If you live in an urban (or even suburban) area, you may be familiar with the maxim “Good fences make good neighbors.” While Robert Frost didn’t intend for that line in his poem “Mending Wall” to be taken literally, having a little separation from your neighbors isn’t a bad thing—even if you get along fabulously. After all, everyone needs their space now and then.

A traditional privacy fence, while effective at keeping out prying eyes, is not always the best option, especially if your outdoor space is limited to a patio area. In fact, some neighborhood or homeowners’ associations prohibit stockade-style privacy fences for aesthetic reasons.

If a privacy fence isn’t an option for you (or just isn’t your style), don’t resign yourself to a life of no secrets between you and your neighbors. There are plenty of outdoor privacy ideas that you can use to turn your open patio into a secluded outdoor oasis—all it takes is a little outside-the-box thinking.

Use Trees for Privacy

Privacy screen made of arborvitaeFrom their back porch, my neighbors have a bird’s-eye view of my backyard and patio. My husband and I like our neighbors, but we also like having some private outdoor space, so we started working on our patio shortly after we moved in.

The first thing we did was assess the patio area for places we could add fast-growing trees. Trees with dense foliage are an attractive alternative to a wall of wood fence boards.

Our patio was originally bordered by crape myrtles, which do grow quickly, but we nixed them immediately because of the stains their flowers left behind on the concrete. In place of the crape myrtles, we decided to plant arborvitae, a dense evergreen shrub that grows tall and narrow.

I’ll the first to admit that arborvitae is a safe, classic choice; if your style is more eclectic, you may be more interested in something with a little more pizzazz. Here are some plants to check out:

Italian Buckthorn

This shrub stays green all year and is reported to do well in almost any climate; you’ll see faster growth if you water it consistently.


Close-up photo of photinia hedgeThe red-tinted leaves of this plant create a living fence that requires little maintenance. At maturity, photinia stands about 20 feet tall.


This evergreen grows a little more slowly than other options, but it is the classic choice for a natural barrier between your patio and your neighbor’s property. A manicured appearance is traditional for boxwoods, but you can certainly skip the frequent pruning if you prefer a more relaxed feel.


Clumping bambooBe sure to choose clumping varieties of bamboo rather than running. The clumping varieties are not invasive, while running bamboo plants will quickly spread all over your (and your neighbor’s) property.


This evergreen flowering vine will need a trellis, but once it matures, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful living fence. Clematis takes a couple of years to flower, so look for older, established plants if you want flowers immediately.

Confederate Jasmine

Close-up photo of Confederate jasmine hedgeIf you love the scent of jasmine, this fast-growing evergreen vine is an excellent choice. Like clematis, you will need to provide a trellis or open frame for the vine to grow on.

Get Crafty with Fabric

White netting draped over a patio umbrellaIn the absence of space to plant trees or the ability to install a fence, hang attractive tapestries, fabric wall coverings, or curtains to add privacy and bring a cozy feel to your outdoor space.

Natural fabrics such as cotton and linen will need to be brought inside in advance of any storms that come through your area, and they may fade or begin to disintegrate after weeks of sunlight exposure.

If you’d rather not have to worry about checking the weather forecast, look for outdoor fabrics that will withstand seasons of rain and sun.

Install a Pergola or Patio Cover

Natural wood pergola on a stone patioIf you have the room, a pergola or patio cover is an attractive way to create a more private patio without making the space feel smaller. Depending on the design, a pergola also makes a functional frame for outdoor fabric—the shade and cover from neighbors are nice bonus features.

The pergola I chose for my patio is metal and came with an adjustable shade made of outdoor fabric. The shade and open frame of the pergola give me the cover from both the sun and the view from my neighbors’ deck that I was looking for while maintaining the open feel of the space.

If you decide on a more permanent shade structure, such as an attached patio cover or a retractable awning, contact a professional for design guidance and installation.

Set Up a Privacy Screen

Hanging bamboo privacy screenPeruse your local garden supply or home goods store for options for backyard privacy screens. Some are purely decorative and not intended to withstand weather extremes, so check the materials carefully to make sure you know what you’re getting.

Alternatively, put on your thrifting and repurposing hat and see how creative you can be. Spot a couple of unwanted antique doors at your local salvage yard? Bring them home and use them as a DIY patio privacy screen.

Fall in love with a vintage wrought iron baker’s rack at a secondhand store? Bring it outside and fill the shelves with potted herbs and flowers to create a dual-purpose barrier.

When it comes to patio privacy screens, the only limitation is the size of your outdoor space.

Create White Noise with a Garden Fountain

Ceramic garden fountainIf your neighbors are especially close by, or if you live in an urban area with lots of traffic noise, white noise may be one of the most important parts of creating a private outdoor retreat. White noise machines are widely available in stores and online, but nothing beats a gently babbling garden fountain.

Whether you choose a freestanding fountain, a small, tabletop version, or a custom, built-in water feature, pay careful attention to the noise level of the pump that recirculates the water as well as the height of the waterfall.

For background noise that’s just right, choose a fountain that has a relatively short waterfall—just a couple of inches—and a quiet pump.

Ready to Create Your Oasis?

Whether your patio area is large or small, spend some time taking measurements and deciding how you’d like to make the space your own.

Here are a few additional questions to consider:

  • Where are your neighbors’ sightlines?
  • Is there a particular corner that you’d like to ensure gets a cozy canopy?
  • Can you hear chatter from neighboring units or homes? What about traffic noise?
  • What’s practical for your lifestyle?

DIY what you can (and want to), and have fun shopping for the rest. With time and a little work, you’ll have an outdoor haven that will be the envy of the neighborhood.