A Guide for Privacy by Creating Shelter and Boundaries

Image result for photinia hedges

Photinia is a popular evergreen shrub with glossy green leaves, white flowers in flattened flowerheads and young red shoots. The best known of the photinias is Photinia × fraseri‘Red Robin’ which is often planted as a specimen shrub or as a fast-growing, dense, evergreen hedge.

The Photinia Red robin hedge plant (Photinia x fraseri) is a marvellous alternative choice for an evergreen hedge because of its brilliant red glossy young leaves, which give a spectacular display in spring and summer before maturing to dark green.

tree deck

Privacy is achieved on two sides with different materials.  Ohashi Design Studio

Thinking Beyond Building That Wall

succulent wall

Like succulents? Create a wall that’s covered with living, growing specimens.  Chris Hunkeler/Flickr

In rural areas, privacy is often taken for granted, while residents in more densely populated regions may consider it a hard-to-attain luxury. Do you realize that one of the reasons you may avoid hanging out in your own garden is due to a lack of privacy? Not surprisingly, people tend to spend more time in outdoor spaces that feel private and sheltered from their neighbours’ view.

Getting There

Inside a house, it’s those walls, dividers, doors, and drapes that physically establish rooms and boundaries while providing seclusion. Stepping outside into the big world can be exhilarating, but also opens one up to vulnerabilities; imagine being scrutinized by your neighbour from his upstairs window while you entertain guests in the pool. Or, maybe your view from the balcony is your neighbour’s side- scrap pile—hardly the relaxing escape you crave after a heavy work day.

Finding a solution isn’t a simple matter of one-type-suits-all. Whether it’s for the area near your spa, outdoor kitchen, patio, or just a spot for enjoying some solitude, you’re going to need to create an outdoor privacy screen in some form. Follow these design experts’ suggestions for finding creating solutions to gain privacy and block unsightly views.

Privacy Panels

privacy screen panels

Extra privacy is gained with lattice panels near the fence.  /Paradise Restored

Wood fencing encloses this long, wide back garden near Portland, Oregon, but additional wood lattice panels add architectural interest and create additional privacy. “We always like to add a private retreat in the landscape as an escape—for people to have some downtime,” explains Kim Thibodeau of Paradise Restored in Portland. “The pathway in front of the privacy screens leads to the retreat.”

Creative Rooftop Space

new york rooftop garden

Jenny the cat enjoys her environment on a Manhattan rooftop.  Lynn Gaffney

This rooftop environment in New York’s Chelsea district belongs to a creative couple—a theatrical lighting designer and a costume designer/artist—who collaborated with Brooklyn-based architect Lynn Gaffney and her team on the project.

A typical large wood water tank on the rooftop serves as a design inspiration for an adjacent ipe wood-slat trellis-like enclosure that has deliberately uneven spacing to adjust for privacy, sound, light filtration, and even keeping the couple’s cats from escaping.

“Since this is an urban rooftop, the concern was that the two cats would run and fall off,” explains Lynn. “So, we had to measure their heads and make sure they couldn’t fit through the screen. It’s one of those things we never thought we’d do—but it worked.”

The design works: the cats love their outdoor freedom above their owners’ loft, where they can safely admire a garden with lovely trees, shrubs, vines, and container plants.

Elegant Espalier

brick wall privacy screen

A brick wall and fence with espaliered trees.  Stefano Marinaz Landscaping

The owners of this stylish formal garden in Holland Park, an upmarket enclave in the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea in West London, wanted an elegant outdoor space to entertain friends and colleagues. Stefano Marinaz of Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architecture framed the perimeter with hedges of pleached hornbeams, while an iroko fence mounted on top of the existing boundary wall added extra privacy.

Fences are easy and effective ways to achieve privacy in a garden. For fencing materials, Stefano opts for hardwood over softwoods. “Hardwood lasts longer; it’s like iron. It’s more expensive than a softwood but it’s more durable and nicer.”

Or, try digging into the soil to plant trees, hedges or vines Stefano favours evergreens from the Taxusgenus for hedges or trees.

