In a residential landscape, a homeowner can design for privacy or for security, but not both. Here's why -- and how to find compromises that will work.
The problem is that screening your home from the view of passers-by and neighbors also prevents police and neighborhood watch from surveying your property. It also creates hiding places for burglars.
From a police standpoint, says Crimestoppers coordinator Matt Goulet, the best approach is to maintain clear visibility of your property from the street by eliminating any physical obstacles from a responding officer's line of sight -- including tall, dense bushes.
"The more I can see of -- and even into -- a building if an alarm is sounding or we've received a medical call or someone suspicious is running between houses, the better," says Goulet.
The answer isn't a flat, shapeless grass lawn, though. Landscape design consultant Kent Douglas suggests planting short to medium-height perennials at the foundation, for starters. He says you shouldn't put "plants that are going to get real tall by the front or side door, (where) someone could crouch behind and surprise you" -- or where intruders could work on locks without being seen.
Some of Douglas' recommendations include ornamental grasses, shrub roses, spirea, wygelia, boxwoods and dwarf yews, which all come in 3- to 4-foot heights. "Be sure to read the tags on all plants to ensure you get the variety of you want for low-growing size," cautions Douglas. "That's where people make their biggest mistake. They think a plant is cute and compact in its 2-gallon pot, but you're buying a baby. That size doesn't give you any idea what it's going to be when it grows up."
Then, working away farther from the house, stair-step down in size with perennial flowers, Douglas continues.
For the backyard, use single, well-spaced trees for seasonal interest, shade and more. Douglas often suggests a 6- to 8-foot tree planted at one corner of the home or in combination with other shorter plants on the back property. There, the scale of trees (to available area) is more appropriate, they fill up some space, and they're good for screening out your view of the neighbor's hot tub, he says. Douglas suggests a few popular species with more open branch structure:
--Multi-stem serviceberry tree. "It's a beautiful plant with a lot of winter interest, beautiful flowers and great fall color, and the birds like them."
--Viburnum. These come in small to very big varieties with heavy branch structure, says Douglas. "They are excellent for birds' nests, and some are semi-evergreen."
--Use a few evergreens scattered throughout the landscape along with your deciduous plants, such as boxwoods, yews or junipers.
--For best security, keep your trees pruned low.
In general, try not to enclose your property with dense groupings or shrubs that create fences. Specimen plantings, open branching patterns and low perennials can be used for four-season interest, visual appeal from both the inside out and outside in, and security.
For more information, do an Internet search for "landscaping for security." Here are a few websites on landscaping, the importance of trimming trees, planting attractive thorny plants under windows, placing gravel around the house, security lighting and more: