Fences for privacy – 9 great ideas for garden screening
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
- Check the law on fence heights where you live. Many countries, cities, districts, developments or even individual houses have planning laws that restrict the height of a garden fence on a boundary.
- If you divide your garden to create a private area away from the boundary, you can usually have a higher fence or screen there.
- So think about creating a private area rather than trying to make the whole garden private.
- It’s best to discuss privacy issues and solutions with neighbours if you can. But often one side will want more privacy and the other will want more light.
- A fence or screen close to a sitting or eating area gives you more privacy than one that is further away.
- ‘Broken’ fences or screens (such as with laser cut-out patterns or trellis) distract the eye without taking away so much light. And they can be decorative too.
- Fences add to the style of your garden – think recycled fences, painted fences or horizontal slats.
- A pergola by your fence can increase your privacy. Pergolas can often be higher than fences.
- Consider a ‘green screen’ – a trellis with climbing plants. Evergreen climbers include ivy, which is a wonderful resource for wildlife. Honeysuckle and star jasmine can give good cover on fences, too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pergola by your fence can add to your privacy
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.
Stylish fences for privacy
Horizontal fence slats will give your fence a stylish, contemporary look.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
What can I put on top of my fence for more privacy?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
And because my favourite gardening saying is ‘Gardeners Learn by Trowel and Error’, I’ve now got some mugs, t-shirts and a tote bag with it on. That’s just to remind you to give it a try! They’re available from the Middlesized Garden Spring Store.
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