Sneaking a look into a neighbor's window is not beyond most of us, especially if you have a clear view. And in city neighborhoods where new...

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Sneaking a look into a neighbor’s window is not beyond most of us, especially if you have a clear view.

And in city neighborhoods where new townhomes and even single-family homes are inching ever closer, shielding your yard and home from neighborly eyes — and hiding unattractive views — has become paramount.

Trees provide natural barriers between homes, but manmade structures also can offer a much-needed distraction and add visual interest.

Plants and trees are just half of a garden’s design, said landscape designer Karen Stefonick, of Seattle’s Le Jardin Home, Garden & Ranch Design.

“The structure creates feeling and a wall, or at least the appearance of or atmosphere of one,” she said. “It creates privacy or shields an area you couldn’t sit in before.”

Ballard resident Judy Olsen added a screen between her and her neighbor’s yard. She didn’t want a big wall between them, so her husband built a screen with lattice work that now divides their side yards, and they planted trumpet vine, wisteria and roses.

The screen, which is about 9 feet tall and 50 feet long, also created a seating area for them, she said.

Resources

Home & Garden Art: 1111 N.W. 85th St., Seattle. 206-779-0668, www.homegardenart.com.

N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Landscaping: 425-486-6902, www.nwbloom.com.

Le Jardin Home, Garden & Ranch Design: 206-412-5990

“It feels friendlier, and they get the benefit of the planting on their side, too,” Olsen said. “They see the flowers and the vines.”

Structure options

Some yards can accommodate large structures like the screen or even bigger options like a pergola, which creates a room or a walkway with pillars and cross-beams. A fireplace is another cozy, and more expensive, choice.

For a more straightforward look, think about adding a simple trellis above a fence, an arbor, a topiary or a gate.

Landscape designer and arborist Jessi Bloom, of N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Landscaping in Mill Creek, likes adding simple, substantial wood structures to gardens.

“It creates either a backbone for something softer or can be a focal point in itself or it can be a framework,” she said.

At a retirement home in Madison Park, Bloom added arbors to frame views of Mount Baker, the University of Washington campus and the Olympic Mountains from the rooftop. She also used fountains and a wood structure to hide an unattractive vent.

“If you’re trying to distract people from it, you don’t put a focal point there,” she said. “You mask it.”

Function, location, style

When deciding what kind of structure to put in a yard, Stefonick recommends three basic steps:

Think about function. Consider whether the structure is supposed to provide shade or protect you from the rain. Are you creating a sitting area? Is it supposed to block out a neighbor’s yard or home? Will you be entertaining there? How big should it be?

Pick the location. Location is often dictated by function. A patio will be located near the kitchen if you plan to entertain or eat outside frequently. For larger structures, draw a diagram to make sure it is proportional.

Decide on style. The outdoor room should echo interior design and also meld with your home’s architecture, Stefonick said. You don’t want a jarring transition from indoor to outdoor.

Basic changes are easy. If you’re not interested in a large addition, try a trellis above a fence, Stefonick said. Pick a key location where you can add some chairs and create a sitting space.

“That little trellis with the vine will give you almost the illusion of wall and a ceiling across that space,” she said. “It doesn’t take much.”

Bloom also suggests adding large containers with bamboo as another easy structural element. The container prevents bamboo from taking over the yard and creates privacy.

If you want to make a bigger style statement, consider a folding screen, gazebos and even artsy iron trees, said Jim Honold, owner of Home & Garden Art in Greenwood. Salvaged pig sculptures made from 55-gallon drums are popular at his store, he said.

Your yard should be comfortable and stylish and show your personal taste, he said. Structures create that feeling.

“It reflects your personality and who you are,” Honold said, “and it’s a way of expressing yourself, carrying it out to your yard.”

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com