Horticulture Magazine

7 Garden Privacy Plant Ideas

a chair in the corner of a secluded garden

Though it is a given that you engage in garden activities with an expectation of privacy, increased restrictions on movement coupled with rising population density mean that you spend more time in your garden but with more breaches of your privacy.

In an age when British lifestyles are gradually undergoing permanent adaptation and alteration, a garden doubles as both a sanctuary and as ‘The Great Outdoors’.

We lay out seven planting solutions to improve garden privacy with a total focus on year-round privacy.

Each of several of our general solutions contains within it three or four options or sub-ideas.

We are quite sure that you will find at least a couple of solutions that you will go for.

1) Fast-Growing, Evergreen Trees

lawn area with Liriodendron tulipifera trees in the background
The Sparkling Foliage and Symmetrical Form of Tulip Poplar

The first solution that comes to mind when one thinks about garden privacy is – of course – trees.

When you choose trees for the express purpose of improving garden privacy, the two primary selection criteria have to be rate of growth and foliage.

Ornamental value ranks (a distant) third. 

The tree should grow at a brisk rate and boast evergreen foliage.

However, the tree also has to be of a type that is pest-resistant and disease-free, and whose wood is of good quality, i.e. will not be prone to rot or snap off in high winds.

And you will want a tree of the right height as well – Leyland Cypress is a common choice but one you may consider to be overused. [source]

Here are three hardy choices that meet all the criteria listed above, and are very pleasing to the eye. 

Tulip Tree

autumn colours of Liriodendron tulipifera in a garden

Hybrid Poplar and Tulip Poplar or ‘Tuliptree’ are probably the fastest growing trees that have the most pleasing foliage.

Do not prune the side shoots and let it branch, and the crown will be a very effective screen. 

Thuja Green Giant

a row of very tall Thuja Green Giant trees

Green Giant Arborvitae aka Thuja Green Giant is a very dense evergreen with needle-like leaves of a brilliant green hue.

This drought-tolerant tree forms a natural screen.

Littleleaf Linden’s Crown

linden's crown trees with autumnal foliage

Littleleaf linden’s crown too will reach low enough to form an effective screen and it bears clusters of small scented flowers in summer.

You could go for all three choices! See this list for more fast-growing tree ideas.

2) Privacy Hedges or ‘Living Walls’

ligustrum vulgare blooming with white flowers
Privet Hedges Deliver Significant Ornamental Value in the Summer

Privacy hedges are often called ‘living walls’ and are the ‘standard’ garden privacy solution.

But, let’s face it, far too many hedges are simply functional and do not deliver any decorative value.

Other popular hedges, such as Forsythia, lose their leaves in the winter. 

Privet Hedge

a privet hedge acting as a tall garden border for privacy

Privet Hedge is the default favourite and this is one hedge that deserves its reputation.

It is evergreen in most regions of the UK, is easy to shape, and has sparkling rich green foliage. [source]

Varieties include Green or Common Privet, Wild Privet, Golden Privet, and North Privet.

In summer they bear clusters of fragrant white flowers, adding to their beauty. 

Thuja Green Giant (Again!)

close up of Thuja Green Giant foliage

Though Green Giant Arborvitae aka Thuja Green Giant is actually a tree, this evergreen conifer can readily be pruned and shaped to make a great privacy hedge.

It is disease-resistant, low maintenance, and tough.

It emits a very refreshing woodsy scent. 

Nellie R. Stevens Holly

holly hedging

Greatly ‘upping’ the ante from an ornamental perspective is Nellie R. Stevens Holly.

This so-called ‘Holly’ is actually a hybrid evergreen shrub that can be purchased in tree form or bush form.

In bush form, with a bit of help from you, it will grow into a marvellously ornamental privacy screen that will produce clusters of creamy flowers in autumn and bright red berries in winter.

3) Climbers on Fencing

pink apple blossom flowers
Wouldn’t a Clematis ‘Apple Blossom’ Screen Look Fantastic in the Summer?

A privacy screen that is as perfectly functional as it is pleasingly decorative can be achieved by installing high wire fencing and growing several (or many) climbers over it.

First, we should note that though Hydrangeas may seem like a top option, they are not good choices because the hardy varieties are deciduous and the evergreen ones are not hardy. 

Japanese Honeysuckle

pink flowering japanese honeysuckle with fencing in background

Japanese Honeysuckle is evergreen in most parts of the United Kingdom (or semi-evergreen in the coldest areas).

This is a vigorous climber with intensely green foliage.

It bears fragrant white and yellow flowers in the summer, turning into shiny black berries in autumn.

Rosa banksiae

cream coloured flowers of Rosa banksiae growing over a fence

Rosa banksiae is a yellow or cream flowered rambling rose with brilliant foliage; it will cover a large area. 

Clematis

pink flowers of Clematis Elizabeth growing on a wooden fence

Clematis is a top candidate.

Excellent choices include cultivars ‘Ben’s Beauty’, ‘Enham Star’, ‘Freckles’, ‘Apple Blossom’, and ‘Wisley Cream’.

All have attractive foliage and bear flowers, including coloured, scented, or winter blooms. 

Euonymus forunei ‘Coloratus’

snow covering evergreen Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’

For a pure foliage play, try Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’ or Purple Wintercreeper.

Although technically a trailing creeper, it will happily climb any vertical surface and form a lush wall of deep, brilliant green leaves that provide autumn and winter interest as they change colour to reds and purples.

English Ivy

a tall wall of english ivy

And then, of course, there’s English Ivy, which needs no introduction.

4) Tall, Tall Ferns

Western Sword Fern next to a stream
Plug Trouble Spots with a Dense Growth of Sword Fern

You may already have good garden privacy but are worried about a few trouble spots or gaps that you need to plug.

