Privacy in your own yard is becoming a greater priority as yard space is decreasing in size while the homes are increasing in size. These two factors put us in closer and closer proximity to our neighbors. The most common solution to this issue is a privacy fence. A privacy fence can be a structural part of your hardscape, or it can be a living wall.
There are two reasons to install a privacy fence: to prevent the homeowner from an unpleasant view such as trash cans or your neighbor’s unkempt property, and to shield the homeowners from exposure to neighbors and passersby. Most homeowners want an outdoor space that’s an escape where they can recharge their spirit. To have your tranquility compromised by a view that you can’t modify can be very stressful. Screening that view with a fence or trees and shrubs can effectively remove it. When the homeowner is trying to enjoy their yard, they also shouldn’t be subjected to people looking at them when they pass by. They may not be intentionally intrusive, but just knowing that anyone can see you even if you are reading a book in your backyard can be disconcerting. It is important for every yard to have some space that is sheltered from view, so it can be your private escape.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of privacy fences. A constructed hardscape privacy fence made of wood, masonry, metal or plastic can be built and functional in just a few days. A typical hardscape fence will require minimal maintenance. The big negative is the cost. Unless you are planning to purchase full-size trees or shrubs, the cost of a hardscape fence will be substantially more expensive.
The biggest downside with a living fence is that it will include immature trees and shrubs that may take a few years to provide the privacy you want to achieve. However, your living fence can be a formal sheared hedge or a less formal hedge composed of natural trees and shrubs and even several different types of plants so it will blend in with your current landscape style. Plants provide habitat and shelter for birds. Trees and shrubs are more beautiful and add seasonal interest as well. A more natural privacy planting can often avoid fencing restrictions in your neighborhood.
Here are some creative ideas to make your backyard more private:
- Use trees to block views from above. If your neighbor likes to sit on his second story balcony every morning, all he needs to do is turn his head to have a bird’s eye view of your entire backyard. A shrub will not give you needed privacy. Instead, plant a tree with a wide canopy to block his view and maintain your privacy.
- Choose plants that will achieve your goal of screening when they reach maturity. Make sure the shrub you purchase will be tall enough and wide enough to be a good screen. At the same time, don’t buy a plant that will be much larger than you need or you will be spending a lot of time with a pruner trying to keep your plants from overpowering the space.
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- Hang a bamboo screen or outdoor curtains from your backyard pergola. They can be retracted when not in use and opened when needed.
- Consider climbing roses. A beautiful climbing rose vine growing up a trellis is a great way to disguise the area where you keep your trash containers. Don’t forget that, depending on the variety of flowering plants you use, some will bring the secondary benefit of marvelous scent.
- Use other vines. Cover an arbor with an exuberantly vining plant like morning glories, clematis or climbing hydrangeas.
- Plant shrubs. If your living fence is somewhat shady, but you prefer flowering shrubs, consider Arrowwood viburnum, rhododendrons and hydrangeas. All can tolerate some shade.
- Add bamboo. Live bamboo became very popular as a screening plant because it grows very quickly, is tall and forms a dense plant screen. Some varieties of bamboo spread by sending out runners underground. This spreads very quickly and can be invasive. Unfortunately, many gardeners make the mistake of planting the wrong variety. If you do decide to try bamboo, be sure to purchase the clumping variety which is easier to control.
- Add a splash of paint. If you inherited a less than attractive cement privacy wall from a previous owner of your property, don’t be afraid to paint it. Even better, use the wall as a background for some live plants. The plants don’t have to provide screening, rather they are softening the hardscape that does the work. Plant some palm trees or Japanese maple in front of your wall. Add ferns or grasses underneath. The addition of lights that focus on the plants will make that eyesore a star attraction.
- Plant evergreens for year round color. If you need a year-round privacy screen, consider evergreens like yews, arborvitae or holly. An added advantage of these plants is that they can tolerate some shade.
- Decorate your wall with flowers. If your privacy fence is a little too short to give you the privacy you crave, add window boxes to the top of the fence. The window boxes plus the plants they contain should add another foot of height to your fence.
Don’t be afraid to mix your hardscape with plants. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. A mix of both can be both practical and esthetically pleasing. A low wall can become overflow seating on your patio or use it as a shelf to hold large potted plants. Add large shrubs and trees behind it to provide the privacy you desire. Just use what you already have and enhance it with plants.