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My neighbours can see into my bedroom. What can I do?

Words Catherine Masters | OneRoof, NZ Herald 2019

Backyards have shrunk but the population has increased.

With more people and smaller spaces to live in, tension can build between neighbours over how much of a view they get of each other's home life. No one should have to constantly draw the curtains to enjoy a bit of privacy.

So how do you stop people looking in on you?

OneRoof spoke to some experts for some ideas.

Mt Eden residential project. Design & photo | SGLA

Sam Strachan, landscape architect and director of SGLA landscape design and construction in Auckland, says there are three key methods.

The most common, but also the most unreliable, is the planted screen.

Fencing is all very well but fence heights are restricted to around 1.8m generally and in front yards in Hobsonville the fence is only allowed to be 1.2m, which is pool fence height.

What you can do is grow plants like ficus tuffi, which is strong and dense, above the fence line, says Strachan.

“They offer screening at height and generally are a uniform and structured plant so it gives you more space at eye and shoulder and body level.”

Remember, though, you are not allowed to impact your neighbour’s space as they have a right to the air on a vertical plane above their boundary line, says Strachan.

On the other hand, they might want privacy from you so have a discussion with them and come up with some planting which benefits you both.

Landscape architecture Bonnifait & Giesen Atelierworkshop. Planting design by HEDGE.

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Pleached trees on Tinakori
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Screen time

The next option is a physical screen of timber, aluminum or perforated steel - or try a pull down exterior café-style blind.

“If you’ve got a little deck that is viewed on by an apartment next door you can pull those down so that means when you’re out on your deck you don’t feel like you’re in a fish bowl.”

Option three is growing a screen, which is a mixture of the first two options. You need a structure, as in stainless steel wires or a trellis, then use planting to go up.

This can look great visually but takes time so you need to be patient, Strachan says.

A hedge can brighten your garden and aid with privacy. Photo of Griselinia hedge from Twining Valley Nursery

Rachael Matthews, owner and designer of HEDGE, a boutique plant nursery and garden design company in Wellington, says she tries to get height into narrow spaces which is tricky when you use a regular tree because they are usually wide.

Hedges, too, can be difficult this way. If you go up two metres they would need to be a metre wide, which is a lot in a small courtyard or garden.

“What I tend to do is look for skinnier things; like, I use a lot of column-shaped plants.”

With this method you can plant strategically if there’s a particular window you want to blot out.

Pleached pears screening the neighbours house in Tinakori Garden by HEDGE

Hedge your bets

Another method she uses is pleached hedging, something that is common overseas but new to New Zealand.

It’s where a tree is trained on long, horizontal wires: “It’s like a hedge on stilts. Instead of having to grow a hedge that comes quite far out into your space what you can do - you still need a framework - is you train your plants flat against it.”

Screening doesn’t have to be completely solid, Matthews says. As long as it is nice to look at that will distract the eye.

“People will look at it but not necessarily through it. You don’t have to block out the whole space.”

Matthews often recommends people take a look at their windows and consider getting stained glass windows for the house which still let in the light but blur what’s happening behind them.

Frosty approach

Or, you can frost glass or get films and stickers to put on the windows which stop people from looking in.

For apartment dwellers with a little deck which looks straight into the neighbouring apartment’s deck, you could consider hedging in pots around your balcony - but choose something hardy which can withstand the wind and rain.

Griselinia is a popular choice for hedging on balconies, Matthews says, and greens up a relentless urban outlook.

Ficus tuffi in Remuera House IV. Photo Humphreys Landscaping

Scott Humphreys, director of Humphrey’s Landscaping in Auckland, says privacy almost always comes up in design briefs.

Along with hedges and using a planting frame, he says bamboo is great for screening, but be careful it’s contained in the ground because some types of bamboo can get out of control quickly.

Humphreys also suggests considering a pergola, or a structure with a roof, if you have an apartment looking down on you.

 

“That can be an instant block with screens on the side of it as well - make an outdoor room.”