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. Here are twelve ideas that include an immense variety of plant life plus inanimate but highly decorative objects that will improve your garden’s privacy.
In an age when British lifestyles are gradually undergoing permanent adaptation and alteration, one’s yard doubles as a sanctuary and as ‘The Great Outdoors.’ Family barbecues, hot tub soaks, and sunbathing on the daybed may well be complemented by other activities – yoga, aerobics, or trampolining?
Though prying eyes peeping into the garden have always been a concern, the problem is compounded by increasing urban density. That includes the high-rise across the street as well as the pedestrians walking to and from the bus stop.
The combination of these factors gives even more urgency to improving garden privacy so your family can enjoy their rest, recreation, and outdoor activities with peace of mind and without any anxiety that strange eyes may be gawking at them.
We lay out an even dozen solutions to improve garden privacy with a total focus on year-round privacy. We do not break up different kinds and types of the same general solution into multiple headings so as to ‘up’ the number of ideas. In fact, 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
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? No, no, that’s overused. Here are four hardy choices that meet all the criteria listed above, and are very pleasing to the eye.
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.
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 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 four choices!
2. Privacy Hedges – ‘Living Walls’
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 – they are a little ‘blah’ and do not deliver any decorative value. Other popular hedges, such as Forsythia, lose their leaves in the winter.
Privet Hedge is the default favourite and this is one hedge that deserves its reputation. It is evergreen in most regions of the United Kingdom, is easy to shape, and has sparkling rich green foliage. 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.
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.
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. Unfortunately, the berries are toxic so you may have to pass on Nellie R. Stevens Holly if you have children or pets.
3. Climbers on Wire Fencing
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.
Hall’s Japanese Honeysuckle is evergreen in most parts of the United Kingdom. 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 ‘Lutescens’ is a yellow-flowered rambling rose with brilliant foliage; it will cover a large area.
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.
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. And then, of course, there’s English Ivy, which needs no introduction.
4. Tall, Tall Ferns
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. 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 R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit recipient Ostrich Fern.
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 R.H.S. 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
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 varieties have exciting foliage in shades of green, orange, and red. Moreover, they bear attractive small white flowers and glistening red berries. Unfortunately, these highly ornamental varieties’ foliage and berries are poisonous to children, pets, and small birds, so you could probably plant them only if you have no children or pets, and do not have birds visiting your garden.
Hmm, perhaps not so ‘heavensent’ or ‘heavenly’ after all? No prob, there’s a less ornamental but equally effective alternative. R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit recipient Umberella 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
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. What you need to do is 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. 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. 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? 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 U.K. 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.
8. Portable Outdoor Fan-Folding Screens
For speed and convenience you can’t beat Portable Outdoor Fan-Folding Screens – call it ‘Privacy Now!’ This solution has the further advantage of being very affordable, though high-end branded products can be unnecessarily expensive.
These screens are free-standing structures that have three or four fan-folding panels. Because these panels are foldable, the width of the screen is highly adjustable. Heights range from only a metre to over two metres. We suggest you opt for a two-metre model.
Fan-folding screens are an ancient Chinese innovation and many centuries ago they used to be made of fine woods and featured paintings on lacquer surfaces. Today they are made from a wide variety of materials including acacia, eucalyptus, cedar, pine, galvanized steel, heavyweight fabric, PVC, and more. They feature even more finishes and designs, such as slats, panelling, inlay work, lattice, herringbone, geometric motifs, stripes, antique filigree, blow-ups, and artwork. You can even get a fan-folding screen that masquerades as a hedge!
Besides being a quick and convenient privacy-improvement solution, a fan-folding screen can also be a very decorative one.
9. Portable Pop-Up Gazebo
A lightweight Pop-Up Gazebo is probably the option that will afford maximum flexibility and functionality, besides offering speed and convenience in set up. Such gazebos usually cover an area of 3 x 3 metres.
Though these outdoor shelters are lightweight, they are quite sturdy as they are made of a powder-coated steel frame and PVC or PU coated polyester. Most of these kits have adjustable heights; pulled all the way up they usually are about 2 metres high not even including the roof – quite enough to obstruct outside views into your yard.
If one side of your garden needs a privacy screen, a pop-up gazebo with only the far side wall rolled down will serve the purpose. What you have set up as a privacy screen will convert within a minute or two into an emergency event shelter in case of sudden inclement weather. If you have a hot tub, the gazebo can also double as an outdoor changing room.
A Pop-Up Gazebo is, thus, a no-fuss and practical privacy solution that will serve multiple functions.
10. Acrylic Sheets and Panes Mounted on Wall
No, wait, that’s not just plain old acrylic sheets or panes. But it would have been a long-winded heading had we written ’Translucent Patterned, Textured, or Embossed Acrylic’ for it is these somewhat lesser-known products that we propose.
Acrylic is a very safe alternative to glass. It is incredibly impact resistant but even if it somehow breaks upon impact, it does not shatter and does not break into sharp shards, nor are jagged bits sent flying. Blunt pieces will drop close by.
Various kinds of acrylic panes and sheets with attractive patterns or textures are available – geometric designs, curvatures and waves, animal figures, abstract forms, and more. Though these types of sheets and panes are clear it is not possible to see through them. A low boundary wall made of brick or concrete upon which such acrylic sheets and panes are cemented, or a ‘regular’ one into which such panes are inserted, will prove to be an out-of-the-ordinary as well as aesthetic design. More importantly, this solution will keep UV rays out, let sunlight in, and keep privacy in.
Avoid extruded acrylic products and shop for cast acrylic ones as they are of higher quality. (Perspex, Plexiglas, and Lucite are brand names, they are not products or compounds. All three manufacture high-quality acrylic products and are well reputed.)
11. Wireless Motion Detector
You may not even notice a vagrant right outside your garden peeping through that nook shielded from the outer side by the tree. Or by the pillar box. But a motion detector will ‘notice’ him.
Although motion detectors will not ‘improve’ privacy per se, they will sound an immediate warning if someone is potentially trying to breach your privacy.
One or a series of motion detectors could be installed on top of your boundary fence or hedge, with the speaker at a convenient place in the garden. Keep in mind that it does not need to stay on 24×7; it can be programmed or manually switched on and off so as to be active only during time periods of concern. Newer motion detectors offer wireless connectivity, and in addition to or instead of triggering the conventional speaker, they can set off an alarm on your smartphone or tablet, or on a Smart Home system.
Before you install motion detectors in this manner, be sure to check your municipal and county laws.
12. Wireless Video Surveillance
You catch a glance of someone loitering outside your garden fence. Is it your friendly old neighbour out for his evening stroll – or some suspicious character? You may not want to walk out and look for any number of reasons. But if you have one or more video surveillance cameras you can see just who it is on the monitor from the comfort of your garden or the security of your home.
Such surveillance cameras too, like motion detectors, can be installed on top of the boundary fence or hedge. All modern video surveillance cameras use WiFi or other wireless technologies so that you can monitor the video image on any of the popular tablets and smartphones, and Smart Home systems. Similar to motion detectors, though this technology does not ‘improve’ your privacy, it allows you to immediately spot any developing breach of privacy, and act appropriately.
Before you install video surveillance cameras in this manner, be sure to check your municipal and county laws.
—And Combinations Galore
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. A brick wall with planters decked out with cascading flowering plants would thrive and be so decorative on a southern boundary. An adjustable fan-folding screen could be set up a few feet from the hot tub or the daybed. 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.