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Small yard - how should I create privacy?

User
3 years ago

Before I post my sketches and overall idea for our yard I would like to get some input on how best to achieve privacy.

Our backyard is 62’ on the sides and 63’ across the back; we plan on fencing it in. There is a morning room and porch that stick off the back of the house, so that eats up some space and makes the usable yard more like 50’x63’. We are considering the addition of a patio and also have two play structures in the space. I’m not too concerned about having a large open grassy area. We back to woods and a river and my older children prefer to be exploring back there with their friends than playing sports that use open areas.

So finally on to my question... our HOA requires our fence to be a 3 rail split rail fence, they are 4’ tall. We have neighbors on both sides of us with the exact same cookie cutter sized and shaped yards. I LOVE trees and greenery. I would like to make our space more of an oasis and gain a little privacy. Do I focus on planting along the fence/property lines or do I focus on planting around the porch/deck and eventually the patio? I’m not sure we have the space to do both.

Comments (39)

  • PRO
    Yardvaark
    3 years ago

    In order to have an idea of what might work best, we need to know how much space is available and how it's laid out. A series of slightly overlapping pictures that show the WHOLE back yard from end to end and from the most important point of view (which is usually from back center of house) is usually the best way to make it understood. Just guessing based on what you said, it will probably require a combination of both but, in general, I don't think it's a great idea to cut your own yard off from your own view. So most of the screening would probably occur near the perimeter.

  • saccharum
    3 years ago

    Also clarify (for us and yourself) WHERE you want to have privacy? Do you want the entire yard screened? Who will be looking in and from where? Or do you just want privacy for when you are sitting on the patio? If the latter, then it may be possible to provide something low close to the patio, that will still allow you to look out while sitting down, but will help you feel more protected visually and physically.

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  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    ok, trying yet again to get photos posted. It seems if I add too much text it doesn’t want to post for me. So, I’m going to add photos and I can add details in a separate post.




  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago





  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    3 years ago

    Small? It about 10x the size of my garden ;-) There's room for loads of shrubs and several small trees.

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    :) It’s not urban small but it is smaller than I grew up with and smaller than our old yard. I have mixed feelings about the size; at times I’d like a larger space, especially on the sides of the house, but I also know that this is a very manageable size when it come to upkeep.

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    A couple more photos




  • Najeebah
    3 years ago

    Plant trees near the perimeter. Wait for years and this will pay off. Use large pot plants, or small shrubs, near the pation if needed.

    Are you able to use something like reed screens?

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    My thought was to plant one or two arborvitae‘s in the middle of each fence section and then plant maybe an ornamental grass in front of each fence post breaking up the arborvitae. That way it will add some privacy but not be a wall/hedge blocking the entire yard off. I like my neighbors, I just like that feeling of being in a treehouse when I’m outside.

    We are still waiting on window screens to be added to the porch. Once that’s done I was going to see about adding either Roman shades or curtains to the side that faces the neighbors. I was hoping to be able to plant something there but if we get a fence there will be a gate on that side (the garage is on that side of the house) and we only have about 9’ between our house and lot line. That won’t be enough space to have plantings and a walkway with the gate, at least I don’t think it is.

  • PRO
    Yardvaark
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    9' is tight. You'll have enough room for a walk and narrow hedge type screen if it is sheared. Your plan of arborvitaes with gaps is probably as good as anything for the overall solution at side lot lines.

  • Christopher CNC
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    To get the best long term privacy from what you can plant now it is critical that you clearly evaluate and identify the sight lines that are most important and that you want screened with how you and your family will be living in this space. I think that will put most of the plants out on the perimeter. I would encourage you to think of small ornamental trees for a good deal of that screening over solid hedges.

    I don't often say this, but your place and possible plans for a future patio verily shouts that you would be well served to consult with a local landscape designer and have a plan drawn as a basis to work from at whatever pace you choose. Your space is small. Every element is going to matter that much more when it comes to creating the oasis you have in you mind's eye.

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    3 years ago

    Size is relative. To a U.K. gardener that is a very generous space with huge possibilities. You could do some searches for British garden ideas. Many of us have far smaller plots than that and privacy and oases are much sought after. If you use a fence at the side between the houses 9ft gives you enough space for a path and plants. Do a search for woodyoak's side gardens here on gardenweb to see what can be achieved.

    I might have missed it but I don't see your location anywhere. That makes a big difference to what you can grow. But it doesn't really affect general principles.

  • cecily 7A
    3 years ago

    Do you intend to add a pool in a few years when your kids are a bit older?

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Christopher C Nc - Are there any trees that you had in mind? I'm in Virginia, zone 7a. Would you suggest something like a Crepe Myrtle? Would you do this instead of arborvitae? Or maybe a combo of arborvitae and crepe myrtle? The fence sections are each 10ft long. I'm not sure if that is enough growing space for both of those trees.

    And I agree that having a master plan would be a good idea.

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK - Thank you for the search suggestion. I will go checkout woodyoak's posts later today.

    I'm in Virginia, zone 7a


    cecily 7A - a pool would be amazing! but our neighborhood has a clubhouse with a pool, so I don't see us adding one.

