How to Design a Privacy Garden

How to Design a Privacy Garden

It's summertime and the livin' is easy. The days are longer, and with more time spent outdoors, many people yearn for a privacy garden, an outdoor sanctuary that offers peace and solitude away from their neighbors' peering eyes.

A trend that's gained momentum in recent years, alfresco living is here to stay with outdoor spaces becoming extensions of the home. People seek the same privacy outdoors that they enjoy indoors, but that patio, deck or balcony can't become a secluded retreat if the space is on view for the world to see.

Whether you have a sprawling suburban yard or a small urban balcony, here are some privacy garden ideas to help you turn your space into a verdant private oasis.

Designing a Privacy Garden

Locate the Sight Lines

Begin by locating the property's sight lines — the places from which neighbors or passersby can see you. That may be from a window, another garden or a nearby sidewalk. If you can see them, they can see you.

Determine Your Goals

Are you looking for complete privacy from all directions or just around a portion of the space? Do you want year-round coverage or only during the warmer months?

The amount of privacy you want and the particular location will determine how high the screen needs to be. A low porch, for example, may only need screening 3 to 4 feet high, while other areas may require taller plants to form a visual barrier.

Consider how quickly you need the screening as some plants grow faster than others, and decide how much time you're willing to spend on maintenance.

Evaluate Your Space

Begin by assessing your site's location and size, growing conditions such as type of soil, exposure to light and wind, and access to water. Learn what plants thrive in your growing zone and when to plant them.

Choosing the Best Screening Plants

Tall solid fences and walls may provide instant privacy but can make a space feel cramped and confined rather than cozy and comfortable.

Natural fences of strategically placed trees, plants and shrubs can block views while introducing foliage with texture and color into the garden. And, unlike built fences, there are no municipal height restrictions on trees and shrubs.

Shrubs and Hedges

With their dense foliage, evergreen trees or shrubs will fill out in just a year or two to form a green living fence that provides year-round screening.

Though it might be tempting to plant a long solid wall of one type of shrub or tree and call it a day, interplanting evergreen and deciduous plants helps build resilience against pests and disease. Consider mixing evergreens with small flowering and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.

Flowering shrubs can form lush barriers while also adding color, texture and often fragrance. Many grow 6 to 10 feet or more with large clusters of blooms and thick foliage that can provide colorful screening.

Producing large flower heads in a spectrum of hues, elegant and easy-care hydrangeas tolerate most soil types, will fill in quickly in full or part sun and can grow to a mature height of 6 feet or more.

With deep-green foliage and lacy flower clusters on tall stems, the thicket-forming elderberry shrub can reach heights of up 10 feet with dark edible berries that will attract birds to the garden.

For a scented garden, the fragrant lilac shrub's plum-lavender plumes can reach 5 feet and upward, making it both an aromatic and colorful screening option. The plants will attract butterflies and hummingbirds and also offer some nice cut flowers for the table.

Layering shorter bushes and other plants below a row of evergreens or tall shrubs will fill gaps and add visual appeal. Plant the back layer with the tallest plants, the middle layer with airy varieties like medium-height ornamental grasses and the bottom layer with flowers such as foxgloves or snapdragons that will grow to a maximum height of 1 to 2 feet.

Ornamental Grasses

For a naturalistic look, tall, quick-growing and easy-care ornamental grasses such as 'Pink Pampas' cortaderia offer screening that will fill the garden with color, texture, depth and motion throughout the seasons.

Vining Plants on Trellises

Trellises, lattice fences and pergolas covered in self-clinging vining crops such as clematis and the vigorous purple 'Cup and Saucer Vine' provide lush screening with lots of visual interest.

A colorful climbing vine, morning glory will quickly spiral 6 to 7 feet up a trellis in areas with full sun. For locations with harsh winters, cold-hardy wisteria tolerates frigid temperatures with no loss of flowering. The vine will tangle itself up and around a pergola or arbor with generous grape-like clusters of lilac-blue flowers, dispersing its sweet fragrance around the garden.

Creating Privacy in Urban Gardens

City dwellers may have a ground-floor patio or balcony surrounded by towering skyscrapers that give neighbors an unobstructed view. Containers with tall plants and potted trees can do double-duty blocking views while also turning the space into a secluded green island within a concrete jungle.

With a little advance planning and patience, you can create a private sheltered oasis for your eyes only.

For more tips on creating a garden that goes above and beyond, check out How to Create a Fragrant Garden.

Written by Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens

Robin Horton is a home and garden writer and publisher of the award-winning and Webby-nominated design, lifestyle and travel blog, Urban Gardens.

August 22, 2022
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