Sunken Gardens and Patios

 Wooden fencing, tall hedges, or sometimes just staying indoors, are often ways folks deal with neighbors and the lack of real privacy in their own yard. You see decks where you’re perched up for everyone to view. Patios can be the same if not fenced or screened. To complicate this picture, add zoning or neighborhood restrictions to fence heights and consider how you escape from view. When you cannot enjoy a drink or some cuddle time in your own backyard in privacy, what can be done?

For some, you could move to the farm or a cottage in the woods I suppose.

Let’s first look at the usual actions; build a tall wooden fence, or plant a thick row of evergreen trees or shrubs.

These are indeed the inexpensive and most suitable options for a number of homeowners in the city or suburb.

But, if you want to be different, or if you must due to restrictions—then I have a few ideas to suggest in today’s column.

Sunken gardens are an option.  Excavate an area, build a stone or decorative block wall to retain the sides of the scooped-out area, and you have the essence of a sunken garden.  Shrubs, flowers, seating, fountains, patios, firepits, are all items that can be contained within the sunken area. Combining the sunken area with a privacy hedge at the original ground level can make the area deeper in appearance, and more out of view. Stairs or steps to descend into the sunken area will obviously be part of the requirements, especially on flat properties.

Sunken patios and pools are perhaps also do-able.  So long as bedrock or loose gravel or shale aren’t present, this is a wonderful way to create a spot to sunbathe or to grill out and entertain in an intimate setting.

Council rings, especially if sunken, can be a private gathering place. The natural stones and perhaps a fireplace or fire ring along with stone benches can complete the picture. Wooden chairs or lounging areas with pillows may be more comfortable, though.

From time to time someone is through with a swimming pool. They don’t want it, but don’t want to move.

And to literally remove it is cost prohibitive.  In such cases, many people fill it with dirt. How about a partial fill with dirt, and making it into a sunken garden?

Artfully planned privacy may be above the skill level of the average homeowner. In such cases getting advice from a consultant, or actually taking proposals from professionals, may be the thing to do first. (It is seldom smart to start doing something without a plan before you begin, no matter who is doing the work.)

Now to a few examples, if I can draw a word picture you can follow. Imagine a fence three or four feet tall. Perhaps not allowed to be solid in some cases. Since a fence is usually set back from the property line, can you plant some evergreen trees or tall shrubs outside the fence? Then some more inside the fence. Then closer, can you plant some smaller trees or shrubs? And then, can you plant flowers or grass or hostas up closer to your private spot in your yard? Nobody should be able to see over the fence or through the bushes as you get a tan or engage in a private conversation in your own yard.

sunken patio w hedgeWith all the mountaintop homes, not to mention the age of drones flying over, getting out of sight of prying eyes can be a challenge. In addition to the sunken garden or patio, let’s add a row of tall trees surrounding our private nook. Trees that are capable of forming an allee—that is trees that grow over and their tops touch along a lane or around your patio or council fire—can give the privacy from above. And in combination with stones and plants that are layered, the view can also be obscured from the sides in all directions.  Even a crooked path or trail out to the private spot will further enable it to be camouflaged from onlookers, as a straight walk can be pretty visible from either end.

Have we begun to imagine yet that true privacy in the city might indeed be possible? Would a private nook out of everyone’s sight enable you to enjoy your yard a lot more? A patio nestled in nature with a naturally meandering path to it in a yard with many trees and shrubs (who needs a lot of grass to mow anyhow?) sounds pretty ideal to me.
Why stay indoors just to keep your privacy when it is possible to create your spot to enjoy the outdoors in privacy? If you don’t enjoy sitting on the deck where all the neighbors can observe your business or your behavior, perhaps some of the ideas we have touched on can begin to be put in place in your yard. Would that make your yard more of a paradise?