Don’t forget that many cities, boroughs, or regions have ordinances dictating height and placement of walls and barriers. Check with your local planning department to learn the requirements.

Double Duty

plant shelf privacy fence

A plant shelf doubles as a privacy wall.  Gregory Dean for 13 Design Lane

Sometimes a design feature can be multipurpose, which is especially useful in small spaces. Because their neighbours’ deck is very close, the owners of this coastal home in Manzanita, Oregon, wanted designer Laura Sabo of 13 Design Lane Interiors to create “lots of privacy.” Laura says this cedar wall “did the trick. The homeowner requested slats to hang wall pockets, along with a shelf for potted plants.”

Privacy Entrance

privacy fence

Horizontal-slat-wood fence offers privacy at the entrance to this garden.  Eric Saczuk/spacehoggraphics.com

Occasionally, the area that needs privacy is right in front of your house. Small, older homes often have significant setbacks, maybe small porches or a few steps, and then a front door. All that space between the curb and front door goes unused and is prime real estate, so why not gain more outdoor living space or at least make the entry more appealing?

The challenge is to create privacy and build a private enclosure—like an entry patio courtyard —that’s in sync with your home’s architecture. For this 100-year-old heritage-style house in Vancouver’s historic Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, Tanya McLean of Mango Design created a modernist addition. “We integrated a shed dormer at the front and a butterfly roof over the new rear addition,” explains Tanya. “The interior was completely gutted, re-spaced, and refinished in a modern, eclectic style.”

The house backs onto a commercial alley so the need for privacy was key. The use of the wood reflects some of the new interior elements, especially the main staircase and guard.”

General contractor on the project was Cam McLeod of Ellamber Construction.

A Striking Solution

tree deck

Privacy is achieved on two sides with different materials.  J. Michael Tucker/Ohashi Design Studio

Architect Alan Ohashi of ODS Architecture in Emeryville, California,  found clever ways to work with a huge old tree at a house situated on a busy street in the East Bay. The tree was pruned to reveal its sculptural branches, while it gently rests on an elegant ipe fence that faces the street. A new sandblasted-glass gate and carport walls provide additional privacy while allowing light to shine through.

General Contractor: On The Beam

Elegant Enclosure

wood screen

The rich wood enclosure provides an airy escape.  Linda Oyama Bryan/Rolling Landscapes

One good way to attain privacy in a garden is by creating a separate room, with three or four “walls”. Unlike an interior, the walls of outdoor rooms can be real, implied, or both. Designed by Rolling Landscapes, the rich, dark wood enclosure of this back garden in Burr Ridge, Illinois, adds architectural interest in the garden while providing a cozy seating area with a custom-build gas fire pit. Plants provide additional privacy, depending on their height and fullness.

Urban Wall of Delights

outdoor privacy fence


The challenge in designing an urban garden is to create privacy screens without making them blatantly obvious. Jenn Lassa and Marcin Matlakowski of Rooftopia in Chicago succeeded with this vertical wood wall that is appealing both day and night. Architectural elements like the fountain, wall planters and vertical succulent piece are artistically lighted for a relaxing focal point.

Walls of Green

beautiful patio

Northern California living with green outdoor walls.  Urrutia Design

Urrutia does a richly textured, dark green version of the wall concept for this outdoor seating area in Mill Valley, California. To prevent it from becoming an overgrown, uninviting forest, the shrubs will have to be maintained often and precisely. Don’t think that a living enclosure means you can’t use other plants: it’s outdoors, so choose wisely, keep them healthy, and enjoy the scenery.

Courtyard Screen

privacy screens

Bright door leads to panel privacy screens in side garden.  AFLA

The owners of a two-story home on a narrow lot in the San Francisco area wanted a garden that wasn’t overpowered by their house. Andreas Flache of AFLA Landscape Design included a fun entertainment space with a hot tub and gas fire feature and a long bench. To gain privacy, a custom linear fence with hickory stain was built around the property, providing seclusion while remaining inviting. Horizontal fence panels are interspersed with shrubs, woody ornamentals, and perennials to soften the fencing. Entry to the home is through a fenced, open-air courtyard.

