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  • Introduction

    One of the biggest complaints with gardens is that they are overlooked. You're wanting to sit out in your own oasis and relax when you look up to see windows everywhere with people going about their daily business. Sometimes catching a glance of you as you're reading your copy of 'Hello'. You feel intruded. However, there are some really clever ways to add privacy to a garden rather than build up a massive Donald Trump style wall around your perimeter.

    This small west facing garden in Bolton, Greater Manchester, had frustrated its owner due to its lack of privacy and clay soil. She had tried her best but ended up with a bit of a tangle of odd shapes, dying plants and patchy borders. She called Lee Burkhil the Garden Ninja in to help sort it out and add some privacy to a very overlooked garden.

    After a detailed consultation, it was clear that the owner wanted a neat and tidy garden that also gave privacy to the terrace. She wanted to get into gardening but had failed so many times with buying plants to watch them die she had given up. The coffin-shaped lawn was depressing. The plants looked like they were growing to try and escape the garden rather than take up home in it. Then there were the low fences, windows and viewpoints from every which way with prying eyes. No wonder she called me in!

    Before the transformation
    After the transformation using standard trees for privacy and a soft pink planting palette

    Privacy in a garden

    Privacy is essential in any residential garden, but achieving it can be difficult. I’ve written extensively about my designs to increase privacy in the garden. Whilst it would be lovely to move your house to an open field, the practicalities often mean you have to work with rather than against neighbours. It’s about achieving the ‘feeling’ of privacy rather than the ‘absolute’ privacy of 8ft high walls.

    Trying to increase privacy in the garden by building up walls or fences can:

    • Annoy neighbours causing disputes
    • Block out light
    • Become an eyesore in their own right
    • Turn you into a horticultural Donald Trump

    A better method is to use planting and structures to block or restrict certain viewpoints. It’s about breaking the line of sight rather than blocking it out completely. In this garden we have used standard trees, suited to the soil type and slight shade to help diffuse the views from neighbouring gardens. They also give a real structure to the small space drawing your eyes inwards rather than outwards over the low fences. The key to great overlooked back garden design is subtlety, blurring boundaries and viewpoints.

    Sketch of an overlooked back garden
    See in this sketch how the standard trees are surrounding the circular lawn to draw your eye inwards?
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    Overlooked Back Garden Solution

    Privacy garden design
    Overlooked back garden plan design

    The first thing was to ensure that the garden felt much more private and nested. By using standards around a circular lawn I created the feeling of being enclosed but not boxed in. It helped to break up the views from neighbouring properties and add a feeling of relaxation to the terrace garden.

    The garden was west facing and had heavy clay soil, which had proved a nightmare for the client. By using plants that will thrive in nutrient-rich and wet clay soil I build up a plant portfolio to help fill the borders with clean green plants like Alchemilla mollis, Astrantia and Astilbes. Photina standards, Skimmia and Weigela bushes brought evergreen structure to the garden and order.

    Overlooked back garden design
    Mood boards will help you condense your ideas

    The circular lawn and pathway gave it a real design style drawing your focus in and making the borders feel really deep and exciting. It forces you to walk around the perimeter which allows you to get up close to the planting. It also means in the wet winter months the client can keep her feet mud free whilst accessing the shed where she can store her tools.

    A collection of soft shade loving plants to fill this awkward flower bed

    The client was really impressed with this garden. I managed to keep the light levels high, given its west-facing and already has enough shadows cast throughout the day. By using careful planting and proportions I gave the feeling of intimacy without walls and heavy structures.

    Privacy without blocking out light
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    Tips for Increasing Privacy in an Overlooked Garden

    As we have discussed walls and higher fence panels are not the solution when it comes to privacy in a back garden. Those neighbourly second-floor windows will still be peering down on you. Instead, why not try the following design ideas?

    Break the view of neighbouring windows

    By using specimen trees or broken views you can help give the feeling of privacy without having to turn your garden into a prison. See the example below of how pleached trees can be used to help screen off a view and add some privacy.

    A ine of pleached trees
    See how the pleached trees provide more screening thats soft on the eye?

    Use specimen trees to break your view

    Carefully planting standard shaped specimen trees can also be a great way to provide a feeling of privacy without too much effort. It’s also a much more sympathetic way to get on with your neighbours. By creating a rich planting palette you can also help distract visitors to the garden from the neighbouring views.

    Three trees lined up in a garden
    See bow the windows in the distance are now partially obscured?

    Use a focal point to distract your view

    Focal points can be a brilliant way of distracting your eye away from awkward views. In some garden configurations, you’re not able to create complete privacy. However, a focal point such as a statue or specimen tree to draw your eye towards it can be just as effective.

    A modern garden with seating area and raised beds
    See how the Gravel garden and white raised beds to distract from the neighbouring views in the distance? These focal points draw you to parts of the garden away from the views.

    Gazebos, Screens & pergolas for Privacy

    Gazebos and pergolas can offer even the smallest garden with increased privacy. The great thing about them is that they don’t cast too much shade in the garden but do give the owner much needed privacy from prying eyes. In the garden design below I used a pergola in the most overlooked area to offer some retreat from any neighbours.

    One of my more recent overlooked back garden design solutions.

    Designing a garden with privacy in mind requires consideration to make sure that you achieve the privacy required but also don’t offend your neighbours! Given that more and more new build houses are overlooked it is becoming a common problem for most gardeners. Hopefully, with the design example and tips, I’ve shown you how you can achieve privacy in harmony with neighbouring gardens!

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    If you have an overlooked garden why not Tweet, Facebook or Instagram me with your pictures? I may be able to help. You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs.

    Happy Gardening!

    Gallery Click on a thumbnail to view full size

    Plants used for "Overlooked Back Garden Design Guide"

    Plant list for the Overlooked Back Garden Makeover
    • Alchemilla mollis
    • Aster divaricatus (Carpet of white daisy flowers in drifts)
    • Astrantia major 'Roma'
    • Astrantia major 'Roma'
    • Carex morrowii 'Ice Dancer'
    • Dicentra formosa 'King of Hearts' (Shady damp lover with grey green foliage)
    • Geranium sanguineum 'Pink Pouffe'
    • Helleborus x hybridus 'White Spotted'
    • Liriope muscari 'Monroe White'
    • Skimmia japonica (Year round evergreen shrub)
    • Weigela florida 'Variegata' (Beautiful shrub with trumpet pink flowers)

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