Robert Downey Jr.'s garden is a masterclass in providing shade and privacy – here's how to replicate the look

Robert Downey Jr.'s landscape designer used native, drought-tolerant planting to create privacy and shade in his picturesque garden

Robert Downey Jr.
(Image credit: Getty Images / Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor)

We've talked endlessly about Oscar-winning actor Robert Downey Jr.'s home, designed by Nicolò Bini, being an environmentally conscious, modern masterpiece. The outdoor space is certainly no exception but, privacy and shade were a consideration that needed to be met.

In an ideal world, our gardens and homes would be private sanctuaries where we can potter, entertain, and relax away from prying eyes. Yet, for many homeowners, the reality is quite different – get it wrong and you can often feel like you are living in a goldfish bowl because there is nothing to screen your plot from passersby and neighboring windows. A clever combination of garden screening ideas and plants for privacy can make all the difference. 

Making a garden or home more private may seem daunting, but that doesn't mean you must accept that your home will be overlooked forever. There are plenty of ways to improve privacy and shade without resorting to tall fences, walls, and oversized hedges that can leave you feeling like you're boxed in. 

Landscape designer, Ana Saavedra, used her expertise to create shade, privacy, and outstanding beauty using simple, clever planting choices and techniques to ensure that the home, which Downey Jr. shares with his wife Susan Downey, isn't overlooked yet remains at one with its surroundings. For Saavedra, it was important to ensure that Robert Downey Jr.'s garden was his own peaceful haven rather than a fortress of solitude. 

While fencing played a large part in the screening, the planting is the standout feature in this space. The green leaves contrast well with white and give the design an elegant, contemporary look. For structure and height, architectural green olive trees (phillyrea latifolia) will provide year-round color, and the other plants were chosen for their different leaf shades and shapes. These dense, dark evergreens produce a crown like broccoli. Tough, expensive-looking, and long-lived, they can grow 20ft after 25 years, so it will need regular pruning to keep them at a desired height. If you want it to grow faster, water it. It is as simple as that. The planting is deliberately lush and dense, but more sparse beneath the olive trees, allowing textured gravel and mulch to show through.

The silver-green foliage of the olive tree is evergreen, providing year-long interest, as well as the trunk of older specimens appearing knotted and twisted. While it is a drought-tolerant tree, ideally suited to hot and dry climates, some varieties can be more tolerant of a cooler climate. 

Clipped evergreens are another alternative for creating structure, architectural interior and privacy in a backyard. Choose lollipop bay trees, smart box balls and pompom conifers to add strong shapes that help to define spaces. Topiary is also low-maintenance and looks good all year round.

When choosing the best shrubs for privacy you'll mostly be landscaping with evergreens due to their year-round foliage screen, but that's not to say that you can't still include some deciduous shrubs among the planting. Try to envisage how the combination of shrubs will look throughout the year – some will add differing colors, flowers, or perhaps seasonal fruit and berries.

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Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.