How to achieve privacy in your backyard

Achieving privacy in your backyard with fencing and planting
ARTICLE Jason Burgess

Whether you need to shield your property from prying eyes, excessive noise or the sunbathing naturalist neighbours, there are tons of clever options for creating a private sanctuary, even on the tightest of sites.

With a little imagination and some careful planning, you can transform an outdoor space into an oasis, improving not only the quality of home life, but the value of your property too. With existing homes, achieving continuity with the rest of the property means matching the right plants and structures to maximise the aspect and contour of the land. And, overall garden style.

The first thing to consider is property size, length and width. This will determine appropriate plant, fence and/or garden structure heights. The key to creating happy places is symmetry, balance and proportion. If walls are too tall, you could find yourself in a fortress. If the spaces are too narrow, watch the claustrophobia settle in. Fences and enclosure structures may also be limited by district plans. Incorrectly positioned tall trees can lead to surplus debris, root damage and shaded properties in winter. Good concept plans will help identify and resolve issues before work begins. This will save money and time in the long term.

Fencing with hedging provides privacy but also depths and texture to your landscape design


Where space is tight, a fast-growing native hedge may be just the ticket for defining boundary lines or for screening sight lines. In terms of hedging, there is a field of choices. Hedges can assist with soil erosion, slow down wind, reduce noise and improve air quality. Hedges not only provide effective screening, they create a living, and in some cases, an edible wall.

Before digging holes, think about how sunlight and shade affects the target area. Not all species are created equal. Some plants survive better in specific conditions. Some are more resistant to drought; others favour shade or will withstand severe pruning. Getting it right comes down to deciding on how high, and what density is needed to achieve your backyard haven. On larger sites, layered plantings will create a more stratified, natural look.

Additionally, hedging used in combination with a fence or screen structure will create great visual texture, focal lines and if planted on the outside of the perimeter fence, will discourage tagging.

Step down in height from the background hedge or screening with deciduous shrubs and plants to create texture, depth, and colour. Seasonal variations in hedge colour and growth, flowers and perfume will provide an ever-changing outlook. Fruit plants or vertical gardens can be employed to not only shield your living, but also yield healthy home grown ingredients for your family and lifestyle.

Fast-growing native hedging helps define boundary lines and provides some screening

On the native plant front, Griselinia and Corokia are popular for screening and boundary hedging. Griselinia Lucida is a more open variety and requires larger spaces. Griselinia’s vibrant foliage makes for a great backdrop plant, while the smaller chocolatey leaves of Corokia or the coppers of Coprosma ‘cappuccino’ will provide excellent background contrast to garden greens. Even the mighty Totara will perform well as a hedge and gives dense slightly blue toned foliage. Titoki’s are great for architectural pleached hedging. Pleached means the trunk is pruned clean to the desired height so that the hedge forms at the upper level. Titoki’s are hardy and will withstand coastal conditions.

Palms produce upper-level growth, so when placed strategically on a boundary, they provide filtered privacy from upper-storey windows. Try Kentia’s and Nikau’s, as they each have a contained root ball, which means they are practical in tighter spaces.

Pittosporum tenuifolium is a perennial hedging favourite, but for added colour try Lilly pilly/Eugenia, Camelia, Michelia gracipes, Prunus lusitanica or the lilac and white flowers of Fairy magnolia.

In the right situations, feijoa, blueberries and mandarin can make excellent fruiting hedges. A living wall can take months to mature into shape, so if time is an issue, consider pre-grown hedges that can be planted – usually in one metre lengths – once the infrastructure is finished to gain an ‘instant’ completed feel.