An unusual and eye-catching way of doing so is with tall ferns. 

Most tall ferns are either deciduous or frost tender.

Ostrich Fern

a wall of ostrich ferns

If you can live with a ‘screening fern’ that is deciduous but is remarkably pretty, fully hardy, and attains a height of about 1.5 metres, go with RHS Award of Garden Merit recipient Ostrich Fern. [source]

Sword Fern

sword ferns sprawling out of an outdoor planter

That out of the way, there is one big fern that offers year-round greenery and is hardy to boot – be introduced to Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), also an RHS Award of Garden Merit recipient.

This very sizeable fern attains an eventual height of 1.25 metres with a spread to match. However, it does not grow very fast.

The workaround is to buy a young but good-sized plant and hire professionals to transplant it in a raised bed. 

Sword Fern has attractive foliage – pinnate, deeply divided leaves that are a bright green; that classic ‘leafy green’ hue.

Add to that its rounded form, and we have an architectural plant that – besides filling in that problem gap – will display wonderfully well, especially in twos or threes.

5) A Grove of Bamboo

a bamboo grove
Not-so-Tall but Dense and Bushy Umbrella Bamboo Forms a Natural Screen

Most bamboo varieties are too tall or bear their foliage too high to be effective privacy screens.

Moreover, they are either not cold hardy, are invasive, or both!

However, there is a heavensent: ‘Heavenly Bamboo’ and its cultivars. 

Heavenly Bamboo

red berries and green foliage of nandina domestica

Heavenly Bamboo varieties have exciting foliage in shades of green, orange, and red.

Moreover, they bear attractive small white flowers and glistening red berries.

There’s also a less ornamental but equally effective alternative:

Umbrella Bamboo

umbrella bamboo in tall plant pots

RHS Award of Garden Merit recipient Umbrella Bamboo is a cold-hardy, clumping variety that is very bushy and fans out.

Between 3 and 4 metres tall, it can spread to over one metre. This bamboo’s non-invasive nature must rate as a bonus.

The narrow leaves are a lovely light, bright tone of green.

This species is tough and robust but it will delight you by rustling and swaying in the breeze. 

Either of these species can be used to plug a gap or to make a privacy screen.

6) Brick Wall with Integrated Planters and Pegs or Hooks

colourful hanging basket flowers including roses and geraniums hanging on a stone wall
Brick Wall + Hanging Basket + Cascading Flowers = Gorgeous Privacy Screen

A neat and tidy brick boundary wall that is a mere 1.5 metres high, provided it is constructed right, will improve your garden privacy plus provide decorative options and afford much flexibility.

You’ll need to build in projecting pegs or hooks, and planters, either integrated into the parapet or as attachments projecting from the top of the wall. 

Pegs/hooks and planters should alternate with one another and be spaced about 50 centimetres apart. (You could opt for only pegs/hooks or planters, of course.)

The pegs or hooks should have an upward curve. Hang large baskets with the shortest of chains on the pegs/hooks.

Now in these baskets and the planters put such plants which are dense and whose forms are informally called ‘cascading’ or ‘spilling.’ 

You’ll want hardy evergreen flowering types, and there are a few great candidates: Philotheca ‘Cascade of Stars,’ various Philotheca ‘WaxFlower’ varieties, Aubrieta Silver Edge, Aubrieta ‘Doctor Mules,’ Aubrieta ‘Cascade’ varieties, and Aurinia saxatilis.

cascading purple flowering aubretia

They will make for the most florally ornamental of privacy screens.

Tip: Instead of growing plants directly into the integrated planters, put removable planters in them. Then you can quickly and conveniently switch out and switch in plants. 

7) Trellis Planters and Vines

Two or three tactically-positioned large trellis planters covered with a dense climber will make you an ornamental screen that is hard to beat for prettiness and is also portable and adjustable. 

Trellis planters are available in a variety of materials, styles, and finishes.

They are up to 1.5 metres high which will go up to 2 metres with the right climbing vine trained over it.

Trellis planters are ideal for screening daybeds, trampolines, and the like: when the daybed or trampoline needs to be moved, its screening trellis planter can be moved with it! 

There are innumerable tender annual vines that are highly decorative; for example, varieties of Nasturtiums and Mandevilla which bear beautiful, fragrant flowers, and ornamental gourd vines.

nasturtium with orange flowers growing up a wooden trellis planter

However, annual and deciduous vines will mean you lose your privacy protection after autumn.  

Evergreen climbing vines will guard your privacy even in winter – wouldn’t your family members like to work out or relax in the garden on a warm winter afternoon?

flowering chocolate vine on a blue sky background

Akebia quinata or Chocolate Vine, also available in varieties ‘Shirobana’ and ‘Cream Flowered’ are semi-evergreen climbers that will be evergreen in many regions of the UK.

The foliage varies somewhat between these three varieties but it is very pretty in each.

What’s supremely pretty are the strongly-scented unusual flowers and fruit that Akebias produce.

—And Combinations Galore

yellow Rosa banksiae 'Lutescens'
Mix and Match Climber Rosa banksiae ‘Lutescens’ with any of the Other Evergreens Named Above

The privacy-improving solutions spelt out above are amenable to supplementary and complementary combinations that will significantly improve your privacy, while at the same time adding to your garden’s charm and beauty – whilst also providing convenience. 

A couple of tall ferns could go in each of two front-side corners.

A side boundary could be protected with simple wire fencing with a flowering climber.

Evergreen trees on a northern boundary would also provide shelter from the North Wind.

Moveable trellis planters would be very handy to fill in awkward gaps anywhere. 

Or you could simply enclose your garden by mixing and matching the many types and kinds of evergreens mentioned above. 

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