Planning Walls for Landscaping, Wind and Privacy
Walls play many roles in a landscape. They create an identity for a space and make large areas seem less imposing by dividing them into smaller parts. Walls create a strong vertical contrast to the horizontal expanse of lawn and patio surface, helping set off the patio and calling attention to it as a prominent feature. They also serve as backgrounds for scenes and mask undesirable views.
Walls can help solve environmental problems. They can hold back a slope, for instance, thereby opening up room for a patio. When properly designed, they can keep annoying winds at bay, create shade, and afford privacy.
If you're planning to build a wall, ask yourself what you want it to do: define space, increase privacy, block unsightly views, or add architectural interest to your outdoor design? The answers to these questions may depend on whether the wall is in the front yard or backyard.Front-yard walls
Front-yard walls should complement (or at least not conflict with) the general style of the neighborhood. The degree of design conformity required depends somewhat on whether there are other front-yard walls or fences in the neighborhood and how close they are. A low wall in a neighborhood where there are no other walls might not cause a problem, but a tall one could give the impression of a fortress. A front-yard wall usually looks best if it is short, about 3 or 4 feet.
Front-yard walls usually delineate the boundaries of a property. Unless a wall is intended to provide security, it's often used to mark those borders in a subtle and unobtrusive way. Even walls made to enclose areas for children and pets can be designed and built in an inoffensive way.Backyard walls
Backyard walls often serve a different set of purposes; their most prominent function is to mark the property borders, like the front-yard wall. Because so many family activities take place in the backyard, the walls there must also provide privacy. Expensive barbecue grills and other equipment are often left in the yard, too, so security is another consideration. Those demands call for higher structures -- 6 feet is common. As an option, you can construct a brick wall with lattice or louvered panels on top (or in alternating bays) to open up the design without sacrificing privacy.
You can exercise a little more freedom when planning and designing backyard walls because it's less important to harmonize with the neighborhood. Design them to suit the style of your house and landscape.Filtering the wind
Building a wall to act as a windbreak requires some careful thought. That's because high, solid walls can actually make things worse. The leeward side of a wall (the side away from the wind) becomes a low-pressure area that causes wind to flow down the wall and blow more strongly into your yard. Walls with an open pattern, especially along the top edge, make more effective windbreaks. Adding lattice or a louvered panel to the top of a wall can help break up the wind and reduce it to a breeze.Designing with materials
Walls provide opportunities to pull additional design elements into the landscape. Select objects that go with the style of your home and landscape.
Brick and stone -- solid and imposing -- work well with stately classic or traditional architecture. Interlocking blocks, designed for retaining walls, look at home in most landscape styles. You can combine materials to bring more variety to your design and to create unusual screens. Dress up a plain block or concrete wall with an evergreen hedge or roses, for example, for a screen that's both ornamental and impenetrable. Or further a Southwestern design by building low walls with adobe blocks and planting evergreens. No matter what your choices, aim for a unification of style throughout the landscape.Solid-Wall screening
Solid walls provide maximum privacy and security. They function as effective boundaries that keep children and pets in the yard and unwanted visitors out. They also provide an ideal backdrop for garden beds, protecting the plants by creating a nurturing microclimate with the extra warmth and shelter plants need to survive outside their usual hardiness range. 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 patio. Flower borders, ponds, and sculptures stand out against walls and screens. If your yard has an old wall or fence that you'd rather hide than display, one solution is to grow climbing plants on it.Screening for privacy
Placed strategically, walls, plants, fences, trellises, and other structures increase privacy and the comfort level of your patio. Take a privacy inventory before you start building privacy screens. Doing so will also help you discover unattractive views you may want to hide with a wall or fence.Location and privacy
A patio in an urban yard is exposed to more noise, traffic, and neighbors' eyes than one in the suburbs. Here it may be best to fence along all sides of the lot rather than isolating the patio. In some neighborhoods, the size of the lot creates enough separation, so you can be more selective when choosing where walls and fences will go.Pro Tip
How high the wall?
Before you build a wall, establish a clear idea of what you want it to do. The adage "form follows function" applies when deciding the height of a wall. If you need a structure for security reasons, to act as a windbreak, or for total screening, you can make it 6 to 8 feet high. Conversely, structures intended solely to separate spaces can be as low as 6 inches or as high as 3 feet. Build walls well above or well below eye level. A wall or fence that cuts your view in half is an annoyance -- you'll have to stretch to see what's on the other side.