Since purchasing the ranch house 6 years ago, we have been planting trees in our backyard to add shade and privacy. We put five fruit trees along the back fence and two hazelnut trees along the northern fence. Last year, we installed a hot tub near the northern fence. Unfortunately, none of the trees we planted were close enough to provide any privacy.
We considered adding a pergola over the hot tub, but crossed off the idea quickly. I enjoy looking up the night sky while hot tubbing, and did not want any structure over the hot tub. We eventually decided to plant more privacy trees around the hot tub. Although this approach will take a few years to come into effect, it only costs a fraction of a pergola, and we will be able to bring more shade and biodiversity to our backyard.
Creating a wisteria arbor
The hot tub is only 15 feet away from our northern neighbor’s fence. Being on a slope the hot tub sits significantly higher than the neighbor’s yard. People can see us going in and out of the hot tub over the fence. So we really need to screen off the space above the fence, between the two hazelnut trees.
There are only about 8 feet distance between the canopies of the hazelnut trees. We decided to install an arbor and grow a wisteria vine here. This will bring the foliage right up where we needed it, a fast way to block the view over the fence.
The wisteria variety is “Amethyst Falls“. It is a fast grower, but stays relatively tame compared to other varieties. It will reach 15-20 feet tall and 8 feet wide, a perfect fit for the space between the two hazelnut trees. I found a 4 feet wide garden bench from a thrift store for the space under the new arbor. The wisteria leaves will cast some much needed shade on the bench, making it a great sitting spot in the garden.
To offer strong support for the wisteria, we decided to build a permanent arbor made using cedar posts, instead of buying a metal trellis online. Slav and I went to our favorite fence supply store and got a couple 4″x4″s and 2″ x 6″s for the build. I picked the simplest design, and Slav built it in our garage in like 10 minutes.
Three 50-pound bags of concrete (leftover from our 2018 fence build!) were used to secure the 4″x4″ posts in the ground. I racked away the mulch then Slav dug the holes. We had lots of experience setting posts from our horizontal fence build. Everything went so fast that I barely had chance to take pictures!
After the concrete had dried, we took off the bracing of the arbor and planted the wisteria. This spot suddenly looked so cute!
The picture below were taken when I stood behind the hot tub. You can see the a few feet of the space we are trying to screen off. I mounted a piece of cattle panel on the arbor so I can train the wisteria to grow up at an angle.
Planting a weeping Alaskan cedar
While the new wisteria arbor can block the view from the neighbor’s yard, we still need to find a solution for the view for their back windows. In the summer months, one of the hazelnut trees can effectively block this view. However, during winter months, the hazelnut tree loses its leaves and no longer offers the same privacy. To create an all-season screen in front of the fence, I chose a weeping Alaskan cedar.
I have wanted a weeping evergreen for a long time. I have considered weeping white pine and weeping colorado spruce, but they are both too big for our urban backyard especially at a spot so close to the houses and a fence. Weeping Alaskan cedar trees only grow 8-12 feet circumference when mature, but reaches 20 feet tall in our climate. It is the perfect specimen for this narrow space.
Above is a picture of a full grown weeping alaskan cedar. I like its straight central trunk and dense, pendulous branches. Even the side branches are long, the weeping habit of the branches keeps its footprint contained. I planted the weeping cedar 5 feet away from the fence. So even when it is fully grown, the branches should barely touch the fence.
Once full grown, this weeping cedar will not only add privacy to the hot tub, but also serve as an all-season screen between the two back patios. To save some time, I splurge for a more mature and taller tree. It was over 5 feet tall when it came to our house this Spring. Given its fast growing rate (4-6 inches per year), it should start performing in 3-4 years.
Adding an arborvitae hedge
Last fall, we added six “north pole” arborvitaes in the side yard. The spot is right next to the neighbor’s garage and a small alley, where they keep the trash cans, construction materials, and lawn equipment. Although privacy is not a big issue here, we do want to mask the old fence and the utility alley. The “north pole” arborvitae grows to 12-15 feet tall and 4 feet wide. We planted them 3 feet apart, so they can grow into a green wall when mature.
We planted the same variety of arborvitae in our front yard in 2018. They are now over 6 feet tall and bulked up really nicely. Knowing that these trees grow fast, we purchased smaller size to save some $$$. But after one winter, these little trees already put on some decent growth.
Planting magnolia tree and shrubs on the east side
While building the retaining wall around the hot tub, we added a small flower bed on the east side. It is already 3-4 feet higher than the hot tub patio, so small trees/large shrubs are sufficient to screen the hot tub on this side.
Last Fall, I planted a Jane magnolia as an anchor plant in this area.
The magnolia tree lost all its leaves in winter, but this Spring, it leafed out beautifully, and produced the most beautiful flower in May.
This magnolia tree will grow up to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. I will be training its branches to go over the hot tub which should be magical during the flower season. In the middle of the bed, I planted a pieris mountain fire. I first saw this plant in a display garden in Nashville, TN and immediately fell in love. The new growth on this plant is intense red, which gives it such an unique and striking appearance. It should reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, a perfect second tier next to the 15 feet tall magnolia tree.
The very end of the bed is too small for perennials, so I seeded three cosmos to add some color. I really like the pink and purple cosmos next to the bright red leaves on the pieris mountain fire. I think this spot can be used for pink annuals every year.
Adding weeping redbud trees on the east and south side
The last two trees we added for the hot tub are weeping redbud trees, a variety called “lavender twist“. The first one was planted on the east side of the hot tub, close to the shed patio. Although far away from the hot tub itself, it sits right between the east side house and the hot tub. Once the leaves fill in, it will create a 10′ x 10′ waterfall-like dense foliage to block the view from the east side.
Here is how the redbud tree looks from 10 feet back, through the herb garden. It should look really good in a couple years!
The second weeping redbud tree were planted in the patio garden bed, on the south side of the hot tub.
Same as the other weeping redbud, it is already at a decent height and once the leaves are filled in, this tree will screen the view from our southern neighbor. The shrub behind the red bud is a snowball bush viburnum. It will eventually grow into a 6–10 ft tall and wide multi-stem shrub, adding another layer of greenery on the south side.
A quick view of the new garden beds
Walking around the hot tub area, I cannot believe how different our backyard looks compared to last Fall. Although half empty, the new garden beds flew nicely and the anchor plants looked so lovely.
Remember the side yard I planted last Fall? All the bareroot hostas sprouted this spring. There are also six lady ferns. Although they are all super small this Spring, I think they will cover the entire side yard in just a few years.
There is still lots of space to fill, and I am excited to plant more perennials! I would love to add more pink and purple colors to this area, such as gaura, purple cone flowers, lavender, alliums, and maybe some smooth hydrangeas. Now we have the bones of the garden established, the rest is more of play than work to me. We have done so much but there is still so much to do – but this is what makes gardening fun. Do you agree?