  • cecily 7A
    3 years ago

    My HOA has a pool also - it's nice that the kiddos have a place to congregate in summer. I'd use a couple of mid-sized crapes close to the deck for immediate privacy and a mix of evergreens along the fence. Merrifield Garden Center (three locations in northern Virginia) has a good in house designer you could use.

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    cecily 7A - it really is wonderful having a neighborhood pool, the kids love it and we love that we don’t have to be the ones dealing with upkeep.


    Merrifield Garden Center is a wonderful place! We used to live in NoVa but decided to move a bit farther south. I’ll have to see what places I have near me that can help with design and install.

  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    3 years ago

    I can't help you with your issue (in fact, I'm anxiously waiting to see what you decide), but I wanted to complement you on a completely charming house. I'm generally not one for new build, but yours is very well thought out without a lot of extraneous unnecessary detail devoid of any style. Did you have a hand in its design as none of your neighbor's houses seem quite as special? I would also suggest getting a plan in place first. The plantings also do not need to and probably shouldn't run in a direct line around the perimeter and would be more interesting if they didn't. Don't neglect some smaller deciduous trees that add seasonal interest such as Cornus Mas and other dogwoods and so many others. Over time it can be a perfect retreat. As a rose person, don't forget some climbers! even if they don't block the view.... perhaps going up your porch supports. Not all are thorny. : )

    User thanked Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
  • mad_gallica (z5 Eastern NY)
    3 years ago

    I'd avoid the arborvitae and plant mostly deciduous shrubs. They will provide privacy when you need it most, grow quickly, and have a wilder look that will go better with the woods in back.

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    3 years ago

    Something I've done is to go into the neighbours' houses and look out of their upstairs windows. You'd be surprised what they can see and not see. Get someone down in your garden to mark with a bamboo cane where a tree could usefully block a sight line.


  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    3 years ago

    I could not remember the name Stewaria a bit ago. Please plant it. It's one of the most beautiful trees ever.I also love the idea of slighty taller trees to shield you from the houses further up.

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    vaporvac - thank you so much for the kind words. We actually bought this house as a resale, so my only hand in its design was with the porch and deck. We also chose to buy a house on the low end of our budget so that we could afford to make all the updates and modifications we wanted. Doing that put me on a smaller sized lot but, I'm willing to work with it :)

    I will definitely look into other trees than the arborvitae. I originally hated arborvitae but then we had them added to the areaway and I've grown to like them. They're obviously an affordable tree that is easy to find, so that's why I was originally leaning in that direction.

    I would love to add some roses. They'd remind me of my grandmother. She lived in the city and had roses all along her garage wall. She also had a small garden behind it that had the best raspberries! I wonder where I could add a raspberry patch???

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    mad_gallica - I think you're right. Too many arborvitae will give a much more formal look. And this yard and area is not formal at all.

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Christopher C Nc - you are right on the money! I was so focused on getting privacy by the one neighbor because of the porch addition (and their dog) that I had tunnel vision about what to plant. I most definitely want privacy from the homes farther down. When I saw the original drawing for our patio I liked the shape of it but knew it wouldn't work because it plopped me right out into the middle of my yard. I do not want to be on display for all of my neighbors, there is no way I could enjoy my time out there wondering if I'm being looked at.

    Thank you for all of the planting ideas. I always wanted a magnolia but didn't think I had the space for one. I had no idea that there were smaller varieties. I will be looking into all that you have suggested. And I agree that the crepe is getting to a point of being over done. The entry way to our neighborhood is lined with them and they are dotted all around in the front yards here. I do not have one though, I believe my front tree is a silver maple.



  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    I like your idea floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK. The first time I was in my neighbors new addition (two houses away and on a walkout basement) I looked over at our yard to see what their vantage point was. I might have to see about asking the neighbors on each side of me.

  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    3 years ago

    Valady, yeah for roses! As a more immediate fix to the privacy issue on your deck, you might consider trellising or even just guy wires between the posts on the chimney side on which to grow some climbers. These will take a couple of years to get going, so you could put some annual vines in the interim or clematis. Obviously, nothing too vigorous or invasive. Take a look at the rose forum. Connie of Hartwood roses in in VA. and can suggest good varieties for your area, but there are many on the rose and antique rose forum from Va. who can also help. If you like this idea, start this year to get something established instead of waiting to install the porch screens to plant. At least you might have something reaching the fenceline this year. Of course nothing is prettier than roses cascading on a split-rail, but that doesn't do much privacy. ( Is the back fenced?

    User thanked Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for the forum recommendations, vaporvac. I will check them out for sure.


    The screens will be going in the first week of March. And I am scheduling the fence install next week. I'm not sure what his schedule is like but, I'm pretty sure I'll have that in prior to planting season. Currently our yard only has the one side section of fence that actually belongs to our neighbor. I've be going back and forth about whether or not to add the back section of fence when we do the other side and our side gates. As of right now I've decided to forgo the back section. I like the feeling of the woods being part of our yard and my children have paths, a tree swing, and a slack line in the woods as well. We do not have any pets, so really I'm adding the fence to bring more character to the yard and to have something that I can more easily plant along vs the lot line. The neighbor on our other side, that does not have a fence, doesn't do the greatest with lawn work and has a dog that they let out freely to do her business. She's a sweet dog but large and makes a beeline for my 3yo when he is outside playing. I'm hoping that having the side fence and planting will be enough of a buffer that she can't get to him too quickly.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    I installed a planting for a visual barrier in my largely wooded area.

