Hiding the ugly areas in the garden

Posted: March 1, 2014

Special to The Winchester Star

This pair of exterior doors was re-purposed into a screen to hide trash cans and a rain barrel. A great paint job and an attractive flowering annual vine were all that was needed for an inexpensive fix.
This cabinet offers a good way to hide the electric meter. And it doubles as a handy spot to store small garden tools.
A neighbor’s ho-hum yard is too large to fully hide. But a series of strong focal points such as this copper-painted planter prevents the view from straying away from the attractive spots.

winchester — I don’t care how great your yard is or who designed it.

There are always some ugly things that need to be hidden or disguised so your garden can be even more beautiful.

Items such as trash cans, air conditioning units and heat pumps, well heads, the electric meter, stacks of firewood, even tools or equipment are all necessary items in the modern yard.

Sometimes they are tucked away in a side yard, and we just decide that space is going to be ugly and avoid it. But others are dropped, front and center, right in the way of everything.

However, regardless of location, I say never, ever give up a piece of ground that has some potential to be a beautiful garden spot. So there are basically three ways to deal with this: cover it up; disguise it as something else; or distract the viewer’s attention.

Cover-ups might be a hedge of plants, a vine, fencing or trellising. When thinking about the design of your cover-up, first decide if it is something you want to totally conceal with a solid panel or something softer and more open.

Remember, a solid panel will be more imposing, but small well-chosen glimpses through a barrier can create mystery and interest.

However, some things are so icky they don’t even deserve the tiniest peek.

Also look for existing details on other dominant features of the yard or the house and incorporate them into the design of your screen. This way, all areas of the yard will feel cohesive and not like lots of individual spaces.

I prefer to use something more permanent, such as fencing or trellising to hide longterm uglies, such as air conditioning units or heat pumps. The conditions around these units are not always the best for plants.

But for other areas, a hedge or a mass planting of shrubs might be more appropriate. Keep in mind whether you want to hide the area year-round or just during the summer.

Evergreens will provide the all-year coverage while deciduous shrubs work only in the summer.

When using trees and shrubs for screening, design the planting according to the plant shapes. Make sure the shape will actually cover the ugly area.

For example, many people want to hide the upper half of a neighboring house. But they choose a Christmas tree-shaped evergreen that has a very thin top to create this screening. Something wider at the top would provide more coverage.

Other items can be better hidden by disguise. Fake rocks are sold for this very purpose. Now, while I’m not a huge fan of a plastic rock plopped into the middle of a yard, properly done with an arrangement of other boulders and plantings, they can mask many horrible views.

Cabinets with doors can be built around electrical meters. And planters can be also be used to disguise things effectively.

Your last option is to redirect the focus. Some things like a neighbor’s ugly yard are just too big to screen or disguise. In this case, create a strong dominant focal point in your own space that helps people ignore the other not so pleasant view.

This may be an artful arrangement of planters, a sitting area or some type of water feature.

Whatever your problem spot, and all gardens have them, there is definitely a solution that will make that space just as wonderful as the rest of your landscape.

— Mary Stickley isa Master Gardener.