Fences for privacy – 9 great ideas for garden screening

August 21st, 2016 Posted In: Gardening know how, Town gardens

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.

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

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″.

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 (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. There are some wonderful new screen designs on the market now. And because a pattern distracts the eye, you may not need a solid screen. This post has more about screens for garden privacy.

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. If you plant it in the middle, it may 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.

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 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 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.)

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.

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 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).

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.

If you’re thinking about using small garden trees for privacy, this video has advice on where to position the tree.

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

And do join us every Sunday morning for more gardening tips, ideas and inspiration. Click here to follow the Middlesized Garden blog by email.

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

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Julie Quinn says:

    Really useful and interesting. Thanks

  5. 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…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

55 − = 45