Private backyard

Although many are unconcerned about privacy in their backyards, I consider it the best room of the house and want it to be just as private as the rest of my house.

Ready for a day of Zombie Croquet at the Mystery Hole

Due to the City of Portland’s belief that squeezing many more of us in is smart growth, buildings are going up all over. It’s the up part that most concerns me. A new building has gone up nearby with four third-story apartments that look into my previously private mini-resort.

Faced with the primal choice of fight or flight, I’ve decided to stay. There’s no fighting the in-filling now, so I’ve tackled the view. Screening of the eight new windows is accomplished in several ways: physical barriers, training existing plantings, enhancing vegetation, and new plantings.

Physical barrier: louvers

Louvers completely screen an area while allowing the wind to blow through, avoiding bothersome reconstruction after windstorms.

Training existing vegetation

A pole with a hook brings branches within reach or places ropes where they need to be.
Multiple ropes provide a safety net, if you’re lucky.

Some branches connect to other branches, limbs, or trunks. Some are pulled into position with a rope anchored to a stake in the ground. In time, the cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus will learn to like their imposed positions.

An apple tree (trunk in center) had to come out of the corner to let sun shine on the laurel during prime growth times. Fruit or privacy? I can buy fruit.

Enhanced vegetation

Existing bamboo is sparse where it counts, so a six-foot by six-foot section of reed fencing enhances its screening qualities. Reed fencing is not adequate for privacy between yards, but at 75 feet from the viewer, it performs well.

It’s important that added screening blend in for the sake of my northern adjacent neighbors, whose view above the fence between us is the bamboo and reeds.

New bamboo shoots emerge in late May and with luck they’ll hide the reeds even more. After transplanting, timber bamboo sends up smaller shoots for a couple of years. This will suit our needs well because they leaf out at a lower height when they’re smaller.

New plantings

Two new laurels, losing leaves due to transplant shock, are staked and roped to avoid root movement.

One year later: transplant on left died and the other was moved closer to the fence. Placing the laurel at the edge of the lawn was not ideal: it eliminated the last little bit of winter sun, and they were constantly in the way.

curtain up
An Italian prune tree doesn’t get leaves early enough, so a curtain fills in when needed for a month.

curain down
Surviving laurel transplant will gradually replace prune tree over a few years. Pull-cord brings curtain in position when needed. It’s usually in the position shown above so sunlight reaches plants.

Fence in background was a four-foot chainlink which a previous owner allowed me to attach a cedar board fence to on their side. Bamboo battens are placed at an esthetically odd elevation due to height of chainlink fence. Battens must screw into a sturdy board behind the reeds, which clamps the reeds in place. Slats hide gaps between boards. Skirting is made from one-foot sections of an old cedar fence.

Rear window views

Louvers, shown under construction, cover a small but significant hole in the privacy shield.

Laurel trained to minimize gaps, and allowed to grow to fill them.
Italian prune helps while it has leaves.

Existing vegetation

An English/Cherry laurel hedge 18 feet high and 60 feet long takes care of all but 15 feet of the west side. It’s a double hedge with an interior passageway length-wise, eight to 10 feet wide at the base.

More information about laurel and more

South side fence

Seven-foot high fence with good side to neighbors, so it can’t be easily climbed and is less likely to be complained about.

Cap is two 1x6 fence boards screwed together at 90 degrees. This increases height and protects top of reeds from rain, falling branches, ‘possum, and ‘coons. Skirting is one foot high, made of salvaged 3/4 inch plywood covered with black roll roofing cut into three long strips.

Six feet is the maximum height without engineering and a variance here, but if no one complains, the city rarely bothers with enforcement. Reed fencing with split bamboo battens covers the inside posts and stringers. I prefer this look to a solid board fence. Lath secured along one edge (hidden behind reeds) covers gaps between fence boards as they dry and separate.

East side of backyard is the house itself, which is difficult to see through.


I’m glad we don’t have the restrictions on privacy enhancements that so many Pennsylvania townships have: fences must be set back five feet from the property line. Here they go right on the line and don’t waste space. Five-foot set backs are the rule for buildings, but not fences.

There’s a height restriction on front yard fences: three and a half feet. They want to preserve the open feeling of neighborhoods. That may be the same subjective justification in Pennsylvania. Again, unless someone complains, it’s okay—very important to stay on good terms with all the neighbors.

I’m interested in reading and seeing how others have achieved privacy, so please send me your url, or photos, or descriptions. If you don’t mind that I include them here, please let me know, otherwise I won’t.

I wish you well in your own efforts to expand your personal living space into the out of doors.

That’s all for now.
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