Steven WellsA creative solution to retain backyard privacy

What do you do when a new housing development is proposed immediately behind your house and your outdoor entertaining area? Well you stop flailing your arms around in despair and you get creative, that’s what you do!

The new screen and MyRedPod


Anyone who designs, creates or builds in any context will agree that out of adversity comes creativity. Challenges provide opportunities for creative solutions. And that’s what I love about creating and building my garden projects because the creative and logical parts of my brain get invited to a design and development party. They throw design and construction ideas around and sort out if they’ll work in order achieve a successful result. Both brain parts generally end up being happy and fulfilled, just like any successful party will leave you feeling.

So with a looming development proposal came the main priority of retaining privacy. I did not want to be out in my garden habitat and feel like a zoo exhibit with eager eyes watching over my mammalian habits (cue the David Attenborough voice over).  And equally I did not want to look onto a drab architectural suburban delight from my garden oasis.

My solution was to build a large timber screen that I now affectionately refer to as The Great Wells Wall with the inclusion of MyRedPod. Yes it looks rather large, hence it’s title, and it could be perceived as overbearing but interestingly enough it actually doesn’t impact any other areas of my small garden at all. And with future growth of the newly planted trees behind it I know that it will become nestled amongst the greenery.

The garden before its redesign


So what were the aspects to this garden design solution?

After a review of the existing wedge shaped garden with its dry clay soil and westerly aspect, I decided to retain the plant winners, which were the lomandras, dianellas, agaves, echeverias and the maidenhair creeper screens. The strugglers would be removed, so the clumping bamboo and the dwarf Crepe Myrtle would both be relocated into other areas of my garden. I wanted to achieve a sense of privacy and seclusion so the willow screening on the boundary fence would go. As this is the entertaining area I would retain the existing paving and not reduce this space.

Then came the design and development party that seemed to go for a while, which can often be the case. Resolving issues of style, materials, plant selection and continuity does take time. My small garden has an eclectic nature with various spaces to wander through, as Janna Schreier discovered and wrote about on her blog. While I desired for this project to be a little different and for it to be an interesting feature with its own hero moment, I still wanted it to fit within the context of the rest of the garden and to not be overbearing. It was important for me to have linkage of materials, style of materials, paint colour and plant selection with the surrounding areas of my garden.

A simple design sketch with scribbled details was the beginning of the visualisation


Once the process of thrashing ideas and creating solutions was completed I had decided that a combined built and treed solution was the best plan. After checking my local and state building regulations I decided on a timber screen structure that included a daybed and specifically built long enough for me to fit in it while lying down! A daybed was a notable absence from the garden that includes various sitting spaces. I now wanted a spot to lie in the warmth of the morning Winter sun and the shade of the afternoon Summer heat.

Boardwalk view before…

…and after.

For continuity I chose to use treated pine lengths in a horizontal weatherboard style and to paint them the same colour that I’ve used around my garden on other timber structures. The horizontal element marries well with other screens, but more importantly for this area they draw the eye along and not upwards to the future neighbouring houses. This also helps to make the space feel longer as the eye reads the space. The screen is 6 metres long and 2.7 metres high and is one metre off the boundary fence which complies with the council regulations and didn’t require a permit. The rear gap also provides space for the screening trees to be planted that will grow about two metres taller than the structure and will bring the scale of the wall back into proportion.

The new screen and rear fence with newly planted Callistemon ‘Harkness’


The inclusion of MyRedPod is the hero of the space. I wanted a pop of colour, I wanted it to be its own feature, I wanted it to be functional and inviting and I wanted it to link to other rectangular elements in my garden. I also wanted it to be a box within the screen and to be cantilevered as a point of interest but to also not take up valuable space either in front or behind the wall. The treated pine and external plywood materials will last quite a while too. The rear panel of the pod is the same as the main screen so that the red box frame is the feature. For the same reason the UV protected outdoor cushions by Marty Teare Home are grey to blend in with the screen.

For the screen I used Bristol ‘Treacle,’ which I love. It’s a blend of grey, brown and green which has a warmth to it that black doesn’t achieve, and yet provides a wonderful subdued backdrop colour to highlight the greenery in front of it. I used Haymes ‘Red Lantern’ for the pod after being inspired by its use on a house of a talented gardener I know. I love this colour and it provides a changing dimension throughout the day, at times being deep red and at other times with a very slight hint of orange.

