilized? Did he find my garden so wondrous that dallying was irresistible? If yes, there can be no greater compliment.
Whatever the answer, the hummingbird and I enjoyed an interval of tranquility that allowed communion to unfold. Such magic can transpire in a garden where the intrusions of modern life can be kept at bay.
Marty Wingate, a writer and gardener, tackles such intrusions in her concise (155 pages), fully illustrated book, Landscaping for Privacy (Timber Press, paperback, $19.95, 2011).
The book's premise — to explore landscaping options carefully in order to "improve your garden, home and life" — is manna to anyone who adores gardening and prefers being outdoors to read, relax, converse with friends or watch a hummingbird.
Creating privacy in the garden involves more than installing a fence, wall or landscape to surround your home — although these barriers are perfectly sensible. As design devices, Wingate says, "they provide privacy, disguise unwanted views, soften harsh effects and serve to ease or dull the offensive character of nearby objects, traffic, circumstances, animals or people."
The book's illustrations help demonstrate how to accomplish this end without "turning your property into little cells or eyesores."
Wingate advises other considerations before undertaking a project to create a swatch of paradise in at least one section of your garden. There are tips on: buffering sound with fountains and trickling water; creating windbreaks so you can enjoy being outside on blowy days; preventing trespassing; and fencing out wildlife you truly enjoy watching from afar, but not at your French doors as the iris are munched to the ground.
Sharp plants like cholla and nolina, which grow well in our area and require little water, can be used to deter intruders and serve as effective privacy barriers. The “stabbing” color that many species of pyracantha and barberries provide offers the added benefit of evergreen foliage. (Photo by Mark Turner, courtesy of Timber Press)
In regard to water tips, Wingate writes: "Water falling onto a metal surface makes more sound than water falling on wood, concrete or ceramic surfaces. The more points of contact the water makes, the more sound it produces. Make the most of this with a feature in which water falls from several sources and onto several levels before reaching the pool."
On the subject of barrier hedges to prevent trespassing, Wingate briefly addresses our region's varieties of agave and how their spine-tipped leaves repel intruders. At the same time, of course, she cautions against planting thorny, prickly species where you and friendly types require personal access — at gas meters, water valves or a crawl space.
She also suggests berms — raised earth beds with sloping sides — to discourage trespassing and cutting corners. Wingate calls berms "an implied rather than obvious barrier as they redirect foot traffic around a particular area."
The author reinforces the planting of trees as "two-for-one" pollution and noise buffers. "Street trees," she reminds us, "also make use of the excess amounts of carbon dioxide produced by vehicles. Trees use carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis… .then release oxygen as a byproduct."
I especially liked her comments on creating "illusions of barriers." If purchasing large plants is financially impractical, begin with small ones. Eventually they do grow. As insubstantial as most low-planted buffers may seem at first, they still create an illusion of separation between the street and your property.
On a practical note, before beginning any project that involves the installation of walls or fences, CHECK YOUR PROPERTY SURVEY and learn the location of your property line.
Once property realities are acknowledged, you can start the process of creating a peaceful, private sanctuary where, if you are lucky, hummingbirds will dally.
Southwest Gardener columnist gardens at Ditch Cottage in Silver City.