Mike Walker: Turning Garden Eyesores into Eye Candy

April 16, 2015

This has been a very long and snowy winter in New England and I’m sure everyone has been antsier than usual awaiting the first signs of spring. My clients keep telling me how tempted they are by those flower catalogs that keep spilling out of their mailboxes! Recently one of my customers called me upset about an enormous trampoline her neighbors had just installed in their backyard.

I told her that screening out neighbors or busy roads are two of the most common complaints we run across, but I’ve found sometimes providing a distraction is much more effective.

The key is in understanding your sight lines to draw your eye away from what you find offensive. I like to provide distractions in the form of flowering trees, a perennial garden or even dressing up a shed with crisp hardware, freshly painted shutters or planters.Elements like these can draw your eye away from that trampoline or messy neighbor’s yard.

Hoffman Landscapes Fairfield County

This garden shed provides screening as well as a needed focal point in a wide expanse of lawn. Painted in the same color scheme to match the house, it was dressed up with wrought iron hardware and topped with a tiny cupola.

Hoffman Landscapes Fairfield County

The homes in this neighborhood, while large, are close together. To screen out neighbors, the owner placed an attractive shed in front of a backdrop of trees. Not only an interesting focal point, the shed provides valuable storage space for garden tools

Many of my clients want to use boxwood in their landscape. Boxwood is fine, but it has a formal structure that tends to call attention to itself. If you want to draw your eye away from something to a nicely decorated shed, planting boxwood around it would be fine. If on the other hand you’re trying to distract views away from that shed, boxwood would not be the way to accomplish that. A shrub like Japanese Holly is similar to boxwood, but less formal and less expensive and is likely to blend in better with the surrounding landscape.

A trend I’ve noticed in the northeast since Hurricane Sandy is the number of clients who’ve installed home generators. Oftentimes, generators are installed for the convenience of the people needing access to maintain the equipment, rather than locating them in the least noticeable part of your property. And town regulations usually dictate the required distance from the home structure. I find that hard structures like a fence or wall, often with the addition of plants with dense branching structures not only provide effective sight screening, but also help muffle noise.

Another common eyesore problem are air conditioning condensers, and in larger homes this often means multiple units. If a unit has been placed right next to a patio area where the noise is going to be an issue, I often recommend relocating it to another part of the property, which is not terribly expensive to do. If this is not possible, I evaluate whether the unit is visible from the road or from your property during the summer season. If it’s an eyesore visible from the road, lattice fencing or evergreens can mask the issue, but if it’s something that is only visible during the warmer months you have other options such as lattice with a flowering vine.

Finally, there is the issue of hiding pool equipment. Here’s an example of how we masked ugly equipment with an attractive lattice.

Hoffman Landscapes Fairfield County

Pool equipment hidden behind lattice (above and below photos).

Hoffman Landscapes Fairfield County

In the photos below the homeowner wanted a fence to shield his pool from neighbors, but was persuaded to use a fake facade as a privacy screen instead. Client embraced the idea because none of his neighbors would have anything like it! Eventually it will become a pool house. For now, a fire place inside of it and a pergola attached to the top made it into an outdoor room by the pool.

Hoffman Landscapes Fairfield County

Hoffman Landscapes Fairfield County

Here a client wanted to screen out a busy road, and especially wanted to shield themselves from headlights shining into their home at night. Thick Arborvitaes underplanted with both English and American boxwood accomplish the task while providing a lush view from the house. Ground cover of pachysandra and Lady’s Mantle provide a textured carpet beneath the shrubs and ornamental trees.

So the rule we professionals live by when it comes to garden eyesores is Mask or Distract!

All photography courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc. 

Mike Walker is a horticulturist at Hoffman Landscapes, Inc. in Wilton, Connecticut. He received his bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from the University of Connecticut. Mike is a natural problem solver and enjoys working with clients to determine their landscape goals and craft creative solutions for beautiful outdoor environments. 

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