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Landscaping for Privacy and Better Neighborly Relations

We visited our friends Stephen and Michael at Annefield Vineyards last year and I was a little jealous. Not only is their tasting room/house a beautifully restored mansion (and the wines are quite good, you really should go, or at least look for them at your local wine shop) but it sits smack dab in the middle of a huge acreage. Conversely, we live in a historic downtown with our nearest neighbors less than 12 feet away. I sat on their expansive front porch and dreamed of what it would be like to look around and not see… anything. Landscaping for privacy isn’t even an issue for them!


There’s a flip side to everything, of course, and that was made clear when we checked into our B&B down the road from Annefield and the closest dinner option – Burger King – was 25 minutes away. Neighbors it is.

If you’re in a similar situation and you’re surrounded by neighbors, you know that sometimes the best way to get along is to keep a little separation between you. I grew up in a neighborhood that when it was built in the 1950s, covenants were passed that fencing in the property was forbidden. It was never enforced so over the years that changed, but even in the 80s you could stand in the backyard and see 6-8 backyards in either direction (and these were decent lots). When I moved to San Diego it was a bit of a culture shock. Not only was every (tiny) yard fenced, the “fence” was a wall made of stuccoed concrete block. I went from the open pastoral suburb of my youth to a virtual honeycomb of urban living. I think the answer to living with your neighbors lies somewhere in the middle.


For a lot of Northern Virginia/Maryland/DC residents this is a simple choice: you can pick the fence your HOA (Homeowners Association) allows, or you can go without. For those wacky rebels who are willing to trade having their design decisions made by a board for freedom, you need to give it some thought. Here are some considerations, and my thoughts on each:




  • 3 foot – pointless. We had a 3 foot fence when we lived in El Cajon, California. It kept the neighbor’s Guinea Pig out of our yard but afforded us no feeling of privacy.
  • 4 to 5 foot – this is the standard for a lot of HOAs around the DC metro area and I think it’s the shortest you can go for any functionality. Most dogs will respect a fence of this height even though they can certainly climb or jump it, and it’s just high enough that you feel like you have some separation from the neighbors – but it doesn’t feel like a racquetball court.
  • 6 foot – this is what we have and I love it. We get a good amount of privacy, and when we have other dogs over we feel secure that they won’t get out.
  • 7 foot and above – unless there’s a compelling reason for such a big fence, know that your neighbors refer to your place as “the [your last name] family compound” and have probably asked the ATF to keep an eye on you.


In any design endeavor we look for the intersection of function, beauty, and cost. Material choice can make a big difference.

  • Pressure treated wood – this is likely your least expensive option. It’s fine and gets the job done, but p/t wood can have issues with warping, twisting, and cracking. If you want less maintenance you may want to look at cedar fencing.
  • Cedar – My fence is cedar and I love it. It’s weathered to a nice soft silver. On a fence that surrounds a 1/4 acre lot I probably have to replace 2-5 fence boards per year, which given that our fence is now about a decade old, that’s not bad.
  • Vinyl – I’m not a huge fan of vinyl fences but when it comes to maintenance, they can’t be beat. My issue with them is that I want the fence to weather and fade into the background. You have to work to get that with a white vinyl fence (although in the photo below, I think we succeeded!)

landscaping for privacy


Not me! I built the last section of my own fence and while I did such a good job that several people stopped to try and hire me for their fences, I’m management. There are plenty of fence companies in the area. Check references, ask to talk to past clients, and get a detailed proposal that answers all your questions. Unsure what type of fence to go with, how to place your gates, and how to make it all work as part of a cohesive landscape? If you only want help with the fence, that’s not what we do. But if a fence is one piece of the landscape master plan that will give you the ultimate yard, call us at 703-679-8550. Let’s get a consultation scheduled!

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