Deck Walls and Fences
Walls and fences make beautiful additions to an outdoor design, connecting your deck to the larger landscape and adding a vertical contrast to the horizontal expanse of lawn.
Walls and fences can solve problems too:
- They define space, giving it an identity that suits its purpose.
- They can tame slopes, create privacy, block annoying winds, form backdrops for decorative accents, and hide utility areas.
- They can make large areas seem less imposing by dividing them into smaller ones.
More than any other design element, walls and fences delineate space. For example, without a clearly defined perimeter, a ground-level deck may seem just an extension of the lawn. Without something to set your family dining space apart from entertainment areas, your weekend brunch area can feel exposed. Both on your deck and beyond it, you need something that visually separates one area from the others.
There are obvious walls, such as fences, hedges, and the sides of the house. Then there are walls that are not so obvious— perceived walls:
- Ankle-high hedges
- Built-in seating
- Planters, posts that support an overhead
- A change in decking pattern
- Plants and small trees
Anything that separates your deck from the rest of the world—or separates one area of the deck from another—is behaving like a wall.
A low shrub hedge, for example, becomes a living wall that divides the deck from the rest of the lawn. A row of trees can do this, too. Their trunks become the surface of the wall or fence, filtering the views but not blocking them.
Built-in benches and raised planters can keep your party space from encroaching on the private areas of your deck. Freestanding benches create the suggestion of a wall or fence and divide areas without completely enclosing them. They’re especially useful when you need to separate two spaces that have closely related purposes.
Erecting solid walls, fences, or closely knit hedges to divide your property into bits of space can result in separate but isolated areas. Perceived walls, on the other hand, imply the separation without isolating areas from one another. They interrupt both visual and actual movement but don’t block views, so they direct traffic effectively and define space without creating a claustrophobic feeling.
Consider the view
Open up your landscape by removing trees or shrubbery that block pleasant views. Remove or repair unsound and unsightly sheds and other structures instead of building fences to make them invisible. Weed out anything that’s overgrown or looks messy. Replace out-of-control shrubs with low-sxowine varieties.
Location and privacy
Defining space and creating privacy often go hand in hand. How much separation you need between your deck and the lawn may actually depend on your location, the size of your yard, and how much privacy you need. Where lots of foot and vehicle traffic passes nearby, it might take a solid barrier, such as a brick wall or board fence, to provide enough privacy. Where the deck is visible from only a few exterior vantage points, a couple of ornamental trees or a latticework fence might be all that’s required to stop prying eyes.
“Screening” means strategically placing plants, fences, walls, trellises, and other structures to block views and provide privacy.
To determine the amount of privacy screening you need, take a moment to go outside and sit in the proposed location of your deck (or the present deck, if you have one already).
- Take notes about the levels of privacy and exposure from different vantage points. Trust your instincts; if you feel on display in any given spot, it’s not private enough.
- Then sit in the same locations and make a list of any unsightly or unattractive elements you want to screen out.
- Cozy, intimate spots for reading, conversation, sunbathing, or meditation should provide plenty of privacy. Screen these areas with walls, high fences, or dense evergreen plantings.
- Active areas, such as rooms for parties, family gatherings, or children’s play, require less privacy. For these areas, partial screening—latticework fences, airy trees, or seat walls—should do the trick.
Where you put privacy screens matters, too. The closer to the deck area, the more privacy you’ll get. The farther from the surface, the less privacy.
Few decks require screening around the entire perimeter. Before you plant a hedge all the way around your deck, figure out the angle from which other people can see you. Then plan the screening to block the most revealing views first. Remember your goal: Enhance privacy without barricading your outdoor space. Lattice, picket, and ornamental iron fencing form a friendly, see-through screen.
Blocking unsightly views: When you’re enjoying your outdoor room, you won’t want to be looking at the garbage cans, the dog run, a heat pump, your neighbor’s open garage, or parked cars. Consider the angles from which you see these items, then strategically place screens to hide them from view.
Solid-wall screening: For maximum privacy and security, consider installing a solid wall, a high fence, or a dense hedge. These structures bring a number of advantages. They can function as effective boundaries that keep children and pets in the yard and unwanted visitors out of it. They can also make an ideal backdrop for your garden beds and create a nurturing microclimate.
A wall of any sort provides an instant visual backdrop for an outdoor setting—whether it defines the boundary along all sides of an area or simply encloses part of a deck. Flower borders, ponds, and sculpture show off nicely against both walls and screens. If your yard has an old wall or fence that you’d rather hide than boast about, use climbing plants to form a verdant disguise for it.
Materials: Choosing materials for outdoor walls and fences offers yet another design opportunity. You’ll find vast choices, but your main goal should remain the same: Select materials that suit the style of your home and landscape.
A solid brick or stone wall can look classic and imposing. Interlocking concrete blocks, designed for retaining walls, suit most home styles. Another possibility combines a simple fence with an evergreen hedge or roses for an effect that’s decorative and almost impenetrable. Or you may live in an area where adobe offers the most appropriate building option.
The purpose of a wall or fence should dictate its height. A structure for security, a windbreak, or total screening can be 6 to 8 feet high. Walls built solely to separate spaces can be as low as 6 inches or as high as 3 feet. In general, any wall or fence should be either well above or well below eye level to avoid cutting your view in half.