Ideas for Outdoor Privacy and Backyard Retreats

garden gate

Cathryn Gallacher / Getty Images

With a wall, shrubs or fence, you can add some much-needed privacy to your pool or spa area. Maybe you're seeking a private space for a backyard retreat or a patio, deck or balcony. An outdoor privacy screen gives you personal space away from the view of neighbors or passers-by. Check out this gallery of creative solutions to gain privacy in your backyard or outdoor living space. These photos are meant to suggest and inspire; obviously, you can't run out to your local big-box store and pick up a wall mural or bamboo forest.

  • 01 of 16

    Bamboo Fence

    Gravel Patio and Outdoor Furniture
    GCShutter / Getty Images

    The bamboo fence in this Seattle garden is made more intriguing with repurposed old wood-framed windows in one corner. A mix of plants, like arborvitae and feather grass, soften the garden, while a buddha statue, a fountain, and pottery give it a personal touch.

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  • 02 of 16

    Rough on the Outside

    weathered wood fence zen garden
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    You can achieve a weathered look to a fence by painting it white, then black, then sanding-down the black to pick up the high spots of the wood in white.

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  • 03 of 16

    Growing the Real Thing

    bamboo in yard
    Francois De Heel/Getty Images

    Taking the concept of a bamboo fence one step further, why not grow the real thing? Bamboo is a fast-growing grass and is available in clumping and running varieties—check with your nursery to make sure you select a plant that is right for the size of the space you want to screen.

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  • 04 of 16

    Living Privacy Fences: Shrubs, Trees, Vines and Other Plants

    fence with shrubs
    Stephen Shepherd/Getty Images

    Living screens—otherwise known as shrubs, trees, vines or other plants—have always been an excellent, natural way to gain privacy while forming barriers or walls. They can stand on their own, such as closely planted trees and shrubs, or be trained to climb and cover a plain or unsightly wall or fence. While traditional and always popular, formal rectilinear-clipped and trimmed hedges are not your only option. Think about planting rows of tall cactus or something else that grows tall and wide.

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  • 05 of 16

    Wall of Cactus

    This cacti proves to be a striking way to create some privacy in a naturalistic way.

    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Who says the plants you choose for a living fence or wall have to be a traditional boxwood or Indian Hawthorne? As demonstrated here, cactus works just as well, particularly in regions where it grows and for homes that have a ranch, Spanish or southwestern architectural style.

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  • 06 of 16

    Palms and Ferns

    palms and ferns outdoor screening
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Behind this assortment of palm trees and sword ferns is a floor-to-ceiling glass window that exposes an indoor dining room. The next-door neighbors could potentially see into the dining room if the dense planting of palms and ferns weren't there to screen the window. At the same time, the view from the dining table features these tropical plants. Bringing nature even closer to the dining room window, the residents enjoy the hummingbirds that make their nests in the palms each spring, which is a much more delightful sight than the chainlink fence and their neighbor's side yard.

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  • 07 of 16

    Metal Sculpture Fence

    metal sculpture fence

    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    This is definitely not your grandma's picket fence. Recycled metal scrap has been welded together to make this fascinating fence/wall at The Brewery lofts in an industrial section of downtown Los Angeles. While this was made by sculptors who are skilled welders, it serves as a reminder of what can be created with recycled materials.

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  • 08 of 16

    Taste of Tuscany

    living privacy fence
    Tall cypress trees evenly spaced give this garden a Mediterranean charm. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    There may be just a plain concrete block wall or wood fence standing between you and your neighbor, but the actual site does not have to be a sore one. Take a cue from this homeowner, who created a charming vignette with Mediterranean plants placed and pruned in the popular Tuscan style.

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  • 09 of 16

    It's Curtain Time

    Drapes like these would work well with a gazebo or other structure that might require some privacy.

