In small gardens, where one property often overlooks another, it’s especially difficult to keep your outdoor activities to yourself. But landscape designer Shawn Gallaugher prefers to turn this problem into a design opportunity. An instructor of landscape design at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University in Toronto, Gallaugher tries to create structures and planting schemes that become attractive features of the garden in their own right. His ideas range from building a latticework trellis to screen a cozy front porch from street traffic to constructing an intricately patterned fence that blocks out the hustle and bustle of a nearby park. In each case, the trellis or fence is such a striking element in itself that its purpose in solely providing privacy goes virtually unnoticed.
Camouflage a privacy fence
Camouflaging a privacy fence can have a bigger design impact as well. Gallaugher suggests using a fence as a support for an eco-friendly clothesline, for example, which then becomes the more prominent feature. Or a fence could form the framework for an espaliered fruit tree that steals the show. Using living walls planted with shallow-rooted succulents and alpines is another way to disguise a privacy barrier. These pre-planted, modular panels can be slotted into conventional wooden fences to create an attractive, lush barricade.
Strategically place architectural barriers
The typical shoebox solution of creating privacy by surrounding the lot with a head-high wooden fence can hem in the yard and create unwanted shade for you and your neighbours. Instead, Gallaugher suggests constructing these barriers only where they’re required—beside a swimming pool or by a patio, for example—leaving open spaces in between to take advantage of attractive borrowed views, such as an adjacent perennial border or flowering shrub.
Create an airy ambiance
Gallaugher also advises breaking up solid fences with trelliswork or ornamental wrought-iron panels to give them an open feeling. Another option is to use translucent materials, such as sheets of Plexiglas, that effectively block unwanted views while allowing light to filter through. Wire mesh and weather-resistant fabrics can make good fencing materials, too, subtly defining private spaces without overwhelming them.
Whatever your choice, make sure to consult building bylaws and respect neighbours’ needs. Give yourself the peace of mind to enjoy your privacy.