Hiding from Your Neighbor: Adding a Living Fence

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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You get along great with your neighbors…or maybe not. Either way, it’s always nice to have some privacy when you want to grill out, have friends over or just hang out in your space.

Living in the country all of my life, I hadn’t realized that this could be an issue until a friend who lives in the city brought it up recently. Where she lives, the houses are very close together and she mentioned how sad it was that they never used their back yard simply because of no privacy.

Being the curious person that I am, I did some checking and was amazed at how many different ways there are to make your space well, your space. With a privacy fence, you can be as elaborate or as frugal as you like and you can customize the look to fit your existing décor.

There is an old saying that fences make good neighbors. I think this was originally meant for fencing in livestock but it applies here too. Before building any kind of fence or boundary, it would be wise to talk to your neighbors, especially if you are on good terms with them. You certainly don’t want them to think that they have offended you in any way.

It just may turn out that they have been wishing for a bit more privacy too. In this case, you could agree on what type of structure to build and they could also use it on their side for hanging potted plants or other decorative pieces. It could be that they may even offer to split the cost of material or offer labor to help construct it. Wouldn’t that be nice!

Probably the most popular privacy borders are living ones. Various shrubs and plants make great borders because they still let you feel that you are a part of nature. Spirea, forsythia, holly and lilacs are good choices because they grow close together and tall enough to be effective.

Boxwood plants are also excellent choices since they can be sculpted into fanciful shapes and mazes. Many other varieties of evergreens are ideal for building a privacy wall as well, just be sure that you choose ones with dense, dark green foliage that only grow to a moderate height. Burning bushes are coming into their own for this purpose because of their bright, showy foliage in the fall.

Living fences surround your space with nature, however the drawback is that they still need to be trimmed and maintained. There is a compromise though. If you want the best of both worlds, you can choose plants like bamboo. They can easily be potted and placed where you need them. As a matter of fact, they should be potted since they are invasive and will take over your yard if they are not contained.

My personal favorites when it comes to living fences are the ornamental grasses. There are so many varieties to choose from that you can get the height you want as well as the aesthetic affect you want. The really nice thing about these grasses is that maintenance is limited to once a year when you cut back the dead foliage to allow for new.

Living fences are only one solution to adding privacy to your space. There are many other creative choices out there, but you have to first decide on how much privacy you want. Do you want to be completely closed off in your own world or would you rather add just enough barrier so you have your privacy without completely closing off your neighbor?


The absolute in privacy fences is a stone wall.  A more natural looking one can be constructed with field stone or a more traditional one can be built with landscaping bricks. These take a little forethought though, as they are definitely permanent and more costly. Be sure you know what you want because it’s not easy to change up the look with these. What you got, you got for many years down the road.

A stone wall borders on the extreme. For many of us, the challenge is to create a sense of privacy without being blatantly obvious. Trellises or arbors are inexpensive ways to achieve this goal. They are basically free standing and can be changed up from year to year. Countless different vines can intertwine them, adding color and fragrance to your backyard.

Taking this idea one step further, lattice panels and re-purposed wood pallets can add charm and provide privacy at the same time. Vines can also grow on these and, at the same time, you can add planters, lights and other decorative objects. You can also arrange these items as close as you want or distance them to let as much or as little sunlight in to suit your needs.

Speaking of planters, why not make your privacy fence double as your garden? Various planters can be filled with strawberry plants, herbs, lettuce and other edibles. Vertical gardens are gaining popularity as it frees up space in a regular garden or gives you a chance at gardening if you have no horizontal space for it.

Don’t forget about fences, especially split-rail fences which have a charm all their own. Usually not very high, they can provide a partial border around your space or they can be constructed in front of a living fence to add a little something extra. Not only can chimes, planters and other items be hung on these, solar lights wound around them add extra charm for enjoying your space at night.

Think outside the box and check out garage sale finds. Old shutters and doors make charming fences. Hinged together, painted to your liking and placed strategically gives you privacy where you want it.

Without creating a fence, you can actually build a privacy space within your backyard. Cedar panels can be erected on three or four sides away from your home, leaving large open spaces which can be filled in with potted plants. Along the panels, construct shelves for plants or set up a BarBQ area along one side, complete with grill or smoker, utensil, outdoor bar and entertainment area. For extra seating, benches can be placed by the panels or can be built into them.

A friend took this idea one step further and used an abandoned round metal corncrib to create her own space. She put seating and a firepit inside and hung decorative pieces and shades where needed on the outside. You can be extreme as you want, I even saw a fence made of cactus… uhh, not sure I would want to send that message!

Whether you want some privacy on your high-rise balcony, in a small city backyard or want to create a living space from the rest of your spacious yard, privacy fences have become a lot more creative than in the past.

With spring approaching, our attention turns to projects. Maybe this year is the time for a privacy fence to be added to that list with the thought of hiding your neighbor, at least partially. Sometimes this just may make better neighbors all the way around.  

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