Shade sails can help achieve privacy, covering up your outdoor room


Rather than trying to achieve privacy at the boundary, consider employing structures at the target spaces. Areas like patios, outdoor kitchens, and decks are usually easier to screen than a whole yard. By building an enclosure around them and capping with fixed awnings, sailcloth or similar, you can easily attain intimate spaces and private entertaining areas. For contemporary clean lines and practicality, the airfoil-shaped shutters of louvretec roofs and walls offer effective outdoor shelter. They not only shut the world out, they open to the sun, close to the rain and can be used to divert the wind. Likewise, retractable outdoor blinds and curtains offer versatility and effective privacy, as you need it.

A thatched roof cabana/gazebo can morph a yard into a resort-like sanctuary, reading room or make an ideal spa pool shelter. In the right place, a more traditional slatted-top wooden pergola over a patio, or framed and fixed slat panels along a raised deck, can provide adequate screening. In-built pizza ovens, outdoor fireplaces and water features make practical options for shielding a secret spot. For lounge-like intimacy, consider a raised garden ben or sunken courtyard to submerge you deeper into your backyard haven.

Extra planting

For extra privacy and visual softening, these areas might be complemented by climbing vines, hanging baskets and strategically places pot plants. Espaliered fruit trees like kiwifruit, apples, grapes and passionfruit will break the monotones of a north-facing fence or screen and deliver fresh product. Before you start framing up any kind of structure, think about how it will tie in with the home and overall theme of the garden. And, will it achieve the desired privacy? Also check with your landscaping specialist on council codes for the building regulations in your area.

Horizontal slat fencing in dark wood provides this yard with privacy and achieves a contemporary look


There is a fence style for every home and outdoor area. Slats provide a contemporary looking alternative to the traditional squares and diamonds of trellis. The spaced palings give good airflow and privacy and a sense of space. To achieve tighter privacy and superior weather protection, shiplap or board and batten both work well. Shiplap has a traditional smart look, with a channel on either end of the board to slot together creating an overlapping appearance and shadow line effect. Naturally finished rough sewn board and batten fencing gives a rustic look, but a lick of paint can also set off some clean shadow lines. There is a pre-painted modular aluminium panel system that also pulls off the board and batten look.

For something a little outside of the box – ‘corrugated’ or ribbed aluminium fencing will create visual waves and provide weather tightness and durability. For clean line garden and pool barriers, aluminium and steel tube vertical rail fences provide good visibility and security. Used in tandem with an appropriate hedging – like luxuriant Griselinia – will help define visual layers, complete privacy and soften the steel look, without compromising the clean lines.

Alternatively, a quality brushwood panel fence can add an instant Tropicana feel or a modish natural look to any fence line. They are noise absorbent, offer good wind breaks, are less prone to tagging and also average around 45mm in thickness, thicker than most systems. They work for borders, pools and framing driveways, as well as more intimate areas. Finally, a picket fence may not screen for privacy, but in conjunction with hedging can create stunning layered effects. The picket defines the property perimeter while the hedging provides the screening, dominant hue and height.

The Outside screening project

Landscape Panels & Screens

Decorative panels & screens are becoming increasingly popular because not only can they add privacy and shade, but they also become a beautiful point of interest. These are both a practical solution and a source of unlimited creative possibilities. 

Jane Mcdonough, from The Outside, says that property screening can be created to be both architecturally striking and complimentary to the landscape. ''Our landscape panels and screens are designed to perform an array of functions, from privacy screening for the garden to decorative screens as a feature item. Our metal screens can be laser cut in corten steel, stainless steel or aluminum and finished in a variety of powder coat colours''.

Customisation is also one of the major benefits of choosing panels and screens; you can personalise your outdoor space and truly make it yours. 

''Our range of standard designs can also be customized into a variety of sizes for residential feature screens and as accessories in your landscape design. We can customize designs further into gate designs to enhance your outside living space even more'', says Jane. 

You might be interested in reading: FAQs for driveways and paths.

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If you would like to discuss options and ideas for your outdoor landscaping project, please use the enquiry form on this page to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your landscaping design and build. If you would like to provide us with more information about your project, we have a more comprehensive enquiry form on our "Get in touch" page too.

*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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