Fences for privacy – 9 great ideas for garden screening

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: August 21st, 2016 In: Gardening know how

Are you making the most of your fences for privacy and screening?

Privacy is a big issue for middle-sized gardens, because high hedges and fences block light. But low hedges and fences mean you can see and hear your neighbours. And your ideal fence height may not be your neighbour’s ideal fence height.

Fences for privacy and screening

But installing fences for privacy is not just about height. You can increase your privacy by positioning screening in the right place in your garden.

First, consider your neighbours. There is a saying ‘good fences make good neighbours.’ Arguments over fences for privacy – along with boundaries – cause more problems than anything else in communities.

Most governments recognise this so you will have laws that explain what you are entitled do. Although this post focuses on English fences, it will give you a good idea of what issues to check locally before changing or erecting fences for privacy.

Open fence

This fence in Normandy, France, must legally be kept ‘open’ like this – the requirement is in the Deeds of the house and also the farm it abuts. So always check your Deeds and local regulations.

Some houses, districts, counties or states will have different restrictions regarding fences. For example, in Dungeness, Kent, you are not allowed to fence your land. Yet, just a few miles away, you are able to put up a two metre fence without any problem.

So always check whether your Deeds or local area regulations place different restrictions on you before making your final decision.

It’s also important to discuss a new fence with your neighbours. Do they want more privacy too? Or are they worried about their light? Or are they planning a garden re-design of their own, which might affect how they feel about your choice of fence?

In England, you need to get planning permission for fences higher than 2 metres (6ft 5″). But you can often get planning permission. In cities like London, where privacy is cherished, most fences are higher than 6’5″.

Stylish fences for privacy

Horizontal fence slats will give your fence a stylish, contemporary look.

Urban fencing with wall

When this London terraced house was built, all the gardens had low walls. The horizontal slatted fencing raises the height, updates it, looks smart and makes the garden more private. Garden designed by Charlotte Rowe.

Iron or steel fences

I saw a steel screen fence in the Melbourne Garden Show in Australia earlier this year. It was designed for a small urban garden and it looked delightful.

Steel garden screen fence

I saw this steel fence with tiny holes in it at the Melbourne Flower Show. It’s designed for an urban garden and reflects light beautifully.

Horizontal slatted fence

Steel louvred panels as fencing for privacy in the The Retreat Garden by Final5 at Hampton Court Flower Show 2016

Iron railings fence with hydrangeas

Traditional wrought iron fence in Normandy, France. Large hydrangea bushes add privacy.

Natural fences

This is a fence made of saplings cut from trees and fixed with wires. It’s very similar to a ‘dead hedge’, where dead wood is used to create a barrier. It’s great for wildlife.

Natural fence

This fence is cobbled together with saplings and tied with wire. Rather charming!

Natural wood fence

A close-up of the fence with nasturtiums growing through it.

If you don’t fancy finding your own wood, you can get something of this effect with split hazel hurdle fencing here. (This is an affiliate link, so I may receive a small fee if you buy.)

Painted fences

Painting your fence doesn’t affect your privacy, but it will make your garden look better. Before you paint your fence, you need to make sure who owns it. If it’s your neighbour’s fence, you must ask their permission before painting on your side.

Black fence for impact

Garrya elliptica against a black fence in Faversham, Kent.

Urban garden designed by Charlotte Rowe

This small urban garden designed by Charlotte Rowe in London looks smart with a black fence. Note that the trellis is also painted black – a nice detail.

Blue painted fence

A pale blue fence makes plants stand out on the Harrod Horticultural stand at RHS Chelsea 2015.

Wall for privacy, Tasmania

This fence in Tasmania, Australia, is painted cream. The raised bed beside it is painted the same colour. This makes the plants stand out in a striking way. Here a short stretch of height allows privacy near the house, but the fence drops down at the end of the terrace, allowing extra sun in.

Fences for privacy in front gardens

In England you have to get planning permission if you want to erect a fence over one metre (3’3″)  in the front garden if it is on a public road.

Fence and hedge combination for privacy

In France you see concrete fences, some of which are very pretty. Here a low fence combines with a high hedge for privacy.

Iron railings and hedge for privacy.

And here is a wrought iron fence with a hedge for privacy – also in France

However, very few people in England are aware of this, as I see 2m garden fences going up everywhere without planning permission. There are also historic fences and walls of 10ft or more, which have been there for centuries.

In some areas, you may also have to get planning permission for a hedge in a front garden, but in most places, hedges are allowed as long as they don’t cause a nuisance.

