Landscaping on the Edge: Green Walls, Privacy Screens and Natural Alternatives to Fences

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A perfect landscaping project is one that combines both form and function.

In terms of aesthetics, landscaping projects provide gorgeous social media-ready before-and-after pictures that are easily shareable (be sure follow us on Facebook and Instagram!).

However, when we are discussing a potential project with a client, we begin by exploring how they imagine themselves using the finished space.

Landscaping is often thought of as an art – which it is – but its origins are rooted in practical problem solving.

  • A serene garden environment filled with flowers provides a necessary moment of relaxation.
  • A lighted pathway keeps the party going into the night while allowing guests to move about safely.
  • An outdoor kitchen blends seamlessly into natural elements while serving up savory dishes.

This dual emphasis on both form and function plays out dramatically when we are designing and installing landscape designs at the borders of properties.

We are often approached by clients seeking natural alternatives to fences. For customers seeking privacy, a “green wall” might do the trick. For customers who are seeking to make the most of every inch of their property, we can develop more artistic solutions that break up the view while delineating the property line.

In either case, our goal is to fulfill a practical purpose in an aesthetically pleasing way.

First, we identify and solve the customer’s objective.

Are you looking for privacy or just breaking up the view?

Your answer to this question will help to determine the trees, plants, locations and other materials that will be included in your finished project.

Then, we use that information to develop a creative solution that fulfills your goal in a way that is visually appealing.

When it comes to “green walls,” privacy screens and natural alternatives to fences, here are a few of the problems that CVTS-L can solve with creative and elegant landscape solutions.

1. Privacy screening

When we are landscaping with privacy in mind, we are generally talking about using a denser grouping of trees to create “green walls” at the edge of the property. Depending on how the yard sits – say your neighbor’s house sits higher than yours so their first story is at your second story window – we might need a screen that is twenty feet tall.

Many trees can be used to create “green walls,” but one of our favorites is the Green Giant Arborvitae. It’s a narrower tree (which is an advantage for your yard and your neighbor’s yard as we’ll see later on), it grows quickly, it has few disease and insect issues, and they are relatively inexpensive for what you’re getting.

2. Breaking up the view

If the goal is to break up the view by incorporating some aesthetic elements, then we might be talking about a more creative landscaping project. In these cases, the design could include a few trees, but they would probably be more spaced out or used more sporadically than when we are creating “green walls.” We could also include other creative elements such as planting beds around the bases of the trees.

3. Property marker

Sometimes customers are simply seeking a natural way to delineate between two plots of land. This is especially practical when the properties in question are very large. This can be achieved by using a row of trees to create a “green wall” – as we discussed with “privacy” – or a more complex landscape design, like the one we discussed with “breaking up the view.”

4. Ambience

Landscaping along the property line has many other benefits that will encourage you to get out and enjoy your yard including blocking the wind and deadening the sound of traffic along busy roads. Additionally, lights can be artfully deployed in and around the trees to dramatically accentuate what is happening in the yard and conceal everything that is outside of that boundary creating the impression that on a warm summer night, your yard is the only yard.

The problem with fences

At first, fences seem like an easy solution, but it is quickly discovered that they can come with a variety of associated complications – many of which can come as a surprise to unsuspecting homeowners – and in some cases they will ultimately fail to solve the problem.

1. Height restrictions

First, many boroughs and homeowners’ associations regulate the maximum height that a fence can be on your property. These restrictions ensure that the fence is aesthetically pleasing from the street, but they aren’t likely to provide the privacy that you are seeking or complete your personal landscaping vision.

Green Giant Arborvitae can create “green walls” and provide “natural fence alternatives” up to thirty feet tall (upon reaching maturity).

2. Privacy vs. isolation

Second, something as innocent as a fence can seem confrontational or even antagonistic to your neighbors if it’s not contextualized by curated landscaping elements. Some people can interpret a fence as “I don’t want to talk to you,” when really you are just seeking some privacy. We’ll talk more about the importance of communicating with your neighbors later in this article.

