Fences for privacy – 9 great ideas for garden screening

August 21st, 2016
Posted In: Town gardens

I get more questions about fences for privacy than most other garden design issues.

Privacy is an increasingly important issue because houses are now being built on smaller plots. However if you ring your house with high hedges and fences, you will block light from your own and your neighbour’s gardens. Yet low hedges and fences mean you can see and hear your neighbours.

Fences for privacy – top tips

If you’re interested in improving your garden’s all round privacy, not just in fences, then see my book, The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy, available on Kindle/as a paperback or as a PDF download from here. Click here to find the right Kindle or paperback link for your country.

Fences for privacy and screening

Think about the position of your fence not just its height

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, many fences are higher than 6’5″.

Do you need a fence, a hedge, a tree or a screen? Or a bit of everything?

It may be worth combining a number of elements to find the ideal solution for garden privacy.

Hedges can usually be a little taller than fences (in England). They’re good for the environment, because they help absorb pollution and give a home to wildlife. Read more here about hedges for privacy.

Hedges are also better than fences or walls for windy gardens, as they filter the wind.

Combine fences, screens, trees and hedges for easy-to-live-with privacy

Top: The Hillier garden for RHS Chelsea designed by Sarah Eberle uses fencing made of corten steel. Above a combination of a hedge and a canopy shields a table from nearby windows. Designed by Tom Hill for the Ascot Garden Show.

And you can also create a stylish, private seating area by using a screen. It may not be possible to have privacy in your entire garden, but if you can create a private seating area, that can make a big difference. And because a pattern distracts the eye, you may not need a solid screen.  There’s more about screens for garden privacy here.

Sometimes a single tree, in the right place, can give you a high degree of privacy. Don’t think you have to plant it on the perimeter of your garden. It can be better to plant it in the middle. Here it can break up the space and give you privacy without affecting your own or your neighbour’s light. See this post for more about perfect for privacy trees.

Depending on your layout, you may find that a single tree, plus a screen near your seating area, will give you the privacy you need. If your tree is properly pruned, you will be able to get dappled light through it – find out more about pruning for privacy and light here.

Fence height loopholes

Even if you have restrictions on the height of your fence, you may be able to increase the height in other ways.

For example, you may be allowed to put a pergola, gazebo or arch near the fence. You are usually allowed to make these higher.

Once again, you’ll need to check the planning law where you live. But often a pergola can be a little higher than a fence. And putting a pergola by your fence gives you overhead privacy. It can be a stylish combination.

A pergola with a fence for privacy

This garden, designed by Mike Long for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021, shows how a pergola can be combined with a fence to create a private seating area. The green planting should also soften noise.

A well positioned shed, greenhouse or garden room can also add some extra height where it’s needed. There are also restrictions on how high you can make these, and you may need planning permission, but you’ll usually be allowed to go higher than the fence.

You may also be able to plant a single tree, although you need to check your local restrictions on that too. A deciduous tree, which loses its leaves in winter, is often allowed, but there may be some restrictions on what evergreens you can plant.

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.

Recycled fence

Recycled scaffolding boards in a show garden designed by Amanda Grimes for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021. Note that the benches, placed close to the fence would not be overlooked by windows and gardens on the other side of the fence.

Show garden RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021

Different patterns of fencing in this show garden by Amelia Bouquet, also at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021, shows how combining elements increases privacy. The multi-stemmed tree will add extra privacy in summer.

Iron or steel fences

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

Steel garden screen fence

A 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 for privacy

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 cutting and tying 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.)

Give wooden privacy fences a contemporary look

Two contemporary ways with wooden fencing at BBC Gardeners World Live. Top: Martyn Wilson uses design board, usually used for decking. Above: wooden fence laid horizontally by A-Z Landscaping Services looks contemporary.

Painted fences for privacy

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.

Use planting to distract the eye from your windows…

If you’re not allowed to have a higher fence for your front garden, then add planting to distract the eye. It doesn’t have to be big solid bushes. Consider a ‘summer hedge’ of tall-ish flowers, such as verbena bonariensis or tall ornamental grasses. Although people can technically see through them, it’s difficult to make out what is going on.

Does a trellis count in the fence height?

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 boundaries 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 (links to Amazon are affiliate, so I may get a small fee if you buy but it won’t affect the price you pay. And I only recommend things I use myself).

And many people are happy for their neighbours to add a trellis, because it improves their own privacy. It’s common to see quite high trellis on the tops of walls in big cities like London, where privacy is difficult to achieve.

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 add a tree for extra privacy, then see this post about perfect-for-privacy trees.

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 the Cancer Research show garden at Hampton Court (with Rachel de Thane). It was designed by Antonia Young and built by Jeff Rosenblatt. Practicality Brown supplied the hedging.