Behind the Curtain

gazebo curtains

Alicia created the look of a gazebo without paying the price of a gazebo.  Alicia/Thrifty and Chic

Ambitious DIYer and blogger Alicia of Thrifty and Chic finally found a way to get some privacy in her own garden after several years of dealing with neighbours whose big house on a hill gave them a great view of the goings-on in her family’s back garden. “So, after years of feeling a lack of privacy when hanging out on our porch, I finally came up with an idea! A cute little privacy screen that resembles the look of a pergola,” says Alicia, who shares the inexpensive project on her website.

Private Raised Terrace

raised dining terrace

A raised terrace offers additional privacy in the garden.  Genus Loci Ecological Landscapes Inc.

Fences and walls help with boundaries but aren’t always going to offer privacy, especially where you need it. By building a raised dining terrace with higher walls—sort of like a permanent wooden screen—the designers at Genus Loci Ecological Landscapes Inc. were able to give their Toronto-area clients the privacy they requested in an otherwise exposed back garden.

Intimate Deck Space

deck with privacy hedge

Intimacy is achieved with a privacy fence and hedge.  Chauncey Freeman/5th Season LLC

A home in the Eugene, Oregon, area with a wood deck and built-in seating nestled against a wood fence is made more intimate with a wall of carefully manicured privacy hedges. Chauncey Freeman of Fifth Season took advantage of the hedges’ height and added a little evening ambiance—strings of lights that swing from the shrubs to other high parts of the garden.

Vine-Covered Trellis

arbor with vine

An arbour acts as a privacy screen with lush vines.  Arrow Land + Design

The solution is simple, attractive, and can be quick: build (or buy) an outdoor structure like a trellis or arbour, position it where you want to block a view or block somebody’s view, plant a fast-growing vine, and enjoy your efforts. This freestanding cedar trellis is part of a design created for a homeowner in Wilmette, Illinois, by landscape architect Marco Romani of Arrow Land + Structures Clever Ways to Gain Privacy in Your garden

garden gate

Beautiful private walled garden with open gate.  Cathryn Gallacher/Getty Images

With a wall, shrubs or fence, you can add some much-needed privacy to your pool or spa area. Maybe you’re seeking a private space for a back garden retreat or a deck, patio or balcony. An outdoor privacy screen gives your personal space away from the view of neighbours or passers-by. Check out this gallery of creative solutions to gain privacy in your back garden or outdoor living space. These photos are meant to suggest and inspire; obviously, you can’t run out to your local big-box store and pick up a wall mural or bamboo forest.

Sliding Shoji Screens

shoji screen photo, outdoor privacy screen

This beautiful Shoji screen is at the Huntington Library near Pasadena, CA.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

Sliding shoji screens offer a choice of privacy or opening up the space at this beautiful Japanese tea house at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. A simpler, more modified version could be used to enclose a spa, patio area, or deck. Shoji screens are available at home furnishing stores and on the web.

Bamboo Fence

bamboo fence

Fence made of bamboo, old windows, along with a fountain, statue, Mexican feather grass, fern and shells.  Flickr member Wonderlane

The bamboo fence in this Seattle garden is made more intriguing with repurposed old wood-framed windows in one corner. A mix of plants, like arborvitae and feather grass, soften the garden, while a buddha statue, a fountain, and pottery give it a personal touch.

Rough on the Outside

weathered wood fence zen garden

Weathered-looking wood looks appealing in a Zen or contemporary garden.  Lisa Hallett Taylor

You can achieve a weathered look to a fence by painting it white, then black, then sanding-down the black to pick up the high spots of the wood in white.

Growing the Real Thing

bamboo in yard

A privacy wall of living bamboo and other tropical plants.  Francois De Heel/Getty Images

Taking the concept of a bamboo fence one step further, why not grow the real thing? Bamboo is a fast-growing grass and is available in clumping and running varieties—check with your nursery to make sure you select a plant that is right for the size of the space you want to screen.