There are complicated rules about hedges and height, but if your hedge is kept well trimmed and doesn’t affect anyone else, then you probably don’t have to worry.

Add a trellis for privacy or screening

Can you add trellis to your fence to give yourself extra privacy? That depends. There is no legal difference between trellis and fencing. So – in theory – the height of your trellis must be no more than 2 metres.

Wall with trellis

Sarah Langton-Lockton has a trellis above a wall. Some councils like this as it is good security. There is also trellis on the neighbour’s side.

However, this varies in different counties in England. Some authorities will let you have higher trellis, according to this guide from Jackson’s Fencing on the legal issues around fences.

Some councils even encourage people to add trellis to the tops of their fences, because it is a good burglar deterrent. A trellis is not strong enough to support much weight, so it makes it difficult to climb. You can order trellis here (affiliate link).

Wall, trellis, trees and mirror - privacy in a London garden

You have to look very carefully at this to see what it is. A tall wall or fence at the end of a London garden has been covered with mirror glass. A trellis has been placed on top and tall trees have been planted in front of it. This is where an apartment block was built behind an established house. Although such a high wall or trellis wouldn’t normally be allowed, it’s likely that it was a condition to maintain the privacy of the original house.

Think about the eye line for privacy

In today’s crowded world it is rare to have privacy in your whole garden.

The answer is to decide where you want your privacy. Then look at who can see that part of the garden. It is that sight-line you need to block, not the whole garden.

slatted screen for garden privacy

A slatted screen at the end of the garden can make a seating area private. From the Cloudy Bay garden at Chelsea 2015.

Ideally, you should block that sight-line without cutting out light in anyone else’s house or garden. That may mean having trellis, fencing or trees in the middle of your own garden.

If you want to place a tree in the right place for privacy, see this post here.

I have found no legal restrictions on height when a trellis is within the garden. However, be aware that taller trellis will need to be sturdy, as it will rock in the wind.

Trellis arches, for example, across a long thin garden, could block the view from windows opposite without affecting anyone’s light.

You could also use split fences for privacy without completely shutting off the area. This fence at a Hampton Court show garden shows how effectively it can work.

Blue-painted fence at Hampton Court

Two different blues on a split fence in a show garden at Hampton Court (with Rachel de Thane). I’ve lost track of whose garden it was, so do let me know if it’s yours.

Here Pippa and James Rubinstein have an espaliered pear tree in front of their window in Kent. It screens the study window and creates a place for two to eat in the evening.

Espaliered pears for privacy

This espaliered pear is under 5ft high so it doesn’t block much light.

A pergola for privacy

In England, you can have a pergola with an eaves height of 2.5 metres (or 8ft 2″) if it is against your boundary. You can have a pergola with a pitched roof height of up to 4 metres if it’s in the middle of the garden. That offers lots of screening, so it may be worth considering a pergola in one place, instead of all-round fences for privacy. You can order a pergola kit here (affiliate link).

Pergola privacy

A pergola against a wall creates a private seating spot in Faversham, Kent

Does the smooth side of the fence have to face outwards?

There’s a common myth in England that the owner of the fence must build it so that the smooth side faces the road or their neighbour. However, I can find no evidence of this rule anywhere. I

‘ve also asked the experts at Jackson’s Fencing and they can’t find any regulations either. However, I do have a friend who informed her neighbour that the smooth side of his newly-installed fence was supposed to face her garden. He turned it round, so either he knows something we don’t, or he is terrified of her.

The back of a fence

This is the ‘back’ of the fence. You can always add trellis or plant in front of it if you don’t like it.

There are more ideas for garden privacy on my Pinterest board here, and do let me know of any good ideas you have.

And do please share, using the buttons below. Thank you!

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4 Comments

  • Mark Nolan says:

    Fences are a great way to frame your garden and give you privacy… I agree! There are so many different types and colours to choose from, so choosing the right option can be tricky at first. You can choose between contemporary and traditional fencing – with traditional still being chosen more often than contemporary. Adding plants etc to the fence can create a really unique look and make the fence not only practical but also great to look at.

  • Julie Quinn says:

    Really useful and interesting. Thanks

  • Sue says:

    Very informative Alexandra, what a ‘minefield’ the subject of fencing between neighbours is. You have given me some new ideas, never thought of metal fences before and they certainly look stunning in a contemporary setting. But for me it is the low fence in my small ‘cottage style’ front garden with its low picket fence that gives me a problem. The plants and shrubs still allow my neighbour to look into our living fooom and wave at us. How do you tell people not to be so nosy in a polite way!

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