Garden design for noise reduction: our 3 step guide to making your garden less noisy
Earlier this week we were contacted via the Tythorne Garden Design website by a lady asking for our help. She was considering purchasing a property that was close to a relatively busy road, but was concerned about the passing traffic. She wanted to know if garden design could help reduce the amount of the road noise she would experience if she went ahead with the purchase.
We were pleased to be able to confirm that it is usually possible to lessen the impact of most background sounds, and we offered her a few suggestions as to how to do it.
As with so many things in life, our tolerance to different sounds varies enormously from person to person. Whilst some might baulk at the idea of living near to a school or playground, I’ve known people who have lived close to an RAF base for so long that they hardly notice the planes. Indeed, I spent much of my childhood living in a village that was just over a mile from the A1 and I don't recall hearing the traffic. If I go back to the same village now, however, I can definitely hear it. Yes, the A1 is busier now than it used to be, but I am absolutely certain that I can hear it more now because I am not used to hearing it anymore.
For those of us who are irritated by unwanted background noise in our gardens there are a number of design techniques that we can use to try to help. For best results, I would recommend a three-pronged attack- deflection, absorption and distraction, and so here is Tythorne Garden Design's 3 step guide to garden design for noise reduction:
1. Deflecting unwanted noise in a garden
Deflection is arguably the most effective method of reducing the impact of unwanted noises such as traffic. It is a very simple idea: create a physical barrier to try to prevent the noise passing into our garden. Solid barriers such as fences and walls are usually more effective than hedges or general planting, largely because they offer a more consistent surface area. For best results they should ideally be as close to the source of the noise as possible. It’s also a good idea to make them as high as we can, subject to local planning rules of course.
Purpose-made acoustic fencing has been used in civil engineering for many years and is now becoming increasingly popular for domestic settings. It is well worth looking into, and despite being more expensive per linear metre than regular fencing it is almost always considerably cheaper than building a wall.
For additional effectiveness, it is worth growing climbing plants against the barrier. This helps by adding an element of noise filtering or absorption (see more about this below), whilst also reducing the extent to which the noise can vibrate against our solid barrier.
In larger gardens in may be better to concentrate our efforts on creating smaller enclosed spaces of 'peace'. Internal hedges and screens can act as additional layers of defence, as can mixed planting borders. In really noisy gardens a summerhouse (double-glazed options are available) can really be a bonus, providing a welcome retreat and somewhere to relax in comfort and relative peace.
2. Absorbing unwanted noise in the garden
As any physics student worth his or her salt should be able to tell you, sound travels in waves of vibrating air molecules. Creating a means of disrupting these waves should, in theory at least, have an impact on the passage of the sound. Planting is useful in this regard because (as I understand it) it can serve as a basic filter, helping to ‘break up’ or scatter the sound waves as they pass through the air.
For maximum impact a planted ‘barrier’ needs to be several metres deep, but as this would be prohibitive in most gardens it’s rather more usual to be looking at something more modest. As a general rule, large leaved plants are better for absorbing noise, with shrubs with a dense growth habit (such as holly or Photinia) being good choices. Plants with foliage all the way down to the ground are particularly good because they help to prevent sound passing through at lower levels.
3. Distracting from unwanted noise in the garden
Whilst we might not be able to completely eradicate all unwanted noise via deflection or absorption, it is often possible to distract ourselves very successfully by introducing alternative, more pleasant, sounds to our gardens. Wind chimes are an obvious choice here, but they are not to everyone's taste.
One of the easiest ways of achieving sound distraction in a garden is to select plants that will attract ‘noisy’ wildlife. Bees and other insects are great for this, and who can resist the beautiful sound of song birds?
Choosing plants specifically for the noise they can themselves make can also be really effective. Bamboos and grasses make wonderful rustling sounds when they catch the breeze. Be careful with bamboo because even the better behaved species tend to spread, but do consider trying some of the many different Miscanthus grasses and see what a difference they can make.
Introducing moving water to our garden is also a really good way to reduce the impact of unwanted background noise. There are plenty of options when it comes to bringing water into your garden, with everything from ornate stone fountains to rather less formal ponds now being readily available in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
That said, we rarely get asked for ‘open’ water by our garden design clients, particularly if there are young children or pets sharing the garden. Safety obviously has to come first, but there are lots of ‘closed’ (i.e. no open pools) water features that are extremely low-risk whilst still providing lots of sound and visual interest. It really is amazing how much difference the gentle sound of moving water can make to distract us from unwanted background noise.
Finally, it's important to acknowledge that for some people it is actually the sound of garden tools and machinery which can cause the most frustration and annoyance. Electric leaf blowers and petrol lawn mowers can create an enormous amount of noise, and it is important to use them with consideration for our neighbours.
So, there we are. Our 3 step guide to garden design for noise reduction is a pretty simple recipe of deflection, absorption and distraction. In an ideal world we’d be able to combine all three methods, but if we only have room or budget for one or two of these techniques they are still worth trying. Gardens mean different things to different people, but for the vast majority they are for relaxing and enjoying quieter moments. Let’s not let unwanted background noise prevent us from our enjoying our gardens more.
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.