Both fences and trees can be used to create physical barriers between properties, but “green walls” are less likely to be perceived as a social barrier between neighbors.

3. Two sides to every fence

Third, the ideal placement of a fence is more complicated than it seems. In cases where the property line hasn’t been properly measured, the fence could cross the line causing disputes between neighbors. Additionally, if the fence is right on the line, now you’re relying on your neighbor who has grass growing right up to the fence to take measures to preserve the fence – either string trimming or taking great care not to bang against it with a mower.

Skilled landscape designers can work to lessen the impact of your project on your neighbor’s property, but their needs should still be taken into consideration as much as possible.

That said, fences can be used to great effect – in terms of aesthetics and functionality – when they are successfully incorporated into a larger landscaping project.

Some neighborly advice

As we discussed in a previous blog entry about property lines, it is important to try to maintain a positive relationship with your neighbors when it comes to landscaping. Troubled relationships between neighbors can hinder the installation process (and drive costs up quickly), but landscaping that doesn’t take a neighbor’s wishes into consideration can cause tensions down the road.

At the end of the day, it’s your property and you can do with it as you please, but when it comes to trees and neighbors, long-term thinking today will go a long way.

1. Crossing the line

Legally, property lines are very real and very important (we’ll revisit this when talk about installation below). However, you can’t ask a tree to recognize it and grow accordingly. While you may have added a beautiful shade tree to your property, your neighbor only gets the leaves, needles, roots and branches that fall or grow across the line.

You got privacy and a beautiful backyard. They got a new list of chores – and you can’t expect them to be as excited as you are about that.

2. Property damage

In some cases, your new backyard arboretum can substantially alter their experience of their own property and, in some cases, cause real damage. Your new shade tree might be blocking critical sunlight that your neighbor needed for their vegetable garden. Additionally, that shade could allow mold to grow on their siding. Branches that have grown across the property line can scratch the side of their house, drop leaves and seeds into spouting, or drop entirely into their yard.

Because property laws run from “ground-to-sky,” your neighbor is legally responsible for dealing with all of this, but as a neighbor, you might consider making some alterations or offering some assistance.

3. Installation day troubles

Unlike the trees, our landscaping crews won’t step foot onto your neighbor’s property without written permission, and we won’t landscape right up to the property line unless it has been formally surveyed and staked. If your relationship with your neighbor is tense, it is within their rights to refuse us access to their property even after we’ve assured them that we will cause minimal intrusion and clean up when we leave.

We’ll still find a way to do the job, but – in some cases – not being able to use a neighbor’s property can add a lot of time and money to the overall cost. In those cases, we either need to find specialized equipment with a smaller footprint or spend the time doing it by brute force.

A few quick tips when landscaping on the edge:

  • Successful landscaping begins with a clear objective, so give careful consideration to what you want to achieve.
  • “Green walls” and other natural alternatives to fences are ideal for privacy, aesthetics, boundaries and ambience.
  • Traditional fences can be problematic because of community height restrictions and the mixed messages that they can send to neighbors.
  • Consider your project from your neighbor’s vantage point – it might look beautiful from your porch, but to your neighbors it could mean a lot of work, risk and hassle.
  • Leave plenty of space – remember that the sapling that you plant near the property line today will grow substantially over the next few years.
  • A mulched bed containing various sizes of plants will give you a clean edge at the property line and still remain easy for you and your neighbor to maintain on their side.
  • With larger projects, consider leaving a strip wide enough to take a single pass on a riding mower to reduce the negative impact on your neighbor’s yard.
  • Maintain communication with your neighbor. You don’t have to be best friends, but if they understand what you are hoping to achieve and they feel that they are being included in the process, it can make everything go a lot smoother – from installation day on into the future. “Green walls” can represent a division between you and your neighbor – or they can represent you growing together.

Now is the time to begin planning your spring landscaping project. Whether we’re talking about “green walls,” privacy screens or natural alternatives to fences, CVTS-L is qualified and equipped to take your landscaping to the edge.

Learn more about our design process here and here, and when you’re ready to start talking about the future of your property, contact us here.