Our mission is to share the wonders of the natural world by publishing books from experts in the fields of gardening, horticulture, and natural history. Grow with us.

Landscaping for privacy: Buffers, barriers, and screens

by Timber Press on January 23, 2013

in Design, Gardening

Even with little to no space, a mixed planting strip can help mitigate traffic noise. Photo Andrew Buchanan

Even with little space, a mixed planting strip can help mitigate traffic noise. Photo: Andrew Buchanan

Landscaping for privacy can be about more than not being seen while bathing in the hot tub. It might be that you want to create a sense of distance between the front door and a busy street, reduce noise from neighbors close by, or just hide an unsightly wall. Here are some examples of ways to create a private world or keep the world at bay. Or both.

Intrusions abound in modern life, and they assault all our senses. We long to create that one place where such disturbances are kept to a minimum. At home in our gardens, we want to feel protected from the untoward aspects of the modern world. —Marty Wingate


While it may not be possible to create more space, it is possible to create the illusion of more space. Here, a simple row of hornbeams (Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris’) act as buffer between street and home. Street trees also shield us from pollution by capturing dust and other airborne particals as well as consuming excess amounts of carbon dioxide produced by passing vehicles.

Buffers aren’t meant to remove problems, they can only alleviate them. However, they can be effective solutions to nearby noise, limited space to plant, exposure to the sun, and gardens troubled by wind or other weather-related problems, like salt air. Below is an example of how one homeowner, instead of hiding behind a hedge, used a bountiful buffer to complement the house while separating it from the bus stop in front.


As tempting as it may be to wall ourselves off from the outside world, it may not always be possible (or advised). An effective barrier will guide and direct without reading like a keep out sign. In the picture on the left, a fence panel and some well-placed plants keep pedestrians from cutting across the yard without blocking drivers’ views. On the right, clipped hedges, stone path, and low-walled planters instruct visitors where, and where not to, walk.

(l) Photo: Virginia Hand (r) Photo: Rob Cardillo

Barriers can serve many purposes. They can keep car lights from invading your home, trespassers your yard, or wildlife your garden. But they don’t have to be barricades, either. And they certainly don’t have to be like every other fence in the neighborhood. Here, stone panels are used instead of other common fence materials and are complemented by shrubs and vines, in this case kiwi, Actinidia kolomikta.


Screens are meant to conceal or mask unwanted sights but too often take the form of enormous hedges or unnecessarily high fences. Screens should add something to the design of your yard or garden, not distract from it, and not overshadow it. Why put up a great wall when all you need is to block a neighbors window, the one overlooking your patio? Potted plants might be the solution for a space with no garden soil. A screen can add color and may be the perfect way to hide all the things needed to maintain your yard, as this blue stucco wall does nicely.

And, yes, sometimes landscaping for privacy is simply about not being seen while enjoying your hot tub. For this, you might try staggered fence panels to allow wildlife, which don’t care what you look like in your bathing suit, access to the plants. And, yes, sometimes a hedge, with help from some tall lilacs, is indeed the perfect solution.

(l) Photo: Cameron Scott (r) Rob Cardillo

(l) Photo: Cameron Scott (r) Photo: Rob Cardillo


wingate_mMarty Wingate is a Seattle-based writer and speaker on gardens and travel. She is the author of three other books: The Bellevue Botanical Garden: Celebrating 15 Years, Big Ideas for Northwest Small Gardens, and The Big Book of Northwest Perennials.



Click image below for a look inside this book:


“Hits the perfect sweet spot, offering property owners an array of usable and beautiful design solutions, [with] endless plant suggestions to achieve sanctuary in one’s front or backyard.” —Debra Prinzing, contributing editor, Better Homes and Gardens

Previous post:

Next post: