Horticulture Magazine

How To Get Privacy In An Overlooked Garden

view from a window overlooking a garden, with a bowl of fruit on the windowsill

Privacy can be one of the most important things in a city or town garden.

It can be awful to feel overlooked. And being able to use your garden fully means it must feel like a safe haven – free from prying eyes. In truth, your neighbours are likely not as interested in what goes on in your garden as you might think. But creating a sense of privacy can be important to make sure you can fully enjoy spending time in your outside space.

Many people faced with this problem will turn to man-made solutions. They will often build pergolas or garden buildings which create private sanctuaries in a garden. But while these solutions can have their places, when it comes to achieving privacy in a garden plant choices are key. The appropriate planting will almost always be the solution when it comes to tackling privacy woes.

conifers and shrubs on the edge of a very private garden
Plants in the right places

The first and most important thing to consider if you want to enhance a sense of privacy in your garden is sight lines. This is all about considering if people can see you at different spots in your garden, and, crucially, where they can see you from.

Some people make the mistake of turning their garden into a fortress, completely surrounded by impenetrable planting. But this can make a garden dark and unappealing. A few carefully placed plants can work far better than blanket border screens.

Plants can offer a huge range of different solutions, whether you would like privacy from the side, or screening from windows which overlook your property from higher up.

Trees for Privacy in an Overlooked Garden

hakuro nishiki tree surrounded by flowering plants
Smaller trees closer to seating areas can be more effective for blocking sightlines

Of course, some of the most useful plants in a privacy improvement scheme are trees. Large, mature trees can block sightlines from above, and make a garden feel more tranquil and private. But whether or not a large mature tree is right for your garden will depend on the size of the space. And where exactly the tree would need to be positioned to provide the requisite privacy.

A tree to the north of the space, for example, may not be too much of a problem. But in certain circumstances, such as when a tree would have to be positioned to the south, it may create far too much shade – especially in a smaller garden. Unless you wish to embrace a woodland style garden, and shade planting, this might not be the best solution for you.

However, even if you are of the opinion that using a tree or trees for privacy will create too much shade, there are some other options to consider. One thing to consider, for example, is a row of columnar fruit trees, or pleached fruit trees to sit above a fence. Trained trees can enhance privacy, and often without casting anywhere near as much shade as a standard form.

Another thing to consider is that a small tree positioned close to a seating or outdoor dining area, placed in exactly the right place, can be more effective for blocking sight lines and improving privacy than a much larger tree placed further away.

When choosing trees for privacy, think about whether you require privacy during the summer months only (when you are actually more likely to be using your garden) or really do want to block sight lines throughout the whole year. Deciduous trees can work best for summer privacy. And evergreens will of course remain clad all year. Bear in mind, however, that evergreens can cast deeper shade, and so a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees can often be best for year-round cover.

Structures With Climbing Plants For Privacy

a pergola with string lighting and climbing plants with white flowers
Pergola with climbing plants

If your garden is overlooked from above, another thing to consider is creating structures that are not completely covered, but which can be covered with climbing plants that will add a degree of privacy without making you feel too hemmed in, or too separated from the rest of the garden. A porch, pergola or arbour structure can support a range of beautiful climbing plants, which will screen you from view of the windows of neighbouring properties.

Again, you need to think about whether you really need year-round cover, or are happy to be shielded from view only when deciduous plants are in leaf. You can choose evergreen perennial climbers which will provide a permanent screening from above, such as Ivy or Parthenocissus, or opt for deciduous perennials like climbing roses, for example, which will be beautiful during the summer, but lose their leaves later in the year.

The structure you create might cover a whole seating or dining area, or a simple hammock or bench seat. How large the structures are and where they are positioned will obviously determine which climbing plants you should choose.

You might also consider growing annual climbers up a structure of this kind. These might even be edible crops, and help you make the most of every inch of your garden for food production. Edible climbers like climbing/ runner beans, squashes etc. can also enhance privacy during the summer, while also giving you an edible yield.

Privacy Hedging

a willow fence and hedge with Douglas Fir Trees in the background
A willow ‘fedge’

If you are more overlooked from the side than from above, privacy hedging could be the perfect solution. Many different shrubs and small trees even can be perfect for inclusion in a hedge of this type. My favoured approach is to create mixed privacy hedges, with a mixture of evergreen and deciduous plants, which are beneficial to wildlife (and to us) in a range of ways, as well as providing the privacy we crave.

Remember, the hedge might not need to be positioned along the borders of your garden. Interesting privacy solutions can also involve, for example, placing a hedge along the front of a patio, to divide it from the rest of the garden and block sight lines to a part of the garden where you want to spend a lot of your time. Again, a shorter hedge closer to a seating area could block sight lines more effectively than a much higher hedge further away.

Another idea, instead of a hedge, is a ‘fedge’ (Living fence) of willow or similar. This is a cross between a hedge and a fence, which can offer a beautiful way to create a partial screening between your own property and the neighbours, or a busy path or road.

Bamboo Screening

bamboo stems and leaves up close
Bamboo

Bamboo is another plant that can be useful for adding privacy in a garden. There are a wide range of different bamboos to consider for screening in different environments and situations. Bamboo can grow quickly, and won’t necessarily feel as oppressive as a thick border hedge or treeline.

Consider carefully which bamboo to choose – some can easily take over a garden before you know it! But the right bamboos in the right places can certainly help you block sight lines and enhance privacy in your garden.

See more screening ideas in this guide.

Ornamental Grasses and Perennial Plants

ornamental grasses in a garden
Ornamental grasses

Many other tall plants can also effectively block particular sight lines and create screening between gardens, or between garden zones. Taller ornamental grasses can be useful for adding height and structure and blocking your seating, dining or sunbathing area from view. But with their wispy forms, they will often not feel as heavy or oppressive as larger shrubs or trees.

Ornamental grasses in privacy schemes pair well with taller prairie planting too. A prairie border could be an alternative for a garden border which obscures views without entirely keeping the exterior out. It can be a softer and more delicate border for a garden, or used to edge a patio or area of decking.

Using plants to get privacy, rather than relying on man-made fences or walls can stop your garden from feeling too enclosed, while still giving the sense of seclusion and peace you are looking for. In fact, it is worthwhile remembering that plants, unlike a simple wooden fence, for example, will block sound and even smells to a greater degree. So neighbours are not only less likely to see you, they will be a little less likely to hear or smell you too!

a rock waterfall feature with ivy in the background
Garden waterfall feature

One final thing to think about is that privacy is not just about sight. Plants help to create a soundscape in your garden, so your garden chats are less likely to be overheard. If you don’t want neighbours to hear you, you should also think about adding a water feature in your garden. With the sound of wind in the leaves, and the babbling sound of water, sound transmission should be less of a concern.

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