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BACK YARDS : Consider Level of Privacy Before Building a Barricade

July 24, 1993|From Associated Press

There's nothing like a back-yard landscape to get away from it all. If your retreat is overrun with noise, neighbors or not-so-nice views, you can shelter it with a privacy screen or just some simple planning.

A short segment of fence, or three or four shoulder-to-shoulder shrubs may be ample. A single well-placed evergreen can work wonders. You can sometimes angle your deck or gazebo so that it sits just out of sight. This way, you don't imprison your yard, you simply shield it. And you still get to share the beauty of your landscape with street-side strollers.

Garden, Deck & Landscape Planner magazine notes that before you build a barricade, you must decide where you need privacy, what visual intrusions you need to block and what attractive views you want to highlight. Sketch a plan on paper, charting where privacy would be welcome and circling the eyesores you wish to conceal. You may also need some view-blockers in front of exposed windows.

If a neighbor's garage or shed is irksome, you could plant a large screen on your side of the property line, or more subtly, place a small ornamental tree or a trellis closer to your house so that it interrupts the line of vision.

Noise is part of living in a neighborhood, but if the whizzing wheels drown out the sound of birds, you may want to deflect some of it.

Embankments and berms are options, but a fence or shrub line will be less difficult to create. Windbreaks not only stop the wind, they also muffle the sound that the wind carries. A tight evergreen or deciduous hedge will provide noise protection as far downwind as about 20 times its height. If space is limited, use fences or column-shape shrubs as buffers. You will need less noise protection upwind.

Once you've determined where to attack the privacy invaders and the noise, you must decide whether to have a fence or a shrub do the work. Or, consider a combination, since fences and shrubs often work best as a team.

Fences provide privacy the instant you nail the boards in place, and they can offer great architectural interest. You can select from ready-made panels or design your own, such as basket weave, picket, rounded, split rail, louver, lattice, chain link, solid or a creation all your own.

Following are some pointers.

* Solid fencing yields the most privacy, but it also cuts off light and breezes. It can be intimidating in a small space. Some landscapers compromise by building a fence with a solid bottom and an open top.

* Open fencing, such as lattice or widely spaced verticals, let sun and wind through, yet still partially break views. These fences offer a softer transition from garden to street. A split-rail fence offers a touch of privacy and still provides a wide-open view.

* Don't make the fence too tall. A six-foot fence is usually sufficient since it is just above eye level for most people. If you want privacy around an area where you will be sitting, a three- or four-foot fence is probably ample.

Consider what the fence looks like from the other side. Neighbors may not appreciate a vast, blank wall, and you may not like such a wall along your sidewalk, either. Make sure your fencing style matches your house.

Plantings don't provide the instant privacy of a fence, but if you don't mind waiting for them to grow, plants often cost less to install and provide a beautiful changing palette. Most shrubs should be planted two to four feet apart; they will soon thicken into a hedge.

A bonus with deciduous shrubs is that many provide blasts of color and fragrance.

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