It’s often said that your garden is your private sanctuary. In a perfect world,
that’s certainly true. But the harsh realities of urban living—like nosy neighbors, unwanted wildlife, or the glare of city street lights are
much more likely to present obstacles when achieving that perfection. And you’re not alone in this dilemma: In the United States alone, more than thirty-five
million single-family houses sit on small city lots with neighbors on all
sides, and little separation among them.
Endless intrusions can challenge a serene outdoor environment. Perhaps yours has
to do with the sound of nearby street traffic, a neighbor’s barking dog, or an unsightly vista of an unkempt lawn. And the unpleasantness
could be as simple as the view of your own recycling bin from your dining room
All of these situations are equally annoying in the scheme of garden harmony,
acknowledges Seattle, Washington-based garden writer, broadcaster, and speaker
Marty Wingate. “But they're each unique problems and one solution won't cover the lot,” she says. Wingate explains that the number one question she receives from
readers, listeners, and audiences at her talks is how to protect gardens from
various stressors. “Everyone yearns for private outdoor spaces and effective screening, so I decided
to gather enough really good design examples to show people that once the
problem is identified, there are many innovative ways of solving it that don’t necessarily involve erecting a fence . . . or using the dreaded bamboo hedge
as a barrier.”
Wingate tackles the issues of urban homeownership with great creativity in her
book, Landscaping for Privacy: Innovative Ways to Turn Your Outdoor Space into a
Peaceful Retreat. The guide provides hundreds of beautiful photographs of real gardens, large and
small, that use both plants and hardscape to diminish noise, block eyesores,
keep human and wildlife intruders away, and ultimately, create your ideal
The author notes that although she loves the formality of English Laurel and Yew
hedges as garden backdrops, the requirements of constant watering and frequent
clipping make these choices impractical for many homeowners. “Whenever you consider one of these solutions, think about two things: scale
(these plants ultimately want to be thirty feet tall) and the amount of
maintenance you are committing to,” says Wingate. “There are many more informal, yet equally effective plant combinations that will
do the trick, as well as traditional hedges.”
The garden expert also cautions that certain problems simply cannot be “fixed” completely with a barrier, such as traffic noise. “It’s just not possible to plant a hedgerow to completely eliminate the sound—unless you have thirty feet of depth to work with,” she says. “But there are things that can be done to mask it, including the sound of water,
which will soften the effects of the nuisance by creating a psychological
barrier.” Wingate sites an example of a tiny Northwest garden that sits only yards from
the rumble of the interstate highway. “Walking into this garden is a wonderful surprise because its focal point is a
large contemporary box that functions as a fountain and recycles powerfully
rushing water,” she says. “If you listen hard enough, you can still hear the traffic, but this is a
delightful and very successful distraction . . . no one even notices.”
As featured in
Home By Design
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