Living Privacy Fences: Shrubs, Trees, Vines and Other Plants

fence with shrubs

Garden fence with leylandii (Cupressocyparis leylandii) hedge.  Stephen Shepherd/Getty Images

Living screens—otherwise known as shrubs, trees, vines or other plants—have always been an excellent, natural way to gain privacy while forming barriers or walls. They can stand on their own, such as closely planted trees and shrubs, or be trained to climb and cover a plain or unsightly wall or fence. While traditional and always popular, formal rectilinear-clipped and trimmed hedges are not your only option. Think about planting rows of tall cactus or something else that grows tall and wide.

Wall of Cactus


This cacti proves to be a striking way to create some privacy in a naturalistic way.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

Who says the plants you choose for a living fence or wall have to be a traditional boxwood or Indian Hawthorne? As demonstrated here, cactus works just as well, particularly in regions where it grows and for homes that have a ranch, Spanish or southwestern architectural style.

Palms and Ferns

palms and ferns outdoor screening

Palms and ferns cover a glass window visible to passersby.  Lisa Hallett Taylor

Behind this assortment of palm trees and sword ferns is a floor-to-ceiling glass window that exposes an indoor dining room. The next-door neighbors could potentially see into the dining room if the dense planting of palms and ferns weren’t there to screen the window. At the same time, the view from the dining table features these tropical plants. Bringing nature even closer to the dining room window, the residents enjoy the hummingbirds that make their nests in the palms each spring, which is a much more delightful sight than the chainlink fence and their neighbor’s side garden.

Urban Bamboo and Succulents


This loft landing or entryway makes a great outdoor living space, personalized with some carefully chosen plants and containers.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

The industrial chill of concrete at this second-floor loft in downtown Los Angeles is softened with a few pots and planters of succulents and bamboo, along with a light fixture on a shepherd’s hook. Not only do the plants give the balcony some color, but they add a natural privacy screen, especially the bamboo.

Circle in Wall


A circular opening in this wall is an unusual and attractive solution to the usual gate.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

Inspiration awaits at places like the new Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, near Pasadena. While achieving the quality equal to that of the Chinese craftsperson’s who worked on this wall might not be possible, the idea could be incorporated into a potential concrete wall project in which an opening might work. Most likely you’d want to hire a contractor for this type of project.

Metal Sculpture Fence


Got a talent for welding? Blowtorch a work of art like this one with found-metal scraps.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

This is definitely not your grandma’s picket fence. Recycled metal scrap has been welded together to make this fascinating fence/wall at The Brewery lofts in an industrial section of downtown Los Angeles. While this was made by sculptors who are skilled welders, it serves as a reminder of what can be created with recycled materials.

Not-Set-in-Stone Wall


Perfect? No — and that’s what makes this stone wall more striking and original.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

This wall shakes things up a bit by placing the stone vertically, horizontally, in different sizes, with pieces jutting out from the surface, etc. Besides providing privacy, the wall is way more interesting to look at than a plain wall made of concrete, brick, or even perfectly placed stone. With a wall like this, you wouldn’t be in such a hurry to cover it up with trees and shrubs.

Taste of Tuscany


Tall cypress trees evenly spaced give this garden a Mediterranean charm.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

There may be just a plain concrete block wall or wood fence standing between you and your neighbour, but the actual site does not have to be a sore one. Take a cue from this homeowner, who created a charming vignette with Mediterranean plants placed and pruned in the popular Tuscan style.

It’s Curtain Time


Drapes like these would work well with a gazebo or other structure that might require some privacy.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

A homeowners’ association isn’t going to let this fly, but if you live in a home without an HOA, curtains might be a solution, within reason. Don’t consider replacing your garage door with drapes, however lovely they may be. But for a back garden privacy screen, these colourful drapes would be great in a pool or spa area. These particular curtains cover the work/living/exhibit space of an artist in Los Angeles. A pull-down garage-style metal door is used at night and when the resident is away.

Trash Container Hideaway


Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor.  This trash container hideaway was put together with leftover lumber.

This simple wood-slat panel hides trash containers from the street view and makes an attractive backdrop for a jade plant and some potted plants. It could also be used to screen a patio or spa area. A project like this can be completed over a weekend.

