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Creative, attractive ways to achieve privacy

>Problem: Your neighbors are nice enough, but your yard lacks privacy.

Solution: Eliminate the fishbowl effect by creating a sanctuary with living -- and nonliving -- elements.

Privacy can be created instantly or over time. Options range from outdoor curtains to hedge rows, according to Jennifer Lee Fedeson, principal designer at F&S Design Studio (, which specializes in exterior design. The company is a member firm of the Buffalo Design Collaborative. Its work has been featured in the Buffalo Home and Garden Show and Decorators' Show House.

Fedeson offered these ideas via email:

*Hang bamboo shades or outdoor curtains made from Sunbrella fabric from an exterior structure, such as a gazebo or covered porch. Make sure your hardware is made from a non-rusting material.

*Consider trellises and custom screens hung at eye level or supported by pressure-treated 4-by-4 posts set in foundations. These also add vertical interest to your garden -- with or without plant material. In the right place, they can also act as garden sculpture.

One warning: "Be careful if you are planting vines on your trellis that the structure is suited for the vine it's holding. A trumpet or wisteria vine, although gorgeous, will destroy a delicate trellis as it takes the form of a flowering tree," Fedeson said.

*Add additional architectural details to a pergola or covered porch with custom panels. Any flat material can be retrofit to act as a creative solution, she said. These can include old windows, decorative antique ironwork or metal grid display walls (as seen at the rooftop garden at last month's Buffalo Home and Garden Show). Add some up-lighting for a dramatic effect.

You can also create a privacy wall by hanging 4-by-8 concrete rebar mesh or traditional lattice between the ceiling and railings on covered porches. Plant with climbing hydrangea or clematis vines for additional privacy. Inexpensive yet stylish. You can even paint it a whimsical color.

*Strategically placed shade trees will give you privacy from your neighbors' second-story windows.

Once a tree is planted and established (usually after two seasons) the tree will give you several feet a year in additional coverage, Fedeson said. Fast-growing trees are tempting, but be cautious. These are by nature invasive and weak-wooded trees, and may cause more of a mess than they are worth, she said. Think twice before planting poplar, willow or silver maple.

Evergreen trees such as spruce and pine will give you year-round privacy, but some species can also outgrow a small yard in a few years.

*Be aware of your interior views from windows and doors. A beautiful flowering magnolia is much nicer to look at than your neighbor's television set.

*Hedge rows properly maintained at 6 to 8 feet will add a wall of greenery and privacy. Be wary of deer. Learn proper trimming techniques.

*For existing hedges, plant understory shrubs or perennials suited for the site conditions. Remember not to build up mulch or soil around existing shrubs. Death will be inevitable.

Choose understory plant material that has a maximum growth height suited for the space being covered.

Shorter plants will look odd, while those that are naturally too tall will add more maintenance in the future, Fedeson said.

*Vinyl or composite fences are a low-maintenance alternative to traditional wood structures, giving you instant gratification. Choose fence colors based on your existing house trim -- or go the natural route. Remember that fences require a permit from the town building department to verify placement and comply with height rules, she said.

*Layering and overlapping the above items will add interest and depth to your outdoor space. Screening options do not necessarily have to be in one straight line.