    Pretty sparse the first season after planting small transplants that ranged in size from less than a foot to 3 1/2 feet.



    But it filled in quickly. Here it is during the growing season 4 years ater planting.



    Even in winter there are enough evergreens and twiggy plants to provide good privacy.



    Because I didn’t want to shade our solar panels, I aimed for a height limit of 15’ or a bit more, but you may want to add some thoughtfully placed taller plants to provide more privacy from second floor windows.

    Now after 10 years I can see that I need to do some additional pruning of overly enthusiastic plants and perhaps replacement of plants that haven’t grown well or are past their prime due to disease, but it has functioned well for me for a number of years with little input. I chose to repeat down the length of the bed 3 kinds of conifers and 2 kinds of rhodies, and then the rest is all deciduous.

  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    3 years ago

    NHBabs, that is FANTASTIC!!!

  • woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada
    3 years ago

    Somewhere up above, floralUK referred to my sideyards. Actually my backyard is similar in size to yours - a bit wider at 75', but we only have 8' between the house and property line and the depth to the back fence is similar to yours. Perhaps our garden might give you some ideas. The easiest thing to do is go tohere to see it. Keep in mind that we've been gardening here for about 20 years - but we started after doing a major renovation and addition to a 1960s-era house that destroyed what little garden that was here - although we did keep the existing couple of fairly mature trees.

    User thanked woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada
  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    woodyoak, that is an amazing tome. I've bookmarked it for future reading and inspiration. What an inspired project! Thank you for posting!

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    That looks wonderful NHBabs! I love all of the variety you have in your plantings.


  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Thank you so much for posting woodyoak! I've been looking at your site and LOVE everything that you have done. So much time, love, and attention had been put into your space. I think I would love to have paths like yours when my little ones are grown and done with the yard as a play area. And the plantings in the north alley scream to me. I love lilac and have been looking to see if there is a variety that will do well here in Virginia.

    I will be bookmarking your site for future reference.


  • woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada
    3 years ago

    I’m glad you enjoyed it :-). The backyard here actually works well as a play-space (for both dogs and kids. Both like to run the paths, place chase and hide-and seek...). The central lawn makes good space for activities that normally are done on grassy areas, while it also balances the planted areas and gives the garden a very distinctive look. So, don’t wait until the kids are grown.... My ‘reference landscape’ is my grandfather’s farm-going-back-to-bush where I grew up running around paths in the woods and playing in the fields. Have fun and don’t limit yourself to pre-conceived notions of what a kid-friendly play-space looks like :-).

    The north alley is one of our favorite spaces too. We think it turned out rather well :-)

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Woodyoak, I can see how children would love playing in your yard. My kids have always enjoyed running in the gardens at Mount Vernon and Williamsburg.


    I’m actually very fond of forrest schools and as a homeschooling family I’ve really tried to place a focus on the outdoors and nature. I really only thought of using the woods for this vs bringing the woods into the yard. I have logs, stumps, tree cookies, a rock, etc for the kids. I will need to think more creatively about how I can join the two spaces. On my other post I brought up the back fence section. I wonder how I could have that there and still join the two spaces.


    One other thing that may make this a challenge for me is that our HOA is really big on open green space. I just reread our alteration documents and we need to get approval for adding more than 1 tree a year.

  • mad_gallica (z5 Eastern NY)
    3 years ago

    My personal opinion on plantings things in the northeast, is that you can put literally anything anywhere so long as you don't care what happens to it and:

    1. it is very small, and
    2. you are dressed like a squirrel
  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Hello again! I'm back and need someone to help me with the size and shape of a patio for our yard and with the placement of my children's playset.


    We just finished construction on our porch and deck and not even a week later the HOA rolled through to do their yearly inspections. They cited us on bare spots in the lawn. I guess they don't look back to see the "history" of the HOA applications for each home before they do the inspections.

    Anyways, my plan to deal with this is to up the timeline on adding a patio to our yard. I don't want anything super big or that puts me out on display in the middle of my yard. Our goal for the patio area is to make a connection between the deck steps and the basement areaway. The actual patio space will be used for some of my toddler's toys, possibly the grill (it's currently on the deck), and for either a propane or wood fire pit with chairs around it, the fire pit will not be built in.

    The next area I need help with is the placement of my children's play equipment. Where it currently sits I will not be able to add landscape timbers and mulch without being in the HOA's common area. Do I just move the playset 2ft forward and place the back timber on the lot line? Or do I try and angle the playset and group everything into one corner of the yard?

    The patio design I came up with...


    The current playset location...

    A potential spot in the corner of the yard...

  • User
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Photos of the backyard and playsets are up at the beginning of the thread.


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