2016 / Solving problems


Most of us, at some time or another, have something in our garden or in view of our house that we don’t want to see. Whether it be unsightly things in a neighbor’s garden, an oil tank or a streetlight, or if we just want to have a cup of coffee in our garden on a Sunday morning without having to talk to the people walking by, we all have need of a screen from time to time. Luckily, there are many ways to go about it, as each situation is different. What follows are a few of these situations, and some ways of making them better.

AN UGLY WALL OR FENCE. Perhaps you have wall that looks empty, or maybe your neighbors own the fence that is between your properties and it has seen better days. (Get permission before doing anything to a neighbor’s fence, of course.) Maybe the fence that hides your trash bins looks like just that, a fence hiding trash bins. Well, there is no need to have to put up with that. Here are a few things that can help:

-Add a trellis. Trellises come in many different styles and materials. Some are custom made, and others are ready to go at your local hardware store Still others weren’t made to be trellises, but work beautifully anyway. There is a trellis to fit every style, size, and budget, and adding one to a boring or ugly wall makes it look better immediately.


-Add vines. Once you have a trellis in place, adding a vine is easy, as it will have something to climb up. If your trellis is sturdy enough and you have full sun, do yourself a favor and try a Wisteria, whose foot long racemes of scented, purple flowers are unbeatable. But do make sure your supports are strong enough – Wisteria can be very destructive to wimpy structures. But as a way of hiding a chain link fence, for example, it can’t be beat!




This is why you need a sturdy trellis!


Other vines that do well to cover up a wall or fence are Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris – good in shade), Roses  (many to choose from!), and annuals like Morning Glories and Black eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia)


-Consider an espalier. These trees and shrubs that are trained to grow flat against a wall can be the perfect choice, as they don’t take up much space, and even provide fruit!


UTILITIES. We all appreciate the benefits of electricity, cool air, and heat, but so far the beautiful oil tank/air conditioning unit/generator/electrical box has yet to be invented. Screening these from view requires a little thought, because you have to think about access, and air circulation. However, this is where lattice screens can come to the rescue. By either building a fence-like screen, or building a lattice box to put around the offending object, you can improve the look dramatically. Consider adding pots to the lattice and adding some annuals. Or nail your old work boots to it and plant them with annuals. The possibilities are endless!


NEIGHBORS AND PRIVACY. Sometimes your neighbors don’t share your sense of what looks good in a garden. Sometimes there is a light, or a sign, or some other architectural element that you don’t want to see from your living room. Or maybe you like your neighbors, but don’t want to get caught up talking when you just have a few moments to spend in the garden. Regardless of what your motivation is, there are a number of ways to improve the situation.

-Strategically placed fences, shrubs, and hedges. This may seem fairly obvious, but think slightly outside the box when deciding where to place them. You probably don’t need to fence in your whole property or add a huge hedge along the entire property line –  unless you want to, of course. Think about where you will be standing  when you want that object to be screened, and consider only putting the fence or hedge between that spot and the offending object. Think about putting it on a diagonal. This approach is likely to both save you money and make the barrier seem less forbidding – a feature, even.


-Plant grasses. Grasses are wonderful at hiding things. Some grow as tall as 7 feet, and apart from being interesting to look at most of the year, are an affordable screen for smaller objects. Placed with thought, they can also create a lot of privacy.


-Distract. If you can’t completely hide an eyesore, consider planting a specimen tree or a piece of sculpture or a bright flowerbed some distance away, to draw the eye away from what you don’t want to look at. And don’t forget “borrowed views”. Framing a view can make surrounding elements fade into the background.


-Close vs. far away. If what you don’t want to look at is large, like a house, or a large sign, it will be hard to screen it by planting something directly in front of it. Trees take awhile to grow big enough to hide a house, and even large shrubs take awhile to grow to size. Consider planting that tree or large shrub in the middle distance, if there is room. You will get the screening you need much faster. Or, if you have space, create a garden “room” with a strategically placed plant  or two close at hand that will hide the eyesore from view when you are in it.


In short, you don’t have to put up with “blots on the landscape”. Think of them as opportunities to create something special. As Shakespeare said, “Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”





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