    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    A homeowners' association isn't going to let this fly, but if you live in a home without an HOA, curtains might be a solution, within reason. Don't consider replacing your garage door with drapes, however lovely they may be. But for a backyard privacy screen, these colorful drapes would be great in a pool or spa area. These particular curtains cover the work/living/exhibit space of an artist in Los Angeles. A pull-down garage-style metal door is used at night and when the resident is away.

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  • 10 of 16

    Trash Container Hideaway

    trash container fence

    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    This simple wood-slat panel hides trash containers from the street view and makes an attractive backdrop for a jade plant and some potted plants. It could also be used to screen a patio or spa area. A project like this can be completed over a weekend.

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  • 11 of 16

    Sticks on Fire

    euphorbia sticks on fire
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    In regions where succulents will grow, try something like this colorful Euphorbia tirucalli "Sticks on Fire," which can reach heights of 6 feet and higher. This plant is a real traffic-stopper.

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  • 12 of 16

    Colorful Fence Makeover

    colorful fence
    Instead of hiding a fence, add a splash of vivid color. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    An existing wooden fence—once an eyesore—can get a new life with a colorful coat of paint and some tall and full plants.

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  • 13 of 16

    Mural de Flores Rojas

    photo of mexican wall mural
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Vibrant murals can be found on walls throughout Guadalajara, Mexico, and other regions of the world that use painted images as part of their rich landscape. Using these festive murals as inspiration, you could paint one on a wall in your backyard or private outdoor space. If your neighbor shares a view of the painted wall, make sure the scene is inoffensive and something they wouldn't mind looking at also.

    Many murals can be found among the buildings of downtown Guadalajara. The most well-known and breathtaking are those painted by artist José Clemente Orozco, who was a native of Jalisco, Mexico. Along with Diego Rivera and David A. Siqueiros, Orozco is considered to be one of Mexico's three most significant muralists. His works on the walls and ceilings of Palacio de Gobierno de Guadalajara (the Government Palace) are among his most monumental creations.

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  • 14 of 16

    Private Patio for Entertaining Artists

    urban loft patio
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    It's an instant private patio when various objects are pulled together to cover a flimsy mesh wall. At this artist's loft, we have hand-welded metal sculpture, agave, bamboo, yucca, and various other plants. Visually, the mesh fencing material is merely a backdrop, and the sculpture and plants have formed a much more lively and engaging division.

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  • 15 of 16

    Let's Get Lost

    bamboo privacy screen
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    A thin-caned species of this giant grass can grow so densely that you can hide in it, as this man demonstrates by placing his bicycle in the bamboo forest near the restaurant where he works. In a backyard, neighbors would have to use a chainsaw to cut through bamboo this thick just to sneak a peek.

    Just the sight of bamboo brings a feeling of peace and a sense of exotic lands. Dubbed the "friend of the people" by the Chinese and "gift of the gods" by Columbians, bamboo transforms a garden into a tropical getaway and makes an excellent privacy screen. Some culms shoot up to their full height (30 feet or more) in one growing season. Bamboo spreads two different ways: by running or clumping. As the name implies, running bamboo runs wild, while clumping is more likely to stay contained.

    Types of Bamboo

    Bamboo evokes a sense of peacefulness and of faraway, exotic lands. The plant is actually a giant grass with more than 2,400 species. Some species can grow 4 feet in one day, while the culms of other bamboos can shoot up to their mature height (30 feet or more) in one growing season. If you choose to grow bamboo in your outdoor space, pay attention to the type you're getting. Clumping bamboo tends to be more contained, while running bamboo can "run wild" and invade your and your neighbors' properties.

    Whether you elect to grow the vertical green canes or create a panel or fence with dried bamboo or reed, take a look at the endless possibilities to fashion your own bamboo paradise.

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  • 16 of 16

    Vines and Wall Pots

    mexican courtyard patio
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Here's a case of turning a small stucco courtyard wall into a living work of art. Clay and terracotta wall pots and vases adorn the wall, while a lush green vine bursts and spills over the top and down the wall. A small banana tree, pink geraniums, and potted palms provide more color and plantlife. This wall is in Ajijic, Mexico.