line of sight privacy in a back yard
May 5, 2019 8:51 AM   Subscribe

What are some creative methods to create more line of sight privacy?

I want to feel like, when I'm in my back yard, that I have a modicum of privacy from observation. Perhaps that's a quirk, my partner doesn't feel that way.

Our home's back windows are all observable over the fence line and our neighbors windows are to us. Our patio has the same problem.

A complicating factor is that my partner wants maximum line of sight into the yard from the house so they see the garden and let in sunlight.

I can think of several strategies. One would be a fast growing bush or tree along the fence line. Our neighbor at one point tried growing junipers along their side of the fence, then forgot to water them so they all died. What might be candidates for a screening vegetation?

Second would be hanging mats or screens along the patio outer edge. We have a shade structure on the patio so that's easily doable.

Third would be ways to occlude windows hopefully without blocking views of our yard. I often feel like our life is on display to our neighbor in ways I find problematic. Buttoning up with blinds is our neighbor's method. What else might help with this?

My neighbor is a fine person, no enmity or problems there. it's more of a problem for me in that I feel like there's almost nowhere in our back yard where I am not in someone's line of sight. Also at night we are blazing photons into the back yard so if you want to be outside in the dark, that's impossible.

Looking for tips and hacks around this concept so I can have some new ideas to pursue.
posted by diode to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
bamboo in pots
posted by zippy at 9:10 AM on May 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Visit a nursery in your area. Ask for native vegetation that might fit the bill. Even in pots many species are highly invasive. Even if that’s not a problem for you, it might be for your neighbors, which is especially relevant along a property line.
posted by supercres at 9:22 AM on May 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

I use attractive fabric shower curtains on two sides of my patio (and actually they can pivot for the parts of the year where the sun is especially south); I tie them back when not needed. I use 2-4 of these hooks with plant/cup hooks and occasionally a tiny bungee cord to clip them to the patio frame as needed.

On the east-facing side I'll put them down if I'm trying to use the patio in the morning with the sun in my eyes, and there's also a point in the late afternoon where the sun reflects painfully off everything in that direction. On the west-facing side I leave them down most of the time, as there's not much to see in that direction and the neighbors on that side have a frequent visitor who smokes outside and the curtain helps prevent it drifting onto our patio. We had a similar arrangement in a previous house with a hellishly short fence along a sidewalk.

In a lot of places I've lived, photinia is the go-to screening shrub. It does require sculpting, and it'll grow 12+ feet high if you let it and then you need scaffolding to shape it. Juniper or Western Mountain Cedar require less pruning but don't really give you a full screen.

I would suggest going to your biggest local garden center, one with an emphasis on landscaping plants, and talk to someone there so you can choose something that's going to thrive in your zone and conditions.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 AM on May 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you want suggestions for plants to plant for privacy, it would help to know your general location or at least which zone you’re in.

In Arizona, most people plant oleanders for privacy. They’re bushy, they grow fast, they have flowers so they’re pretty, and they don’t need a ton of water.
posted by Weeping_angel at 9:42 AM on May 5, 2019

No idea what zone you're in or the size and shape of your property, but arborvitae is commonly used for this. There are fast growing varieties. Spec out how tall your variety will get before planting; some grow to 40+ft (eg Thuja Green Giant arborvitae).
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:17 AM on May 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seems like a taller fence is the obvious solution. Is a taller fence not permitted by city law or HOA regulation?
posted by crazy with stars at 11:29 AM on May 5, 2019

We have huge windows on the front corner of our house that I felt the same way about, and draperies on double rods have improved things greatly. On the outside-side rod there's a gauzy layer that gives a ton of daytime privacy without hugely blocking the view or sunshine (actually it cuts the glare nicely), and then on the inside-side is a heavier layer for nighttime. The thicker layer has grommets instead of a pocket so the panels pull back really easily, and the rods are mounted far enough beyond the window frame that the folded material is all off to the side during the day, not covering any of the glass.

Another potential approach, depending on how strongly your partner feels about being able to easily have completely clear glass, is to use contact paper/window film on some portions of the windows. Pinterest is full of ideas and patterns.
posted by teremala at 11:39 AM on May 5, 2019

Best answer: In New England my grandfather planted a thick grouping of trees, maple, birch, pine, etc. all along the back fence. It was magical. You felt like you were at the edge of a forest, and you would have no idea that there were generic homes from the 50's all around. Gazing at the garden from inside was wonderful, and no one could ever see thought that amazing solid mass.
posted by Vaike at 11:55 AM on May 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, these are very helpful answers. We are in mid-Oregon in the valley, so we are in hardiness zone 8b. Building the fence higher is not an option if only for budget reasons. Our house is on a slight rise from the fence, so probably not practical to do that.
posted by diode at 4:10 PM on May 5, 2019

I'm in Western Washington, and I have cedars and vine maples for privacy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:40 PM on May 5, 2019

You might wish to consider sunflowers this year, while you research what type of tree or shrub to put in. They grow fast, look glorious, most people including neighbours enjoy them, and they feed the birds.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:03 PM on May 5, 2019

I lived in Sacramento briefly where the summer temperatures are often over 100 degrees. I saw a lot of people put cheap matchstick? bamboo? blinds on their porches to shield them from the sun.

I've also heard that hops are hardy, fast-growing vines that could be a quick cover.
posted by bendy at 8:08 PM on May 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes you could use hops - but they die back at end of season (thank goodness as they're triffids!) - even now you may get some privacy this summer tho - they seem to grow like rockets not far from here (far southern coastal NZ, zone 8a\b.)

That would get you thru to fall but something a bit longer lasting would help so consider starting star jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides, please, please, please don't plant normal jasmine as maint. nightmare) at the same time for next year. If you plant say five plants at equal intervals and train them up the fence on wires - and along the top likewise, they'll provide a thin evergreen screen. You may need to keep the hops under contol until they die back so they don't subsume the start jasmine.

Another evergreen option is Solanum laxum \ potato vine, Two plants along fence should suffice - grow from opposite ends of fence and train along wires along top of fence. These should be trained (or limited to a single or two runners, else they become massive). I have previously stripped several overgrown plants 8metres long back to a single vine but it takes half a day. Can become a weed.
posted by unearthed at 2:28 AM on May 6, 2019

I'm going to go against the grain here and suggest that you think very very carefully about planting trees.

Consider what the roots will disrupt and what the trees themselves could fall upon. Do sewer lines pass through that area for instance? Large plantings at property lines can lead to a lot of potential problems down the line.
posted by Ferreous at 12:01 PM on May 6, 2019

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