Sticks on Fire

euphorbia sticks on fire

Sticks on Fire make a beautiful backdrop for other succulents.  Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

In regions where succulents will grow, try something like this colourful Euphorbia tirucalli “Sticks on Fire,” which can reach heights of 6 feet and higher. This plant is a real traffic-stopper.

Colourful Fence Makeover

colorful fence

Instead of hiding a fence, add a splash of vivid colour.  Lisa Hallett Taylor

An existing wooden fence—once an eyesore—can get a new life with a colourful coat of paint and some tall and full plants.

Mural de Flores Rojas

photo of mexican wall mural

Simple, colourful poinsettia shapes decorate a wall near Guadalajara.  Lisa Hallett Taylor

Vibrant murals can be found on walls throughout Guadalajara, Mexico, and other regions of the world that use painted images as part of their rich landscape. Using these festive murals as inspiration, you could paint one on a wall in your back garden or private outdoor space. If your neighbour shares a view of the painted wall, make sure the scene is inoffensive and something they wouldn’t mind looking at also.

Many murals can be found among the buildings of downtown Guadalajara. The most well-known and breathtaking are those painted by artist José Clemente Orozco, who was a native of Jalisco, Mexico. Along with Diego Rivera and David A. Siqueiros, Orozco is considered to be one of Mexico’s three most significant muralists. His works on the walls and ceilings of Palacio de Gobierno de Guadalajara (the Government Palace) are among his most monumental creations.

Colorful Murals of Flower-Head Senoritas

flower head wall mural mexico

Outdoor Privacy Screens A wall comes to life – surreal, perhaps – with this vibrant mural.  Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor

The pink and purple backgrounds on these shop walls in downtown Ajijic, Mexico, may not be colors you’d use in your front garden. But in the back, as long as you and whoever else sees it enjoys the creativity and color, who cares what others think? Es hermosa!

Private Patio for Entertaining Artists

urban loft patio

Tall plants and sculptures establish a barrier and make this patio area more intimate.  Lisa Hallett Taylor

It’s an instant private patio when various objects are pulled together to cover a flimsy mesh wall. At this artist’s loft, we have hand-welded metal sculpture, agave, bamboo, yucca, and various other plants. Visually, the mesh fencing material is merely a backdrop, and the sculpture and plants have formed a much more lively and engaging division.

Let’s Get Lost

bamboo privacy screen

Bamboo clumps tightly together, forming a dense wall or fence.  Lisa Hallett Taylor

A thin-caned species of this giant grass can grow so densely that you can hide in it, as this man demonstrates by placing his bicycle in the bamboo forest near the restaurant where he works. In a back garden, neighbours would have to use a chainsaw to cut through bamboo this thick just to sneak a peek.

Just the sight of bamboo brings a feeling of peace and a sense of exotic lands. Dubbed the “friend of the people” by the Chinese and “gift of the gods” by Columbians, bamboo transforms a garden into a tropical getaway and makes an excellent privacy screen. Some culms shoot up to their full height (30 feet or more) in one growing season. Bamboo spreads two different ways: by running or clumping. As the name implies, running bamboo runs wild, while clumping is more likely to stay contained.

Types of Bamboo

Bamboo evokes a sense of peacefulness and of faraway, exotic lands. The plant is actually a giant grass with more than 2,400 species. Some species can grow 4 feet in one day, while the culms of other bamboos can shoot up to their mature height (30 feet or more) in one growing season. If you choose to grow bamboo in your outdoor space, pay attention to the type you’re getting. Clumping bamboo tends to be more contained, while running bamboo can “run wild” and invade your and your neighbors’ properties.

Whether you elect to grow the vertical green canes or create a panel or fence with dried bamboo or reed, take a look at the endless possibilities to fashion your own bamboo paradise.

Vines and Wall Pots

mexican courtyard patio

A small courtyard patio in Mexico uses the walls to add interest and display pots and plants.  Lisa Hallett Taylor

Here’s a case of turning a small stucco courtyard wall into a living work of art. Clay and terracotta wall pots and vases adorn the wall, while a lush green vine bursts and spills over the top and down the wall. A small banana tree, pink geraniums, and potted palms provide more colour and plantlife. This wall is in Ajijic, Mexico.

By Lisa Hallett Taylor