New directions in garden privacy screens

April 22nd, 2018
Posted In: Town gardens

Garden privacy screens have really changed in the last few years. There are lots of new, exciting designs.

As more houses are built, gardens get smaller and more overlooked. Privacy is increasingly difficult.

So new companies have popped up, making garden privacy screens a design element as well as a functional one.

The main new development is the patterned metal garden screen. It’s usually laser-cut and made of corten steel or powderised aluminium. You’ll see them in many show gardens – where screening your design from your neighbour’s is key.

Screen with Envy garden privacy screen

Cut-out privacy screen from Screen With Envy creates a private corner in the garden.

However there are also new contemporary designs in traditional materials, such as willow or other woods.

Garden privacy screens from the Oak & Rope Company

This wood garden screening by the Oak & Rope Company can be inscribed with a poem, names or another personal message.

If you’re considering your garden privacy as a whole, rather than just thinking about a new screen, then see my book The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy, currently available on Kindle and paperback in 13 countries. It covers choosing walls, fences, trees, hedges, screens and arbours for garden privacy. See here for your country link.

If you prefer to watch a video, you can see most of these garden privacy ideas here.

How much garden privacy can you expect?

If you live in a town or you have neighbours, then don’t expect total privacy in a small garden. Aim for one or more private corners.

This is where garden shelters with screening work so well, especially if they’re at the bottom of the garden. You probably don’t want them near the house as they’d screen light from your windows. But further down the garden, a garden shelter with a screen can make a private outdoor dining room or place to relax.

Garden privacy shelter from Jacksons Fencing

Woven willow outdoor retreat from Jacksons Fencing.

Contemporary pergola for privacy by Tom Hill Designs

Contemporary slatted wooden dining pergola from Tom Hill Garden Designs at the Ascot Garden Show. Although it’s only screened on one side, there’s a hedge behind, and the windows you can just see wouldn’t be able to see the diners underneath. It’s not total screening – there are gaps, so it will be light, but that’s enough privacy to have dinner without your neighbours being able to see exactly who is there and what you’re eating! In some slatted pergolas and screens you can shut the slats if it rains or cover the roof in polycarbonate.

Langlea Designs gazebo

This seating area designed by Langlea Garden Design creates a private but sunny space a few metres from a boundary.

Distract the eye with partial screening

I asked Mat Webb-Jenkins, MD of Stark & Greensmith Ltd about their garden privacy screens and fences. He explained that when you give the eye ‘something to rest on’, then you distract it. That’s why screens with patterns and gaps do work as garden privacy screens, even though you can, technically, see through them.

Garden screening from Stark & Greensmith

Laser-cut corten steel screens from Stark & Greensmith, seen here at RHS Chelsea. Used here as garden fencing, these panels are also good privacy screens, as they let through attractive patterns of light and distract the eye. They’d also filter the wind in windy spots – well worth thinking about as solid walls and fences make the wind go up and over.

Laser-cut corten steel garden privacy screen

Close-up of corten steel laser-cut garden privacy screening from Stark & Greensmith.

Brick garden privacy screen in Spain

This is a brick-built screen between the terraces of two adjacent properties -one is my brother’s house – in El Canuelo, Spain. Although you can see through the gaps, you are barely aware of any activity beyond, perhaps because there is lush planting and the walls are thick.

Firepit and laser-cut corten steel screen from Kate Gould Designs

This is a very see-through screen from Kate Gould Gardens at the Ascot Show, but it still distracts the eye from what’s beyond (there are white tents, but you’re barely aware of them!)

Garden privacy screens from Kate Gould designs

Kate Gould uses see-through divisions between different parts of the garden at this show garden at Ascot Garden Show. You would be able to see people, but it’s rather like Venetian blinds in a house.

Screening practical areas or eyesores

Mat Webb-Jenkins says that there are two kinds of people who often want privacy screening to distract the eye or screen new extensions. ‘We often get people ringing up to say “my neighbour has built a really ugly extension, and we don’t want to have to look at it”. Or you get others calling to say “we’ve built a really gorgeous new extension, but our neighbours are being completely unreasonable and say they don’t want to see it.”

As an extension is often quite sizeable, it’s probably a question of distracting the eye rather than covering it up altogether. Or make one part of the garden private from the view of the extension.

