Privacy without walls

How to create neighborly seclusion
Sharon Cohoon

Backyard retreats

Often, the easiest way to create a retreat in the backyard is to extend the living space immediately outside the house with hardscaping, then screen off the resulting outdoor room with a vertical structure. A pergola topped with vines to block overhead views is a typical solution; a framework of planter boxes topped with a trellis might be another.

Side-yard solutions

The side yards in many new tracts aren't yards at all?they're barely walkways. But even if they aren't usable as garden space, they can't be ignored because, from some rooms, they constitute the entire view. Find some way to "green up" these areas. At the Jacques home, for instance, Rodriquez suggested a row of king palms in large pots be placed in front of the fence.

Creating privacy within confined spaces is, admittedly, a challenge. But if a goldfish can find escape from the public eye within its tiny glass globe, we can create privacy in a garden.

Before you begin, some tips

Determine what you want to block out or be shielded from.

Evaluate how plantings and additional structures will affect your neighbors, patterns of sun and shade in your garden, and any views you want to preserve.

Find out exactly where the boundaries of your property are, so you don't end up building or planting on your neighbor's property.

Check local ordinances and easements that could affect your plans. Many communities have guidelines to protect solar access or views.

Any structures or plantings on the property line belong to you and your neighbor. So before you begin, discuss changes you want to make with your neighbor. If construction or planting you do on your property affects the health of plants on your neighbor's property, you could be liable for damages.

Page