This DIY outdoor privacy screen is freestanding, and can be built in an afternoon. I added some decorative and functional bug hotels to display favorite natural treasures from the garden.
This is a companion project to the raised bed with built-in privacy wall that I built on the other side of the yard. These privacy walls offer lots of room for garden art, hanging planters, and growing vines. And, they are great for blocking a neighbours view into a yard, of course.
Smart Tips for Privacy Screens
Here’s some things to consider before you build a freestanding privacy screen:
Many of us live in areas where local bylaws restrict the height of property fences to just 5 or 6-feet in height. If you are needing better privacy for a particular area of the garden, one simple workaround is to build your privacy screen in your yard, not on the property line. Regulations often allow for greater heights within our yards.
If you want to make the most of the privacy provided, the closer the screen is to your desired privacy area, the better.
Just be sure to find out what your local bylaws allow and whether a building permit is required.
When designing a project like this, I always work with the wood dimensions available.
For example, I knew I could bet 4x4x10 posts (10-feet tall) and 1x6x8 (8-foot long) fence boards, so I designed everything with those in mind: no need to cut the wood and no wasted off-cuts.
Good-bye Tree, Hello Screen
This project started when a late winter storm snapped off the last big branch of our ancient pussywillow tree. This tree is the social hub for many birds, and, the slowly rotting wood must be filled with delicious insects because I see the birds nibbling on the branches from sun up to sun down.
For us, the tree provided a lovely natural screen between our home and the one next door.
I opted to build a privacy screen and let the remainder of the tree live out the rest of its days in peace.
Before Building the Screen
I’ve only got one (overexposed) BEFORE photo. I took it when I had a few boards in place:
Steady Footing for Freestanding Screens
There are two important things needed for a project like this.
- The footings / posts have to be secure.
- Everything has to be plumb and level.
If you can ensure those two things, you’re set.
To secure the posts, there are a few options. The best option will depend on what’s permitted in your area and the type of soil you have.
- Pour concrete footings.
- Use metal ground spikes (that hold 4×4 posts)—pictured, above.
- Bury the posts really deep and secure with gabion walls (more on this below). This requires wood posts that have been treated to withstand life underground.
- Pack stones around the post, deep in the ground.
Or, a combination of these things. Again, this is where everything has to be secure as well as plumb and level for your screen to look right/good.
If you’re nervous about this, you could hire out setting the posts and do the rest yourself.
Building a Privacy Screen
I designed this screen to match the raised garden bed with built-in privacy wall that I already built on the other side of the garden. I like horizontal fence boards (instead of privacy lattice).
Here’s a quick video showing the construction:
To keep the new structure from looking too much like a box, I offset the boards on each panel. If you look at the next photo, you can see that the section closest to the house is set in front of the second panel.
To do this, I simply screwed the boards for section 1 on the front of the support post, and the boards for section 2 are attached to the rear of the support post. I find this adds enough variety that it doesn’t seem like the strange wall of boards that it is. Art, decor, and plants will further improve this, of course.
- (4) 4x4x10 Wood posts – the privacy screen just needs 3 but I wanted a wing on the end too
- (10 + 9) 1x6x8 Fence boards
- (7) 2x4x8 boards
Again, I checked everything with my level over and over again. If anything moved while I was working, I went back and found the problem and fixed it. If something like this is off-kilter, it will drive me nuts forever. Better to take the time to make it right.
The 2x4s are used to finish the top and bottom of the screen, adding a nice place for the birds to sit.
And I used some 2x4s to frame in the ‘wing’ on the left side that will have some garden art interestingness eventually.
I mentioned ‘gabion’ footings earlier. I came up with this idea when I built the privacy wall on the other side of the yard. After setting the posts and ensuring they are plumb, I used hardware cloth (fine wire mesh found in any home improvement store) and formed a cylinder (approximately 2.5-feet tall) by closing it with cable ties. The cylinder is filled with rocks. I love how it looks and it adds a good amount of weight to further support the posts.
Here I’ve just started adding rocks:
Adding Bug Hotels
After the main structure was done (the posts and privacy screens), I added some bug hotels. These are collections of natural materials that encourage, nourish, and provide habitat for a plethora of insects.
I love natural materials: branches, lichen, leaves, twigs, old bird nests, wasp nests, wood chips—you name it. I never like sending yard waste away, but instead hang onto stuff for projects like this. The addition of some bug hotels seemed like the perfect way to show off my faves while encouraging the wild things (to do their thing).
To build the bug hotels, I built big squares with 2x4s, and lined them with 1×6 fence boards. I wanted this depth to accommodate a deeper display.
Within the squares, I added inner support pieces to create sections.
The entire unit is secured to the privacy screen from behind using 3-inch deck screws.
Filling the Bug Hotels
This is the fun(est) part. These wood logs were from the fallen pussywillow tree branches. I cut them all to 8-inch lengths with my little electric chainsaw (one of my top favourite / most important garden tools, for sure) and placed them in the lower sections of the bug hotels. Look how gorgeous the lichen is!
Bug hotels look like works of art when the natural materials are sorted.
When I was collecting these materials from the garden, it was amazing how many insects were already occupying them.
The Value of Rotting Trees
Years ago, I was at a lecture on sustainable living and the speaker said, nature gives as much in life as it does in death. And it’s true. Just think of trees and how much they support life on earth while they are living. Yet, they are just as valuable as they die and decay, providing sustenance and habitat for so many living things.
And that’s the same vital service and beauty that bug hotels provide.
I used wood logs, twigs, bamboo, wood shavings, bark, dry plant stems, old perennial clippings, and straw. An old kettle fills the top slot until I have more materials available.
The project is not ‘done’ but started. I have plans to build a few more things on the side, there’s more decorating to do, and vines to be added.
I’m really happy with it so far. The privacy is excellent, the birds approve (they all sit up top and watch the world go by), and it provides lots of future creative and botanical opportunities.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