Garden Design

For Privacy: Fence or Hedge?

Robert Frost concluded his poem Mending Wall with the line, “Good fences make good neighbors”. Whether you decide to install a fence or hedge or a combination, your back yard will take on an entirely different feeling when enclosed by garden walls. In addition to the privacy and security that will be achieved, garden walls provide the perfect backdrop for planted borders and the beginning of a backyard paradise.

As with any design of a significant landscape element, you will want to sketch your ideas on paper using your property survey as a base plan. A scale of one inch equals ten feet provides for a large and accurate plan to detail your ideas.

Conduct a site analysis to determine the effect of the sun, wind, topography and the sights and sounds that might influence the design.

List your goals, priorities and budget considerations to help guide your mission. Is this a do-it-yourself project or will you hire a contractor to implement your design?

Check the neighborhood covenants as well as the local zoning regulations that will have to be met to obtain the permit to build a fence. Fence height is typically limited to six feet in the back or less in the front yard if it is of solid construction and located along the property line. Semi-transparent fences such as a lattice design may be allowed a greater height and will also provide for additional light, air circulation and views to the outside. Plants typically do not have to meet the height restrictions imposed on fences and screens.

A fence offers a sense of security and instant privacy, and if combined with plants that achieve significant height over time, the combination affords even greater privacy in the long run. Look to the architecture and style of your home for design ideas.

Fence materials are not limited to wood though chain link can give a feeling of imprisonment instead of protection. Wood is still the most popular choice of the fence materials offered with a tremendous selection of wood types and dimensions available for custom designs. One-sided fence styles can pose a problem when deciding whether you or your neighbor will get the face side. Solid stains help preserve wood as well as providing a pleasing aesthetic in the urban environment where a finished look is desirable.

A fence offers instant gratification, but the cost may be prohibitive. The lower maintenance and longevity of a fence, though, may rule out a planting of a single specimen hedge that could take years to achieve the desired height. Single specimen hedges can also prove to be a nightmare if one or several plants die or a disease wipes out an entire species. A combination of fencing and a mixed border of plants that provide year round interest may prove to be your best choice.

Plants for Hedges

Camellia japonica – an outstanding medium-tall evergreen with winter blooms.

Cryptomeria japonica – known for its good shape and density, an alternative to the Leyland cypress.

Ilex crenata ‘Steeds’ – an upright form of Japanese holly.

Illicium parviflorum – wonderful in all conditions and tolerant of shade.

Juniperus virginiana – this native juniper can produce a hedgerow effect.

Magnolia ‘Little Gem’– six months of continual bloom and an excellent plant for clipped hedge.

Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at

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