How to Make Your Garden Feel More Private
Whether you’re overlooked from above, live on a busy street or want to block out noise, explore these privacy solutions
From planting tall or dense foliage to erecting strategic decorative screens or adding a roof to your most-used spot, browse these expert suggestions to see what might work best for your space.
Professional advice from: Martyn Wilson of Wilson Associates Garden Design; Georgia Lindsay of Georgia Lindsay Garden Design; Patricia Tyrrell of Patricia Tyrrell Living Landscapes
There are various ways to create a screen in your outdoor space. Growing your own is, perhaps, the most obvious place to start. Here’s what the experts suggest you try:
Pleached trees All three pros particularly recommend pleached trees, which are trained to grow in an almost wall-like form, as seen in this garden.
“Pleached trees are a fantastic solution for screening higher buildings beyond the garden by adding extra height above the fence line,” Georgia Lindsay says. “They’re often a great solution for your neighbours, too, as they give pleasing green screening and privacy on both sides.”
“They can add a lovely formal feel to a garden,” Patricia Tyrrell adds. Deciduous Carpinus betulus (hornbeam) is a popular choice and Georgia also loves Fagus sylvatica (beech).
Martyn Wilson has a preference for deciduous species. “[With these,] you get seasonal change and variety, and this approach allows light through in the winter months while the interwoven framework of the trees will still provide a modicum of privacy,” he says. He seconds hornbeam and also picks out Liquidambar styraciflua (sweet gum) and Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ (ornamental pear).
“Tall grasses, such as giant oat grass or tall Miscanthus [pictured], create a hazy screen, which lets the sunlight through but creates privacy,” she says. “In the winter, they need to be pruned down, hence they’re only effective for the sunny season.”
“In order to get height in a border for screening, we use grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ or ‘Overdam’, or species of Miscanthus,” Martyn says. “They all hold their structure in winter. By double planting, these can also form an effective hedge.”
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“Portugal laurel [Prunus lusitanica] is very popular,” Patricia adds, “and beech is nice.”
“For hedging, and given our heavy wet clays, we use hornbeam, as it holds its leaf until spring, so has added structure in the winter and looks great with a frost on the leaves,” Martyn says. In this photo, you can see hornbeam and yew hedging.
- Bamboo Georgia cautiously recommends this fast-growing tropical plant. “There’s a lot of controversy around bamboo, but it can provide a wonderfully tall evergreen screen,” she says.
- The issue is that bamboo’s roots are incredibly invasive and travel horizontally, even from ‘clump forming’ varieties. “They will pop up in neighbours’ gardens and destroy sheds and so on,” she explains.
- “I still specify bamboo, but only planted in a strong metal trough above ground level,” she says. “Many of the membranes you can use just aren’t strong enough to contain the roots. If you plant into a trough, make sure you fertilise regularly with a seaweed fertiliser.”
If, instead, you opt for climbers, you’re likely to need solutions to support them in order for the plants to create screening where you need it.
“A wooden slatted structure is the most cost-effective support for a quick and easy screen,” Georgia says. “Slatted trellis panels are ideal for growing climbers, as they allow them to weave in and out without the need for vine eyes and wire.”
As an alternative, simple solution, Patricia suggests a mesh fence can be a low-budget way to provide screening with climbers growing through it, while Martyn often uses high-quality steel wires to train climbers up onto an arch or pergola.
There are so many climbers to choose from and Patricia particularly recommends evergreens such as ivy or the highly scented Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine). Remember, evergreen is key if you need year-round cover.
If you don’t want to wait for living screens to grow over the years, there are speedier ways to create cover. “We often advise our clients to invest in mature trees and hedging, where the budget allows, in order to provide ‘instant’ impact or structure, particularly where privacy is a concern,” Martyn says. “There are a number of suppliers providing ready-grown screens, such as ivy.”
Portugal laurel [pictured] has been used in this village garden, which is overlooked on three sides.
Georgia recommends the already-mentioned evergreen favourite, Trachelospermum jasminoides. “Buy an established plant, which can then be trained together in groups to form an instant green screen. It will tolerate semi-shade, but will flower better in the sun.”
You can also purchase or build your own trough and plant with an instant hedge for immediate privacy. However, you must remember to add nutrients to keep the plants fed in the growing season. “Try positioning them around a terrace or seating area to define a private space,” Martyn says.
Another speedy way to create seclusion is with hard landscaping. Here are some ideas:
Decorative screens All three designers like using architectural patterned screens. “Steel fretwork panels are a favourite,” Georgia says. “They can be particularly useful in small spaces, as the screen is so fine it doesn’t eat into the space,” she says, adding that the delicate patterns can also be backlit to create a dramatic effect.
“I also love a vertical wooden screen to create strong architectural silhouettes, the planting beyond defined in clean shafts, with closer plants emerging through the gaps,” she continues.
For rural settings or naturalistic gardens, she recommends woven willow screens. “They blend wonderfully with the planting,” she says, “and the heavy-duty woven screens add great sculptural texture.”
Trellises Martyn also likes to use contemporary slatted (or Venetian-style) fencing, which has slim, horizontal slats.
“These are great for adding privacy and breaking up space, but they also still allow light through into the garden,” he says. “In an exposed garden, they’re also great for breaking up strong winds.”
If you have particularly long boundaries, there are specific challenges to address if you also want screening along them.
“In a rural garden, a mixture of small trees and large shrubs can blur the boundaries and give you privacy,” Patricia says. “If well-chosen, this can give you a long season of interest and avoid the maintenance headache of hedge-cutting. It will also provide lots of scope for wildlife.”
“Evergreen hedging can be great for roadside screening to reduce noise,” he continues, “and has the added benefit of mitigating the impacts of air pollution by buffering and absorbing pollutants.”
“You can’t get better than a hedgerow for a large boundary,” Georgia says. “It creates a living and breathing green corridor.”
She suggests a mixture of native species, such as hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), making up 50% of the hedgerow is a good start, and mixing in some blackthorn hazel (Corylus avellana). “If you want more security, mix in holly (Ilex aquifolium), which, with its prickly habit, is great on a boundary hedge.”
Very overlooked gardens, such as those attached to terraced houses, will need a different approach.
The first step is to consider the sightlines. “Where are you overlooked from? Or, what do you want to avoid seeing?” Martyn says. “Also, where do you want privacy? In the garden – or do you want it to prevent views into your home?
“From this starting point, your garden can be designed to create privacy,” he says. “By building layers with many of the approaches discussed, you can create areas or zones within your space that are more secluded.”
“Enclosing the garden with horizontal screening – a pergola or sail shade – creates a ‘ceiling’ to the outdoor room, making a cosy retreat,” Georgia says.
Patricia adds, “If you’re going for screening all round, try to vary it, with the back and one side having one kind of screen and the third side having a different treatment, so it doesn’t look boxed in.”
How have you created seclusion in your garden – and which of these ideas might you add? Share your thoughts in the Comments.