Pergola privacy from Jacksons Fencing

This double pergola from Jacksons Fencing has wires and growing boxes so you can create a living privacy screen. Useful for espaliered fruit trees.

Jacksons Fencing say that ‘Double pergolas are great for flanking walkways to create a feature path or even a terrace, and for separating patios, creating extra privacy when dining. You can add growing beds with tensions wires between the posts for climbers, which would eventually give a green screen effect.’

This would look good with espaliered fruit trees, which can make a great garden privacy screen.

Espaliered fruit trees as garden privacy screening

This terrace at the St Erth garden in Southern Australia is screened by an espaliered fruit tree, trained onto wires anchored to decking.

Jacksons Fencing trellis and pergola

A trellis and pergola from Jacksons Fencing creates a private space anywhere in the garden.

Trees or screens for privacy?

You can consider planting a tree or trees to screen an eyesore, but a towering conifer could take over your garden (and all your neighbours’ gardens). There’s more about trees for privacy in my previous posts – the important thing is to consider the line of sight. Don’t fall into the trap of surrounding the edges of your garden with the tallest trees you can manage. Consider having one or two trees, placed to interrupt the line of sight, whether it’s a window you want to screen or a view you want to block.

It may not matter if the tree is deciduous – if you only need privacy for the summer months when you’re out in the garden, then you’ll have a much better range of trees to choose from. Before choosing your tree, consider if it’s suitable for your soil and climate and find out how fast or high it grows.

Holly tree screening for privacy

This nicely shaped holly at Leeds Castle screens the upper windows.

Multi-stemmed silver birch as privacy screening.

These multi-stemmed silver birches, planted away from a boundary hedge, would make a good screen for upper storey windows in summer, while also being a delightful feature in the border. Also seen at St Erth garden near Melbourne, Australia.

Francesca Sideris, Design Director of Langlea Garden Design, says that trees draw the eye into the garden rather than allowing you to focus on what’s beyond the space.

Olive trees for privacy from Langlea Design

This garden was designed by Francesca Sideris, Design Director of Langlea Garden Design. You’re more likely to look at the evergreen olive trees than at the buildings behind them.

Privacy screen height restrictions

How high can a privacy screen be? That partly depends on where you live. And it partly depends on whether your screen is near or on your boundaries.

Fences, hedges and privacy screens have different rules. If your garden privacy screen is on or near a boundary, it will be covered by your local regulations for the height of a garden fence.

In most parts of the United Kingdom, you can’t have a fence higher than 2 metres without getting planning permission for it. Councils vary as to whether you also need to get planning permission for trellis on top of that.

The guidelines around hedges are less strict and rely on how the local council interprets them, but generally you’ll need to keep an evergreen hedge below 3 metres. See here for more about hedges for privacy.

And wherever you live, you may have local laws or regulations restricting how high hedges, trees and garden structures can be.

But I see thousands of pictures of small urban gardens in London with high fences and trellis so you may live in a part of the world where nobody worries much. But discuss it with your neighbour first. You don’t want to spend a large sum of money, only to find your neighbours insisting you reduce the height of your screening!

Garden privacy trellis from Jacksons Fencing

These trellis panels from Jacksons Fencing are for both planting and garden privacy. You may have height restrictions on how high you can take your trellis, so check first.

But if your garden privacy screen is away from the boundaries, you will usually be able to make it higher. Check local regulations first,however.

Curved garden screens in Andy Sturgeon's show garden

These curved garden screens in Andy Sturgeon’s show garden for Mind at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022 create private spaces in a garden. You can often make these higher than boundary fences.

But garden structures can be higher than garden privacy screens

A sloping roofed pergola or bench can be an excellent choice. Pergolas, gazebos and other garden structures can be 2.5 metres high. If they’re more than 2 metres from the boundary, they can be up to 4 metres to the top of a pitched roof, with eaves no higher than 2.5 metres (UK legislation).

Garden privacy gazebo by Langlea Garden Design

This is a gorgeous example of garden privacy screening. It’s higher than it could be if it sat on the boundary so there is a path between it and the fence, but it creates an all-weather space to sit while screening the buildings behind. By Langlea Garden Design.

Depending on what you are trying to screen, this can give you lots of privacy. And because your pergola or gazebo is lower near your neighbour’s boundary, you won’t block their light so much. Even if there is no legislation where you live, it makes sense to consider your neighbours when creating privacy in your garden.

