Privacy and screening are an increasingly important aspect of gardening. Gardens are getting smaller, more time is spent in the garden for leisure purposes.
Fences invariable create a box feel to the garden, whereas shrubs and trees create a softer, more user-friendly environment. The advantage of using a fence, is that fences are two-dimensional. Basically up and across! They can give privacy without encroaching onto the space to want use.
Shrubs are three dimensional. To get the 'up and across' aspect of a fence, you also have to take into consideration that spread outwards - normally in direct proportion to height and spread. If you have a large garden there are few problems with choice. A medium or small garden means that you will need to choose your shrubs for privacy carefully.
Here we talk about shrubs used as 'bushes' rather than shrubs used as hedges which are clipped to size!
The automatic choice would seem to be for dense evergreen shrubs that will block out all and sundry as well as a fence.
Easy for me now to simply supply a list of shrubs that will be good for screening and provide privacy, but firstly, let's determine when and when you want your privacy. If it is to block out the view of and from a distant balcony, you will have a very different need to someone needing a bit of privacy when sat ln the patio enjoying a favourite book or beverage.
Taking the patio area first, you might find it acceptable or even desirable to have eye level contact with the neighbours when pottering, but not want to be visible when sat down with your glass of wine, or ogled when sun bathing. In that case, positioning will be as important as size to meet your requirement.
For instance, a container grown shrub of 4 feet tall will do little by way of providing privacy if placed within a few feet lf the dividing fence. But positioned 10 feet (3m) back from the fence, it will give a private seating area behind - enough to accommodate a table and chairs!
By way of contrast, a 4 feet tall shrub placed out in the garden will do little or nothing in regards of privacy.