How do you protect your privacy without blocking out the sun and the sky?

 

So the big question, this time of year, turns out to be this: how can my friend Kelly screen her garden, so that she doesn't have to look at her neighbours while they are standing at their (upstairs flat) kitchen sink? We need a solution that covers up those washing-up souls with some sort of transparent veil, allowing a deep calm of privacy to descend. Ah! But which also lets through sunlight. Like a barrier, but without being a barrier. See, it's tricky.

Yes, it's a tough one. It's also a remarkably common one, particularly if you live in a town. But country mice come up with the same question too, wondering how to block the one bit of view that annoying, nosy woman over the road has, into their dining-room. "I want something which will stop the sense that she's gazing in all the time," wails my friend Helen. "I don't want to block our view outwards. Just something not too thick, to make us feel a bit enclosed."

The answer for these folks is not old-fashioned hedges, which are too substantial to leave even a precious patch of sky still visible. Fences can be set aside for the same reason. After much pondering, both town and country plump for something they've seen in a garden-design book: bamboo.

Now, bamboo comes with a deservedly bad rep. Someone planted bamboo in a plot near my country mates about 20 years ago, adjacent to National Trust land. The bamboo has spread wildly, sending out long rhizomatic invaders under the earth, and it now extends about 15 metres down the hill, edging ever closer to a Site of Special Scientific Interest. As a result, a team of National Trust working-holiday volunteers had to come and spend a week of their summer tearing it all out.

And that's unhappy work, let me add. Bamboo is a member of the grass family, all characterised by a botanic oddity. Ever wondered why normal plants get one footstep on them, and are squished, when football-pitch grass seems mostly to survive a winter of abuse?

It's because each leaf contains silica, making grass leaves some of the toughest known on Earth, able to rebend after the most brutal squashing (and also protecting them against grazing). Which applies to bamboo too, making it doubly difficult to clear once established.

So faced with both Helen and Kelly, I got out my favourite bamboo reference book, published in 2010, "Practical Bamboos," said my mum, with a dark laugh. "Not going to be much content in there. They should have called it 'Impractical Bamboos'." She has some bamboo issues, let's just say.

Luckily, the book's author, Paul Whittaker, has a slightly more optimistic view of the world than my mum. Whittaker is keen to emphasise that even in the tiniest plot, there'll be a bamboo that'll do. He recommends clumping forms, such as Borinda, Fargersia and Thamnocalamus, but also points out that the upright Phyllostachys is very good for narrow spots, as long as you contain them with an undersoil barrier.

Here I am biased, because like most people, my heart slightly rises at the sight of a beautiful Phyllostachys nigra, the black-caned bamboo that you see in lots of minimalist plots these days. Plus, I can give it a personal recommendation: I have one in my own back garden, planted c.1996, and it's never caused me any trouble. The long, ebony canes are delicious, adding a magical touch of tropical relaxation, and the fine, delicate leaves leave plenty of sky on view, even if you're lying right beneath it.

I have one proviso: try to look at the plants before ordering, because with black bamboo, while all are black, some are significantly blacker than others. The Palm Centre in south-west London is a lovely place for a wander, and I could spend a happy hour or two perusing their stocks and picking managerial brains. Best news of all? Estimated eventual height: 20 foot. Very neatly and stylishly blocking both those kitchen-happy neighbours, and that nosy woman. While letting the sun shine on.

The Palm Centre, Ham, Surrey, has black bamboo starting at £49.95, palmcentre.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence