By HGTV STAR, Carson Arthur

When I think about getting back to my roots, I envision having to build an urban/suburban escape room to wall me off from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, having a private moment in our own backyards is getting harder and harder these days, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. With larger homes on smaller lots and developers trying to maximize building space, having neighbours visually sharing your backyard is becoming an accepted way of life.

    So how do we change this? How do we take back our privacy and create a home oasis? First, let’s discuss what isn’t working. Fences down the property line and trees in the back corners just aren’t going to cut it any more. Most of the fence laws in Canada are already twenty years old and haven’t kept up with today’s builders. The maximum height for many provinces and municipalities is 2.13 metres — and that includes the lattice on top. Instead, here are a few of my favourites ways to get a little privacy in the backyard.

    1. Build closer to the home! – If you are adding a new deck or patio, stay tight to the house. Use you home to add some privacy on one side and they consider extending the roofline out over the patio. The further away from the house you are, the less privacy you are going to have.

    2. Stay Low! When in doubt, try to get as close to the ground as possible for your useable space. Make the most of the privacy fence (if you have one), and add some decorative details to it so that it becomes part of the space. I like cedar shingles or even panels of decorative lattice inset into the fence.

    3. Add Small Trees instead of big ones! Small trees are great for creating privacy because you can plant them closer to where you actually need it. Think about trees that stay in the 15-20’ range. You can plant these closer to the deck and really take advantage of all the privacy, without fearing that the tree will dominate your space. I love using Serviceberry and Redbuds.

    4. Add a Trellis, Arbor or Pergola. Traditionally, these structures were a way to hold plants, but today’s versions are definitely bigger and more permanent. My favourite trellis or arbors will include 6x6 posts and decorative braces across the top. Plant a pair of complementary vines on this and you’ll have a stunning privacy panel.      

    For even more privacy, try combining the vertical panel with a pergola. By adding hanging baskets or even lattice walls, you can effectively create privacy exactly where you need it. One small tip; use a wood that is pre-stained, like MicroPro’s Sienna lumber. MPS comes in a rich brown that weathers very well, so I don’t have to climb the ladder every spring to re-stain!

    5.  Use objects as hanging art pieces. Recently I built a frame on a deck to hold an old painted door. We hung the door on its side and got instant privacy! Now the door has become a conversation piece. You can also try this with an old fence panel. As long as the eye has something to focus on, you won’t notice the neighbours around you!

    6. Umbrellas aren’t just for shade anymore! By adding a pair of bright umbrellas to the corners of your patio and tilting them on a slight angle, you can effectively frame your space and at the same time, hide those neighbouring second-story windows. Try adding a chair and a coffee table under the umbrella and you’ve created a perfect spot to sit and escape!

    The key to creating privacy is to really understand exactly where you need it. Sit in your patio furniture and look around, and try to visualize what your guests are experiencing. Remember, if you can see your neighbours, then they can see you! No one wants to feel like they are on display. Make the most of your own backyard this summer by trying a few of my privacy solutions!