Cantilevered roof gazebo by Langlea

This has a cantilevered roof sloping away from the boundary, and is designed by Langlea with a Thai theme. An ideal solution for the end of a small garden!

Garden privacy screens in front gardens

Many people prefer a thick evergreen hedge screening their front windows. But if you have a wonderful view – for example if you’re close to the sea, like the front garden below – then you may want to make your front garden special. This garden below was designed by Langlea Garden Design and has stone seating and a stone firepit.

Brighton front garden designed by Langlea Garden Design.

A six foot high evergreen holm oak hedge screens a seating area in this front garden designed by Francesca Sideris, Design Director at Langlea Garden Design.

Drop your terrace down a level

This is a heavy earth-moving solution, but if you’re landscaping your garden, you may be able to create an extra private seating area by having tables and chairs at a lower level than the garden privacy screens. The advantage of this is that even a 4ft high screen would give you about 8ft of privacy, but wouldn’t block your views of the rest of the garden (or your neighbour’s light).

Pip Probert garden design at Ascot Garden Show

This seating area is in the All the Flowers garden for Yardley by Pip Probert. It makes the most of different levels, and there are two garden privacy screens positioned to create a private space without blocking light.

Recycled and upcycled garden screens

A beautiful garden screen can be expensive, but consider recycling materials, as in the garden below.

Bug hotel garden screening

Frances Tophill’s show garden for BBC Gardeners World Live included a screen ‘bug hotel’ made from recycled items.

Shop my favourite garden tools, books and products

I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve pulled together several useful lists of the books, tools and gardening products I use. You can find them on The Middlesized Garden Amazon storefront. Links to Amazon are affiliate, which means I may get a small fee if you buy, but it won’t affect the price you pay. And I only recommend products I use myself and think you will like.

For example, if you’re new to gardening, I’ve done a list of the essential gardening tools you need, including the brands I use. Or if you want to make your gardening more environmentally sustainable by composting, using a water butt and minimising single-use plastics, see my list of Favourite Sustainable Garden Products. (You could read How to Create An Easy Sustainable Garden first)

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New directions in brilliant garden privacy screens #gardening #gardenprivacyideas

7 comments on "New directions in garden privacy screens"

  1. Jas Browne says:

    Great article, thank you :) We just bought our first house and trying to figure out how high we can build a privacy screen / trellis to stop our neighbours looking into our garden. Our garden slopes downwards with houses at the bottom of the garden that look out onto the garden. The screen we would be built away from the boundary at the bottom. Does that mean its height could be up to 4 meters? Thanks in advance :)

    1. Usually the height is considered to be measured against the immediate soil level, not against a point further away. You can build higher screens the further away from the boundary you are, although it’s a bit difficult for me to visualise and there are also sometimes different regulations in different places, so it’s hard for me to be definite about that. You might also consider a tree or a shed to mask the views.

  2. JM says:

    Can someone give me advice please? My front garden faces a road. The council made me lower my left side fence (5ft) to 1 metre, sloping backwards. ( I own the house) I am being stalked and watched by a neighbour across the road to my left. I need privacy so I’ve put a screen up against the original fence. We built it and it’s 6ft made of bamboo slats and wooden good quality rails. It’s not attached to the fence at all amd is free standing. Wedged inbetween the fence and a large vehicle.

    Is this within the law? I’m of the opinion that it’s ok to stand anything I want in my garden… I could stand a 20ft high inflatable Santa there and I know nothing would be said.

    1. I think the council rules on keeping fences to one metre are enforced because it makes it safer for motorists to see round corners etc. So I’m not sure if the screen is something they’d allow or not allow – but if no-one has objected, then it seems fine. One option could be to go for a large shrub or small tree in your front garden, but I’m not sure how much space you have for planting. There are certainly rules against being stalked and watched so you could inform the police if you think it’s serious enough, but you may not want to make it that public. If you can plant a tree or shrub, disrupt the neighbour’s eyeline rather than trying to block the whole house. So draw a theoretical line between where they would stand to watch you and where you can be seen, and plant on that line somewhere. Good luck.

  3. Armando says:

    Great article thank you

  4. Lucie Neame says:

    Super article

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