Feeling exposed? Pots can build patio privacy

Look to rectangles and triangles, bamboo and bushes for secluded condo-balcony paradise, say the experts

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      It’s your first day at your new condo, so you blend yourself a celebratory margarita, slide open the glass door, step out onto the patio and… Hi, neighbour!

      Depending on how you feel about living in close quarters, your next step may be a trip to the gardening store to find some kind of screening plant. But what kind of bush or tree could possibly fit onto your four-by-eight-foot piece of heaven along with seating and a barbecue? And what kind of pot would be big enough to put it in?

      It turns out that—with the right container—you could feasibly plant bamboo, bushes, or even a decorative tree on your little square of outdoor paradise. Plant holders are more durable and sleekly contemporary-looking today than they’ve been in the past. All it takes is some careful planning and measuring, advise Maninder and Tarie Tennessey at Atlas Pots (1087 Churchill Crescent, North Vancouver).

      “If you really want to establish a tree or growth you want to admire, you need something that’s going to sustain it,” explains Tarie, standing amid boldly geometrical black pots at his North Shore showroom. “What is your desired colour? What is your space? We actually quiz people.”

      And if they didn’t take measurements? Says Maninder: “I joke that they have to go home and do their homework.”

      Building privacy, it turns out, usually takes time and thought. “The worst thing is you put it in and it gets too big, and in two years you have to replace it,” Tarie explains. “I say, ‘If you can let it happen over two to three years you’ll be so much happier.’”

      Your natural instinct might be to stick some tall, bushy bamboo into the smallest pot possible—maybe a 12-inch round one. “The problem is, it won’t expand in that kind of planter,” says Tarie. Think instead of a long, tall, shallow planter that will run along the perimeter of your deck. Atlas’s sleek, rectangular black Lennon style runs just 12, 14, or 16 inches deep but up to 55 inches long. “We made it longer and taller and wider because we know people want instant gratification,” says Tarie with a laugh. “The rectangle shape especially really works for a lot of condos,” adds Maninder.

      Another sweet shape for tight spaces is a triangle that fits nicely into a corner.

      Atlas’s three cubes give an equally architectural effect.

      Atlas has a large black one with slightly rounded corners that give it softer lines and allow you to move around it. It’s easily big enough for a tree or bamboo. Too many harsh, straight lines on your deck, thanks to that modular patio furniture? Opt for a long oval container. And three tall, narrow cylinders in a row can also look smart and create a bit of privacy with the right plants.

      Fortunately, with today’s new materials, you won’t have to worry about durability in Vancouver’s wet climate; this is, after all, a place where heavy November rains give way to frost. Atlas’s weatherproof moulded fibreglass models also look urban and sleek, in sophisticated black, softer charcoal, and brilliant white—a crisp pop with bright-green plants. Sample prices include $165 for a smaller 16-by-16 cube up to about $650 for a big, 55-inch-long rectangle in the Lennon style. Less expensive but equally contemporary-looking options are the new fibre-clay alternatives, in durable cement-look greys that give decks a cool industrial vibe. They run about $40 for a small 11-inch cube up to about $365 for a 34-inch one.

      Of course, drainage is a huge concern with the rain here. Many of Atlas’s models include troughs and little feet for properly draining plants. The staff at Atlas recommend you avoid lining pots with sand or gravel in favour of lava rocks, rounded drainage rocks, wood chips, or Styrofoam at the bottom, topped by one sheet of landscape cloth, for the lasting health of your plants. For covered decks that receive zero precipitation, consider self-watering systems.

      Put equal thought into the type of screening tree or bush you want to install. The Tennesseys have found bamboo is one of the most popular options, but warn there are different types that offer varying heights, density, and leaf fall. Consider striking black bamboo or dense golden bamboo.

      Another popular way for those who don’t have the time to water or tend to their plants to grow an instant leafy shield from their neighbours’ patio is to go the artificial route. You might be surprised to see how real this fake foliage looks these days.

      “Grasses don’t last here with our climate, so they’re a good option, and bamboo can look amazing now in artificial,” Tarie says, adding boxwood hedging is also available.

      So even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can have some attractive privacy foliage in an architectural pot. Margarita not included.

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