5 Things People With Secluded Backyards Always Have — How Many of These Privacy Tricks do you Have?

If you're looking to bring a touch of privacy to your backyard, any of these 5 additions might just do the trick

A backyard with fencing and strategically planted trees and shrubs
(Image credit: Doublespace Photography. Design: Reign Architects Inc)

Privacy is a forgotten element of landscape design that should be prioritized. It helps create a feeling of seclusion and intimacy in your backyard, which in turn fosters the feeling of relaxation. What's more, a private backyard can help boost your home's value, so it's an element worth investing in.

So how do you create that feeling of privacy when faced with a blank space? We've spoken to our favorite landscape designers to find out their tricks and hacks that they always rely on to help bring that secluded, calming experience to your backyard every time you step foot outside.

1. Stylish shade structures

A pergola attached to the side of a house

(Image credit: Jack Lovel. Design: Ben Callery Architects)

There are many types of shade structures out there that can bring shade, offering respite from the sun's rays in the warmer months, while providing that feeling of privacy.

Wooden pergolas with slide-on fabric offer a more permanent structure that can zone an outdoor living space, while trellises create a fence-like structure upon which plants and vines can grow and climb. Umbrellas are great if you have a smaller space, adding a touch of whimsy with the opportunity for fun pattern and color, while cool cabanas bring that boho feel.

'Backyard umbrellas and outdoor shelters give privacy while helping define a special destination,' says Kat Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC and The Cultivation by Kat. 'They can help define a style or set a mood. For example, adding white billowy curtains can make a space feel more boho while simple, clean lines can bring a more modern structure.'

2. Privacy screens

Small back yard with wooden fences for privacy

(Image credit: Richardson & Associates Landscape Architecture)

Privacy screens have taken off in recent years as a backyard landscaping trend that can be easily emulated in your backyard. The problem with relying on plants is that come the winter months, as the trees and shrubs shed their leaves, you're left with the bare bark of the plant.

Privacy screens offer total seclusion all year round. For city dwellers, or those with slithers of balconies or small backyards, a screen is the most efficient way to carve out a secluded corner, and it can help block out unsightly views or elements.

There is also an aesthetic element to privacy screens and more and more designers are working these pieces into their landscape projects. 'Depending on the design, a screen can also be used as a lattice to grow ornamental vines on,' says Kat. 'They provide a beautiful backdrop for ornamental plantings helping them to pop.' 

Isabelle Brooks, studio director at Baird Architects also recommends incorporating plants into the privacy screen design. ‘Employ landscape screens and plant material of varying heights to create outdoor rooms and secret gardens,’ she says.

3. Try clever fencing

A backyard fence with plants

(Image credit: Doublespace Photography. Design: Reign Architects)

'Particularly in suburban areas, having a fenced-in backyard adds enormous value to your property,' says Kat. 'This is both on the monetary value and desirability in the case of selling your property, and the practicality of it while living there. They also provide a safe place for pets and kids to play, as well as privacy,' says Kat.

A privacy fence might not feel like the most exciting landscaping solution for your privacy problems, but simple design tweaks can make them all the more interesting.

A simple lick of bold paint in a dark black can give your fence a modern look, or a trellis fence top can be added to the top of your existing fence for a decorative addition - especially coming into their own when coupled with a honeysuckle vine or jasmine.

In this example by Reign design, the combination of fencing and plants makes a tranquil garden. 'A key component in our intent to establish a tranquil garden lies in both the fence design and curated selection and placement of trees, shrubs, and vegetation,' explains Jacob JeBailey of Reign Architects.

'Instinctively, we wanted to celebrate the unique aspects of nature’s bountifulness in an art gallery-like format. As such, the fence was designed as a tall monolithic form with vertical ship-lap cedar boards to establish a continuous backdrop that would clearly distinguish the variety of shapes and colors exhibited in leaf foliage and seasonal floral blooms.'

4. Tactically placed shrubs and plants

A backyard with tactically placed shrubs and plants

(Image credit: Ty Cole/OTTO (interiors: 2Michaels Design; architecture: Matthew Baird Architects; landscaping: RKLA Studio))

Use greenery and the best trees for privacy to create an intimate outdoor zone. Bamboo is a fast-growing and dense plant that clumps together to create a natural green screen. You might also want to consider evergreen plants so as to ensure year-round coverage. Arborvitae offers year-round privacy and is easy to maintain, while boxwood or holly is a great hedge plant. Vines work well on trellises - consider a standard grape magnolia and train them to clamber up a trellis.

‘For lower shrubs, I like sometimes like a mix so that it looks more unexpected and organic— Ilex glabra, clethra, and bayberry are some of my favorite natives,  with a looser and more relaxed overall feel,’ says Julie Farris, landscape designer of XS Space.

Make sure you're tactical with your plant placement. ‘Perhaps the most common error when planting for privacy is impatience. Generally, the need for privacy is immediate and this leads to over planting - or actually in overspending,’ says Don Eaton, founder and CEO of Bower and Branch. ‘We get contacted and hear a sense of urgency and immediacy.  We work to encourage our customers to choose larger sizes to overcome rather than overplanting where and when it isn’t necessary.'

5. Ornamental grasses

A backyard with ornamental grasses

(Image credit: Ty Cole/OTTO (interiors: 2Michaels Design; architecture: Matthew Baird Architects; landscaping: RKLA Studio))

Ornamental grasses are an easy way to bring a softness and natural feel to your backyard, adding movement and lush texture. They can grow to great heights, making them an ideal addition to spaces that need a little privacy, and they are relatively easy to look after, requiring little-to-no maintenance. But which are the best ornamental grasses for privacy?

Calamagrotis x acutiflora is more commonly known as ‘Karl Foerster’, and is a bushy ornamental grass plant that can grow up to six feet tall, with a feathery look and topped with seed heads. Miscanthas is another warm season clumping glass that can reach around seven feet with fluffy seed heads that culminate to create a visually blurring effect.

3 additions for a totally private backyard

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.