Help w/ Backyard Privacy

gb1200July 8, 2012

Hey all, my wife and I have a small but cute 1920's California bungalow. It's a great starter home for us but unfortunately our backyard is small and there is a large apartment complex behind us (that takes up the majority of the land 3/4 vs our 1/4 I would say). The backyard is mostly covered by a wooden deck and in one corner we have a nice gazebo. The fence in the picture was added by the previous owners. The distance from the fence to our house is 12' and about 7' from the end of the roof. While I wish we had a bigger backyard and a house behind us rather than an apartment (nothing we can do about that), at the very least we'd like to do a better job in creating privacy in our space.

I'm looking for a couple suggestions on what type of plants/trees/vines would work and the best way to plant them?

For vines can I add some poles that run up like 20 feet with wire across?

For tree's, what types can grow in planters (or do I remove one or two planks from my deck and plant them in the ground) that can create a large enough privacy screen while still giving us space to walk around in our backyard without making it feel even smaller.


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That's pretty tight space you're up against.

Would you consider getting a retractable awning for privacy? Having it extend out from the roof 7' would allow for complete privacy but alas it may feel like a cave being closed off from the top and at least 2 sides. If you went that route though, you could put fun lighting and outdoor furniture to liven it up. I'd add at least a few planters in the area to bring life to the area.

It would be nice if the apartment side planted tree and took up their space instead of yours. Instead of vines, I think I would choose a very skinny tree that grows in your area and keep the branches trimmed back to allow sunlight in.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 8:21PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I could easily see Queen palms , which are dirt cheap yet attractive, planted in containers or in the ground ( with a few deck boards removed )

Other narrow tall options are bamboo ( mexican weeping bamboo or black bamboo could be quite nice looking ) or possibly the fast growing Rhamnus alaternus or the slower growing Podocarpus if the area sees a fair amount of shade.
A So. Cal favorite that screams sense of place is giant bird of paradise.

If you use containers, you can set up a very nice looking repetitive pattern that can lend a sense of contemporary design.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 10:04PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Your small pictures give a general idea of the problem, but not a clear enough picture to inspire solutions. The shadows obscure a lot and we have no view of your house.

The fence adds a lot of privacy and appears to be solid. Adding vines or trees may create more problems than they solve. If you've just moved in, you may become accustomed to the view and perhaps find that no one is really able to see much of your yard. Complete privacy is rare in urban settings.

Your property has what is known as an "incurable defect" -- the apartment complex behind you. I would concentrate on making the interior and front as perfect as you can with the idea of trading up to a better location in a few years.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 10:15PM
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Thanks for the replies. I'm posting a birds eye view that gives you an idea of how our backyard looks as well as my neighbors. You can also see how our rear awning takes up additional space compared to our next door neighbor.

I mostly agree w/ @catkim's comments and this really didn't come to our attention until our next door neighbor trimmed the branches of their tree that was coming onto our property (the branch was hitting our garage, otherwise we would have let it keep growing).

Maybe you guys are right - accept the amount of privacy the current fence gives us and focus on jazzing it up w/ some nice plants, furniture etc... It's a 2br/1bath and since we are going to start a family soon we will be trading up sooner or later. Of the various higher priced projects on our list (bathroom addition, some remodeling etc...) landscape design is one of the cheaper projects we are considering to make our time here nice and comfortable.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 11:51AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I am not clear yet on whether anyone can actually see into your back yard from that apartment. If so, you can look at those sightlines specifically and imagine what would have to be done to block them with a minimum of disruption - and disruption can include the debris a tree would put onto the deck. But that's not unmanageable.

What is clear from that overhead photo is that you have a relatively huge front yard with some good shade. Unless that's a busy street, or maybe even if it is, there might be much to be said for creating a private space there - it looks to be unused at present, unless you play a lot of soccer. Starting with hedging or fencing to create a sense of enclosure, you could create an absolute sanctuary out front.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 4:16PM
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