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Landscaping for Privacy – Book Review

by Rebecca Sweet

When meeting with new clients for the first time, the issue of privacy almost always tops their list of ‘must-haves’.  Whether gardening in sprawling estates or in tight residential quarters, gardeners everywhere crave a sense of tranquility, privacy and seclusion from their neighbors.

Which is why I was thrilled to receive a copy of Landscaping for Privacy, by Marty Wingate (145 pages, Timber Press, 2011,  List Price $19.95)

I can’t think of a single garden that I’ve designed where privacy hasn’t been an issue, including my own. As I read her book, I found myself not only agreeing with everything I read, but was inspired by the innovation from gardeners around the country – all in the name of creating their own private sanctuary.

Here’s a few of the chapters that I particularly enjoyed….


I love Marty’s descriptive and humorous style of writing.  Here’s what she says about Buffers:

Like a pillow under your head, a secluded spot under a shaded canopy on a hot day, and the three place settings at the Thanksgiving table between you and your annoying cousin, Buffers smooth the way, softening unpleasant conditions.  Buffers in the landscape can ease or dull the offensive characteristics of…life’s more unpleasant realities.”

In my own small garden I have a very old, very large Cecil Brunner climbing rose (above) that not only grows an additional 6-feet above the fenceline, but sprawls 15-feet on either side, providing year-round buffering from my neighbors.  Completely blocking a view of their roofline, as well as providing refuge for various birds that live in my garden, this rose is a crucial element in my garden.
The concept of buffering extends to both of my side fences, as well.  On one fence I have 2 different varieties of Jasmine planted side by side. The Pink Jasmine blooms first in early spring, followed by the Star Jasmine in early summer, giving me a solid 3 to 4 months of heavenly scents.  On another fence, I have a climbing ‘Sally Holmes’ rose which not only extends above the fence line to block out the neighboring roofline, but it provides me with the most beautiful bouquets throughout the summer.


In addition to creating a sense of privacy, Barriers are sometimes needed to keep people (and animals) out of the garden. As Marty says:

The world out there can be tough, and you need a little space to call your own–with no unwanted intrusions…cutting across your property and through your garden…but walling yourself in is not always the best way to keep the world out.”

The home pictured in this photo is on the corner of a very busy street.  The obvious solution would be to build a large fence or wall to maintain privacy.  Instead, they created a layered garden in this small space starting with a sheared Photinia hedge (high enough to keep people out, but low enough to still look inviting).  In front of the Photinia is a mix of  low-growing shrubs with three colorful Crepe Myrtle trees, providing year-round interest via flowers and fall foliage.  A lovely alternative to a common fence, don’t you think?And just because you have an older, traditional fence to keep people out, it doesn’t mean you can’t spruce it up a bit.

My client wasn’t able to replace their fence, but that didn’t stop us from adding a little color with these evergreen Dodonea shrubs underplanted with orange-flowering Crocosmia bulbs.And when your garden fence faces a public walkway, why not give them a peek of what’s inside?

It would’ve been easy for this client to install the fence and call it a day, but instead we created a garden in this small and narrow space for everyone to enjoy.


My favorite chapter of all talks about hiding eyesores (which happens to also be my favorite chapter in our book, Garden Up!)

It seems just about every garden has something in it that’s less than desirable.  Whether it’s an A/C unit, garbage can, your neighbor’s ugly antenna or looming roofline.

This book offers dozens of creative solutions for just about every eyesore imaginable.

In my own garden, we’ve built this narrow trellis and painted it black to screen and take the eyes off of a neighbor’s shed.  I have a climbing ‘Eden’ rose that I’m hoping will scramble across the top of it within a year or two.And on the other side of my garden we did the same thing, only this time we attached the trellis directly to the fence and espaliered an evergreen Pyracantha up one side of it.

I love how this gardener hid their unsightly garbage cans by creating this eye-popping red fence.

While the color may not work in everyone’s garden, it’s fabulous as a backdrop for these bold and structural agave.

I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I have.  And I’d love to hear about any screening ideas you’ve used in your own gardens!



Pam/Digging July 10, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Nice review, Rebecca. As always, I’m bowled over by the beauty of your garden. That sitting area with the Cecil Brunner rose is SO inviting.

Rebecca Sweet July 10, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Thanks Pam! I’m hoping one day you and I will both sit there with a glass of iced tea in our hands! :)

erin bailey July 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Hi Rebecca,

I moved to a brick cottage on a half acre lot in town on a busy street where the sidewalks connect just over the river a block away to the city bike/jog trail. I am enjoying seeing so many friends and neighbors go by, but I am determined to block the deer who run through the property daily. I’ve planned a thorny hedge 10 ft tall in the back, and tall arborvitae hedge on the side and in the middle garden. The question was, how to keep a friendly front garden yet also discourage the deer and provide some screening of the street. I opted for a 3 and 1/2 ft tall clipped berberis hedge-enclosed-garden in front of the tall arborvitae hedge, that is not very deep. The area just inside the hedge will contain shrubs and perennials that will be displayed above the hedge to the public and yet discourage the deer because they will not be able to see open ground close enough to risk leaping over the hedge in summer. In winter, the barbs of the berberis will keep the deer from eating the bottom of my arborvitae hedge, and there will be nothing green inside the berberis but boxwood–which they do not like to eat. Of course this has not yet been fully planted much less matured and tested, but it is the best I’ve come up with to block the deer and to minimize the shock of barriers and privacy in the center of a block of open lawns– this is the midwest and people do not seem to need the sense of enclosure that I love.

Rebecca Sweet July 10, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Hi Erin,

We have a ton of ravenous deer out here, too, and I’ve had a lot of success with Berberis planted as ‘warnings’ to them. I’ll plant Berberis and other plants that the deer hate (like Euphorbia, Lions Tail, and Lavender) as a ‘barrier’, and if clients want ‘tastier’ plants included in their design (like roses or oakleaf hydrangeas) I’ll plant them behind the barrier. The strategy here is to get the deer to think this is the world’s worst buffet and move along before exploring the garden any further! :) Best of luck with your design and anti-deer efforts!!!

Desert Dweller / David C. July 8, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Privacy…that last image of the red board fence and agaves is a stunning way to privacy. Nice contrast!

Rebecca Sweet July 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Why doesn’t it surprise me that you like this photo, David! ;) Glad you enjoyed it

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