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.

More ideas for garden privacy

There are more ideas for garden privacy on this post about  the eight perfect-for-privacy garden trees, and this one on choosing evergreen hedges for privacy. I also have a Garden Privacy Pinterest board, which you may enjoy.

And do let me know of any good ideas you have.

For three top tips on privacy, see this video.

The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy

Today’s gardens are smaller and more over-looked. But you can create beautiful ‘secret garden’ spaces and private corners by choosing the right tree, hedge, fence or screen. The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy covers every aspect of creating privacy in your garden, including choosing climbers, sheds, pergolas, gazebos and arbours.

To buy it in your country, see here for the Kindle and paperback links. It’s available (English only) in 13 countries.

Or download it as a PDF from this blog, so you can read it on pc or tablet if you don’t use Kindle. Or you could print it out.

Shop my favourite garden books, tools and products

I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve put together useful lists of my favourite garden tools, books and sustainable gardening products on The Middlesized Garden Amazon storefront. Links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.

For example, there’s a list of my favourite sustainable gardening products, the essential tools you need for gardening (and the brands I like) and my favourite gardening books.

Pin this to remember your favourite privacy fences

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Privacy fence ideas, inexpensive fences for privacy, fences for backyard privacy

13 comments on "Fences for privacy – 9 great ideas for garden screening"

  1. Debbie says:

    Hi I’m thinking of putting some trellis on some existing 5 ft panels in my garden/ shared fence/ the maximum height is 6ft5inch is that from ground level or the bottom on the 5ft panel too the top of the trellis, thanks in advance.

    1. The 6’5″ is the height a fence can be from the ground. However, in some places you are allowed to put a trellis on top of a 6’5″ fence, while in others the trellis has to be within the 6’5″ from the ground. It might be best to consult your local council.

  2. Mr. P.Litten says:

    In 2017 we replaced fencing(footpath) with like for like but adding an extra 12inches of trellis for security. We have been informed by local authority that the trellis must come down or apply for planning permission. We have also been informed that if we bring the trellis into our own boundary on separate supports this will be legal. Can you comment & clafify the legalities of this?

    1. I can’t comment on the legalities, because I’m not legally qualified and also the legal conditions vary from area to area. Some councils allow trellis without planning permission and others don’t. If you apply for planning permission, you may well get it, especially as trellis is often recommended for security by police forces. It may help your application to include police recommendations, such as this one from the Metropolitan Police: https://www.met.police.uk/cp/crime-prevention/residential-burglary/protect-your-home-by-protecting-your-garden/ I don’t know whether a trellis on separate supports would be legal in your area – I suspect that any trellis on top of fence would need planning permission regardless of how it is supported. If your planning permission is refused, you could consider growing a hedge in front of the fence. Hedging is also good for security and benefits air quality and wildlife. And although evergreen hedging usually has the same height restrictions as fencing, deciduous hedging, which loses its leaves in winter, doesn’t always. Here is a helpful post from the RHS on when someone may take action on the height of your hedge. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=408. There is also a post here on hedges: https://www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk/what-you-really-need-to-know-about-hedges-for-privacy/ I hope that helps and good luck with your planning permission application.

  3. The RHS garden feature in this blog is from Cancer Research UK who created the first virtual reality tribute garden to thank and celebrate those who have left a gift in their Will to the charity. Designed by Antonia Young and Built by Jeff Rosenblatt
    Practicality Brown supplied hazel hedging plants

    1. Thank you – I’m so pleased you let me know the right name for the garden. I think it’s a clever use of screening, and generally a very interesting garden, so I’ll add that into the caption.

  4. Cheryl says:

    We have new neighbours who has about 3 or 4 kids , our yard which we have spent over $3000 on over the summer, their yard is very small as house much be bigger, they have put a trampoline right on the fence line, the kids bouncing away all the while they are home, which I am happy to see they get exercise but looking over our fence, adults on the trampoline, footballs bang bang on the fence . We have glass windows right across our house and can not open doors due to noise and if they see you over the fence want there footies back yelling at us in the house. Absolute nightmare any ideas people

    1. Oh, dear, that does sound difficult. Is there any chance of talking to them about it, especially as the footballs may damage the fence? I have noticed that trampolines get alot of action when they are first introduced, but both children and adults do seem to get quite bored of it after a while. So perhaps at least the trampolining will pass.

  5. 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.

  6. Julie Quinn says:

    Really useful and interesting. Thanks

  7. 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!

    1. It’s really difficult! What about tall airy plants that interfere with their eyeline without blocking light? Verbena bonariensis, even hollyhocks or thalictrum…

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