Lomandra ‘Little Con’, Agave attenuata, Cotyledon orbiculata ‘Silver Waves’, Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’

Nandina domestica, Cotyledon orbiculata ‘Silver Waves’, Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ and bromeliads


New plant additions of greens and greys subtly balance the boldness of the screen and don’t clash with the red pod. The Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica), Coral Bark Maples (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) and also the screening Bottlebrushes (Callistemon ‘Harkness’) planted behind the screen all bring touches of red throughout the year through their foliage or flowers. The potted Coral Bark Maples provide height and scale and the brown earthy pots tie in with the brown house bricks. The inclusion of bromeliads, cotyledon and euphorbias that are tough and interesting plants bring another foliage dimension to the garden.

Euphorbia ammak var. variegata, Euphorbia trigona ‘Red Devil’, Echeveria imbricata and Agave attenuata


So I’m very happy with the result. I’ve achieved the functional brief of privacy, I’ve retained the usable space and created a focal point that still provides an intimate and enclosed entertaining area. I’ve even fallen asleep a few times while lying in MyRedPod and as an added bonus I’ve created a fun photo booth for when my friends come to visit!

The pod at night


Now for the next project ….


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Steven Wells

About Steven Wells

Steven has successfully combined his nursing and horticulture careers to be working as a nurse, a horticultural therapist and the gardens and grounds project officer at Austin Health in Melbourne. He studied horticulture at The University of Melbourne’s Burnley campus and is the 2012 ABC Gardening Australia ‘Gardener of the Year’. Having grown up on a market garden and orange orchard he has ‘green blood’ and is a keen gardener. He is passionate about sharing the benefits of gardening, horticultural therapy and people-plant connections.

17 thoughts on “A creative solution to retain backyard privacy

  1. You’re a genius, Steven Wells.

    I don’t get what the red box is made of – is that the ply you mention? It looks like it’s about 50mm thick. Are the sides of it hollow?

    • Thanks Michael.

      Yes, sorry I may not have been overly clear with that. The red pod is made with a treated pine framework clad on both sides with external ply and then faced with some dressed treated pine at the front. Its about 70mm thick. Although it was made from the outside in … the outside ply sheet was fixed to the screen posts, then the framework installed, and then the internal ply sheet fixed to that. Drop over some day and check it out …

      • Hi! I just live this red framebench. I wanna build one but I’m not sure of the construction. Is it possible for you to make some simple drawings on paper just like the one you shared but with a bit more information.

        Have a great day

  2. Hi Steven.
    I was very taken with your solution to dealing with a new development overlooking your back yard.
    We are about to have two lots of duplexes built on the north-western side of our house.
    Given that the end result often does not match the plans submitted to Council, I am concerned at our potential loss of privacy in our back yard.
    Your design has given me cause to be a little less pessimistic.

    • It is a daunting situation Jeannine when your privacy is impacted. Even in smaller spaces I’ll do all that I can to be in control of what happens, so much so that I’ll do as much as is possible on my land as this will not be impacted by neighboring influences (buildings, fences changing). Whether that is planting trees, building screens, or designing aspects in my garden that influence views within my garden for privacy. So all the best with determining your creative solution.

  3. I loved this idea and plan to incorporate something similar when I rebuild my old pergola. The red pod is the same colour as my Bonsai plant stands so should look good together. Lots of other lovely ideas too in the article.

    • Thanks Valerie. Red is such a cheery and vibrant colour. Even though this area of my garden was created to encourage a relaxed feeling I found that it wasn’t over-stimulating for me! Perhaps that is because from my pod I view more greenery across my garden 🙂

      Go with more red … you’ll love it !! All the best with your new pergola project.

  4. Hi Steven,
    amazing project! Could you perhaps share the dimensions of your RedPod? We would like to replicate your idea here in Austria and the proportions of your pod look really nice.


  5. Love the red pod. Also love the lights! Where are they from and what are they attached to – can only see one end of the garden! Are they electric or solar?

    • Hi Katy
      The lights are from Beacon Lighting and are LED low voltage electric lights. I’ve just strung them up between the pod and the house.
      Cheers, Steven

    • Hi Debbie.
      The fence has four main solid upright posts that go 900mm into the ground and 2700mm above ground and I have two horizontal timber beams that are fitted between the two middle posts. I have then fixed the red pod structure to these timbers. This has given it strength to be a canter levered structure within the wall. This is all concealed behind the horizontal timber lengths. I hope that helps.
      Cheers, Steven

    • Hi Norma thank you.
      I mounted the pod structure within the fence rather than on the fence. I built the fence with the ‘hole’ in it ensuring that I had cross beams at the top and bottom of that hole section secured between the upright posts. This then enabled me to build the structure and fix it to the fence providing a cantilevered effect.
      I hope that helps to describe it.
      Cheers, Steven

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