When consulting with homeowners about designing their outdoor spaces, privacy is at the top of their list of priorities. After all, what good is a beautifully designed yard if it isn’t relaxing because neighbours can peak in on what you are doing? Or perhaps it is them you don’t want to see and hear.

In an increasingly smaller world where rubbing elbows with neighbours is an inevitable part of home life, outdoor privacy is indeed a luxury — and most of us want a piece of that pie. The good news is that there are plenty of creative solutions available. Whether it is for a large yard or a small balcony, here are some ways of making sure your outdoor oasis is a private place to escape:

Hedging options

One of the quickest and most common ways of creating year-round privacy in a yard is, of course, with a fence or a quick growing evergreen hedge planted along the property boundaries. But if you’re weary of the usual cedar or a fence is not in the budget, consider a row of deciduous shrubs like spirea, ninebark, willow or even edible blueberry as colourful, hedge substitutes.

Although more costly and slower growing, Hick’s yew is another fine hedging option, and is especially useful near patios or formal front entryways requiring privacy. Yews are not picky about sun or shade and like most evergreens, do double duty as a windbreak while diminishing annoying sounds.

When a fence isn’t enough

Humdrum fences and solid green hedges along the property’s perimeter can provide more privacy and visual appeal by adding plants and other screens. Jazz things up a little by topping wood fences with inexpensive latticework or by layering colourful, flowering shrubs and tall ornamental grasses and vines alongside hedges in highly visible areas. Create an interesting barrier with an espalier by training an apple tree to grow flat along horizontal wires on an existing portion of fence.

Tree options

Sometimes, a strategically placed tree is all that it takes to create a private space. Mature maples, with their extended canopies, are king at blocking out second story views, but medium-sized, ornamental trees with an unusual form or a horizontal branching habit, such as the Pagoda Dogwood, can be equally useful at screening out other areas.

Columnar trees, which rarely exceed 10 feet in width, also offer attractive solutions — especially for newer lots with vertical space to fill. Without casting much shade, a row of three English oaks, or fastigiate purple maples, delineate large home landscapes while hiding utility poles and other unsightly views.

Privacy up close

Elevated decks or condo balconies lift you to eye level with surrounding neighbours, necessitating privacy of a more up close and personal nature. If this is the case, bring screening plants closer to your living space for the most impact when creating the privacy you long for.

A row of large containers filled with the dense foliage of tropical banana, a conifer or a floriferous vine secured to a trellis in a solid planter will do the trick. Even extra large window boxes already elevated along railings create privacy for sitting areas up close. Fill boxes with and tall, attractive annuals such as purple fountain grass or fragrant herbs like rosemary.

Outdoor ceilings

Like the canopy of a large shade tree, patio umbrellas, awnings, pergolas and gazebos become the ceiling in your outdoor ‘room’, offering maximum shelter from hot summer sun — or from your neighbours’ view. Use them wherever you can.

Outdoor walls

Simple, painted lattice panels or louvred shutters that open and close on just one side of your sitting area will offer you the right amount of privacy while still allowing air and light to flow through your outdoor room. Living ‘plant walls’ are also trending right now and are available from serious garden retailers as a unique way of greening up and dividing spaces, indoors and out.

Finally, don’t forget that sound of water trickling from fountains or even wind chimes can be a welcomed distraction from annoying noises when planning for privacy.

One of the best things about the warm weather is being able to retreat to your own private, outdoor hideaway to entertain friends or to unwind and let the day’s stresses slip away without worrying about seeing neighbours, however you may feel about them. Any balcony, patio or large lot can be made more private with one or a combination the options available.

If you plan for it now you may even forgo the vacation far away this summer and instead grab a refreshment, pull up your coziest patio chair and unwind in your own private outdoor space.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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