Privacy Screens

One of the most consistent landscaping trends in recent years is the desire for outdoor living spaces. From outdoor kitchens to fire pits to bocce courts to beautiful dining areas, clients are blurring the lines between inside and out. They want to be outside.

Unfortunately, there are equally consistent trends towards smaller residential lot sizes but bigger homes. This often creates a fishbowl effect in backyard outdoor spaces. As a result, my number one design request is to create privacy.

A well designed privacy screen should not only shield the property from open viewing, but it should also disguise and draw attention away from the fact that another property exists beyond it all.

Fences are often used for this purpose. However, many communities limit fence height as well as the type of fence that may be built and this can limit privacy. In addition, fences are monotonous to view. And the very fact that a fence exists suggests that there is a boundary and an adjoining property. It can be a good place to start, but often needs more.

Far too often, a soldierly row of large, fast-growing evergreen trees are planted at the very edge of the property line. Common offenders in the Atlanta area include rows of Leyland Cypress, Arborvitaes and large, evergreen Hollies.   There are several issues with this approach, particularly with Leyland Cypress, that make this less than an ideal solution for creating privacy. Their mature height (sixty feet) will make even a two story home (around thirty feet) look ridiculously out of scale. Likewise, their mature width is often overlooked and trees planted near the edge of a property quickly spill over onto the adjoining property. In addition, Leyland Cypress are prone to a host of diseases that turn limbs brown and can ultimately kill the tree. This results in unsightly gaps and of course, a lack of privacy again. Ultimately this approach is a barricade, not a well-designed privacy screen.

The best approach to a well-designed privacy screen is a mixed border that is diverse and interesting to view throughout the seasons.   It draws attention away from the fact that privacy is even an issue.  These borders are composed of a finely choreographed mix of trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous, as well as perennials and groundcovers.  Height varies and privacy is achieved through the use of canopy level, understory, and ground level plants.  A palette of colors, textures, and shapes is organized using the elements of balance and repetition.  If an individual plant fails, the entire effect is not ruined and it is easily replaced.  Disease is less likely to spread through a diverse planting than one where only one type of plant is used.  Best of all, this approach allows the opportunity to tailor the landscape to the client’s style and enjoyment, whether this includes planning for spring blooms, fall color, cuttings for indoor arrangements and wreaths, bird-watching or attracting butterflies.  A well-designed privacy screen is not a barricade.  It should be an integral and interesting addition to the outdoor space.

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