A Private Oasis: How to Create a Secluded Outdoor Sanctuary

Michelle Hopkins
April 18, 2016

Summer is just about upon us. You might already be daydreaming of those lazy sunny afternoons, kicking back with a good book on your lawn chair, hidden from the prying eyes of your neighbours. But hold up … the neighbours next door have cleared some trees on their property, so they can now see right into your garden. Or maybe that other neighbour has recently built a second-floor deck with a bird’s eye view into your yard. Or maybe you have a condo balcony on which privacy is just a pipedream.

As Vancouver’s large older homes are quickly being replaced by ever smaller homes or townhomes/condo developments, privacy is increasingly at a premium.

“There are many great solutions to privacy issues. But first off, if you live in a home and want to put up a very high fence, you must get a hold of the city bylaws,” says Ray Evenson, owner West Coast Modernscape. “As it stands now in most municipalities, they only allow for six-foot-high fences. If you want anything higher your request will probably get rejected. However, if you want to put an eight- or 10-foot screen close to the fence, or even attach it to the fence, there are no bylaws that will prevent you from doing that.” 

As far as condominiums and townhomes, Evenson went on to say: “If you live in a condo or townhome, there is probably a homeowner's association that has some restrictive covenants and bylaws that may require you to get permission before altering your outdoor space.”

Ok, so now you know the bylaws and you are ready to get started. REW.ca has uncovered a host of ways that you can add seclusion to your outdoor space – everything from hedging, screens, trellises, curtains, living walls and panels to define your area and screen views of neighbouring homes, whether you live in a single-family home, townhome or condominium.

Janette Ewen

Interior designer and frequent guest on Canada AM, CityLine, Breakfast Television and Urban Rush

  • Define your outdoor space with airy, flowing gorgeous curtains to instantly boosts your deck, balcony or patio’s appeal, while adding privacy. “You can recreate that boutique-hotel-cabana vibe with lightweight curtains, which still allow sun to filter through,” adds Ewen. “For a more dramatic effect, choose heavier drapes.”
  • A secluded wall made out of bamboo trees feels especially private and is perfect for our natural West Coast look. “Bamboo adds height and a contemporary style to the outdoor spaces it beautifies,” Ewen adds.
  • If you live in a condominium with neighbours above you, retractable pergolas can offer great overhead privacy.
  • "A wall of tall planters filled with sculptured boxwood looks simply stunning, and produces a bold, manicured statement,” says Ewen. “A living wall with your favourite plants also looks fabulous.”
  • Add privacy and shade to a covered deck by layering hanging pots. “Trailing plants like ivy are excellent fillers, but just about any full plant or flower will work to suit the season.”

Ray Evenson

Owner, West Coast Modernscape

  • When it comes to fences, they range from private (solid tongue-and-groove or board) to semi-private (slat, picket, spindle or lattice).
  • Create privacy in your garden with dense hedges, thickly branched evergreens or fast-growing tall plants. For a more natural-looking barrier that is also low-maintenance, he suggests you use shrubs planted close together, producing the effect of a screen rather than a hedge.
  • “Cedar hedges are great and inexpensive but remember they take up a lot of room and grow fairly large … they need to be continuously trimmed,” he adds. “You might consider a yew tree, which grows high, is thick, hardy and looks good.”
  • Another great option is black stem bamboo. It doesn’t take up a lot of “prime outdoor real estate.”
  • For DIY lovers: create your own fabric screen. “Stretch some outdoor fabric really tight and staple it on a wood frame, which you can purchase at any landscaping store. It’s inexpensive and won’t mold.” 
  • When it comes to portable screens, the sky’s the limit. They come in a myriad colours and textures, and are available in just about any material. “Depending on your budget, you can get screens made out of aluminium powder-coated or frosted panels for example. I like to integrate hedges in between each screen pane,” adds the award-winning landscaper.
  • A lattice screen covered in flowering shrubs, roses and vines add more privacy as the lattice becomes a raised backdrop.
  • A linear slate wall can turn a space into a romantic hideaway if you add candles to it.
Michelle Hopkins
Michelle Hopkins is a Vancouver-based freelance writer with extensive magazine, newspaper and online writing experience in home décor, new home developments, culinary adventures, wine, travel and more. Michelle writes for many notable publications including Real Estate Weekly and other Glacier Media Group publications, Western Living Magazine, Vancouver Magazine, Home Décor & Renovations, to name just a few. Michelle is passionate about anything to do with real estate.