It's not that we're up to anything strange--but few of us like being watched when we venture into our backyards. Whether we're sunbathing, grilling, swimming or sending the kids out to play, blocking out traffic and neighbors holds definite appeal. Several methods exist to create backyard privacy, some more budget-friendly or instantly-gratifying than others, but all worth considering, alone or in combination.
Perhaps the most underused form of residential landscaping, privacy berms offer unparalleled noise control. Consider building one of these long, earthen mounds if your yard faces a busy road. Consult a landscaper to design the berm's height and slope, as well as to arrange delivery and placement of the soil. Plant the berm with hardy, low-growing evergreens. The shrubbery prevents erosion while adding beauty and extra privacy. Bear in mind, however, that the width of most berms make them unsuitable for "vest pocket" yards. When space restrictions limit you, opt for a fence or slim hedge rather than a space-hogging berm.
The classic privet hedge remains the gold standard for privacy screening, but they do need regular shearing if your heart is set on the formal look. Otherwise, privets grow easily in most soil conditions, and can take car fumes and road salt better than most curbside plantings. Alternatively, set out a mixed shrub and tree border. For a taller border, Oregon State University's Extension Service recommends columnar trees for maximum privacy with minimal space. The suggested trees include the deciduous hornbeam and Dawyck purple beech, and the evergreen arborvitae, Italian cypress, Bosnian pine, columnar eastern white and Scotch pines and the Irish yew.
For a medium-height mixed shrub border, you'll find dozens of varieties from which to choose--but make sure most of them reach at least six feet for maximum privacy. Good choices include the laurels and rhododendrons, mock orange, rugosa rose, burning bush, quince, forsythia, spirea and butterfly bush. If edible landscaping intrigues you, install a "fedge"---a food hedge---consisting of dwarf fruit trees, pruned almond and hazelnut trees, and some of the taller, bushier fruiting shrubs like highbush blueberry and cranberry.
Fences and Walls
Whether your budget and style calls for a pricey brick wall, a classic paneled wood fence or utilitarian chain links, fences and solid walls represent a space-saving way to attain privacy in your backyard. Even a chain link fence or cinder block wall can be dressed up with climbing vines or espaliered fruit trees. Unless you're lucky enough to have a dedicated do-it-yourselfer in the family, factor in the cost of installation when pricing fence materials. Even the humblest fence needs professionally dug post holes to keep it standing for more than a season or two.
Arbors provide homeowners with the often neglected problem of overhead privacy. If the neighbors' second-floor windows overlook your dining patio or sunbathing spot, an arbor may solve the problem. Again, this usually requires professional installation, but several posts set in a sizable square, connected by overhead beams or strong wire and planted with grapes, wisteria or other substantial vines will provide both shade and privacy.
If your landscaping plan calls for a greenhouses, detached garage, tool shed and/or playhouse, put the outbuildings along your backyard border and make them do double duty. Plant shrubs on either side of the building, or between two buildings, to fill in any space gaps.