Sunday, January 30, 2011

Screening unwanted views - and neighbors

A custom corner arbor with decorative trellis and overhead pergola provided
a charming focal point as well as a sense of seclusion.

You know what’s its like; you sit down to a nice lunch in the garden only to find your neighbors enquiring as to whether you’re drinking a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc with your salad. Or you peel off to a skimpy T-shirt to make the most of the sunshine and the next thing you know the teenagers next door are whispering disparaging comments about your less than sylph-like body. Solving these dilemmas can be especially difficult where in-ground planting is not an option, as much as you would love a solid 10’ hedge.

A common problem in new developments
Everything is on view
Raised decks and balconies pose a common problem where adjacent houses are built into a slope in such a way that each ‘uphill’ neighbor has a perfect view into the ‘downhill’ neighbors’ lot. Or second storey windows give a bird’s eye view of what was supposed to be your private oasis. Yet there are solutions using structures, plants and a little creativity.

The first question is to ask whether the lack of privacy is a seasonal problem. Do you only really feel exposed in the spring and summer when you are outside more often? Or do you find yourself eyeball to eyeball every time you wash the dishes? That will help to determine whether the need is for something more solid or evergreen, or if either a more open trellis work  or deciduous plant material would be sufficient.

This contemporary design would work equally
well as a gate, fence or freestanding panel.

One of the eyesores we had to screen in our last garden was a full blown batting cage, erected for the benefit of the sports-mad family next door. The solution in this instance came from building a custom pergola along the perimeter fence which then supported a vigorous rambling rose; Darlow’s Enigma. This rose added over 3’ to the height of the pergola itself and even proved to be virtually evergreen. Evergreen clematis such as C. armandii or C. x cartmanii ‘Avalanche’ could also work in this way.

When the only outside space is a balcony, invasion of that privacy is especially frustrating. Hanging large baskets or moss lined troughs works beautifully both by providing a colorful focal point but literally blocking the view. Baskets can be hung on brackets mounted to a deck railing or suspended from an overhead support structure, depending upon the construction. Stained glass panels could be a fun and colorful option.

Suspended screens with votives distract the eye.
Stained glass panels would offer more privacy.
Decorative screens can be a quick and inexpensive way to filter views both in and out of your garden. Consider those which hold votive candles such as the one shown here which provides the additional benefit of romantic evening ambiance. 

A climbing hydrangea and
custom trellis provides an
attractive barrier between
two homes.

Screens made from wood can be built with varying degrees of privacy depending upon the style of trellis used, and can be designed in such a way as to be freestanding or anchored securely into the ground. Adding a pergola type crossbar will increase the overall height without making the structure feel overbearing. Planters at the base of such a structure can support vines, be used to espalier shrubs such as camellia or simply be left bare.


The mural may be a little piece of Seattle
history but the ugly apartment buildings
 spoil it and the solid (dead) conifer does
 little to conceal the problem.

This colorful group of containers distracts
 the eye while the bamboo filters the view
 as it sways in the breeze.

Containers are invaluable for adding plants where no in-ground planting is possible. A row of containers planted with bamboo filters a view rather than blocking it completely, providing privacy without being un-neighborly. Larger pots could hold arborvitae, yew or other columnar evergreens. Simply placing containers in such a way breaks up your line of vision, giving your eye somewhere to stop thereby reducing the impact of your neighbors garage wall for example.

Placing a seating area in such a way as to have your back to the offending view also helps, particularly if you frame the nook with an arbor. This directs your eye to another part of the garden while leaving your neighbors trying to guess your lunch menu by smell alone!

So think beyond solid fences and hedges to create something both functional and beautiful – a solution which will enhance your garden while offering you a greater sense of seclusion. We all need our own private oasis.

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