Pat Sturm writes a garden column for area newspapers and is a regular contributor to Oklahoma Gardener.

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Camouflage Gardening
by Pat Sturm    

Maybe you didn’t look for it when you found the house and didn’t even notice it right away. Then one day you pulled into the drive and saw nothing but the utility pole, or the air conditioner or the gas meter. How could you have missed such a spoiler? No matter if you move to the hills, the valleys or the plains, you will eventually find problem areas in your landscape.

Fortunately, for every problem there’s a determined gardener ready to solve it, and landscape architect JoAnne Vervinck has made it a specialty. With three basic plans, she can take care of just about anything.


Draw The Eye Away

“Plant to draw the eye away from the utility,” Vervinck says. Most people immediately try to plant a vine to cover a vertical eyesore, but they simply make the pole more noticeable. “It’s better to add two other poles, possibly of differing heights, and make the original one look like part of a project. Or you can add one pole and one trellis. Plant something outstanding on the trellis and people may never look at the utility pole.”

Possibilities for the trellis include a climbing antique rose, a clematis, a hybrid trumpet vine or a red honeysuckle. The base of the trio might include colored foliage, especially plants that retain year-round color. Dwarf nandina or spreading juniper with gold or silver tones will further draw the eye down.

Growing a vine up a utility pole will not only draw attention to it, it may cause big problems in a short time.

Incorporate The Problem

While you rarely find this in new homes, many older neighborhoods have gas meters planted right in the front yards. No problem. “Create a large bed and make the meter part of it.” This time, Vervinck goes the opposite direction for her ruse. “Put an airy plant in front of the meter, then use tall flowers beside and behind it. Look for several different, interesting plants for this bed.”

With careful planting, meters can seemingly melt into the landscape.

An oakleaf hydrangea can cover most of the mask, giving a double barrier to the potting area behind.

For year-round success, consider adding a shrub such as boxwood or Oregon grape holly. Perennial grasses such as those in the Miscanthus genus hold their shape through the winter, and a couple of well-placed boulders will help. A succession of bulbs (daffodils, tulips, iris and daylilies) will change the focal point of the bed in the spring, and then annuals can do their showstopping job for the rest of the summer.

“Just remember that the worker must always be able to read the meter,” says Vervinck. This can mean trouble for both homeowner and reader. Gardeners can’t expect the meter reader to share the plant passion. “He might just think he’s in a bunch of weeds and step or set his equipment down anywhere. We can help this by creating a path of stepping stones for him and maybe another stone for him to set down any equipment he may have with him in case of repairs.”


Consider Both Plant And Utility

Air conditioners also fall into the category of “necessary and ugly” but they must be accessible. Besides those attributes, the action of the unit is hard on types of camouflage. Even the tried-and-true bamboo screen dries out in a few seasons.

In this instance, Vervinck uses no hardscape, but prefers to plant a large shrub or tree, although not too close to the unit. “My favorite is the native elderberry. It’s light and lacy, allowing the air to flow through. It’s also tough, and it’s not finicky.” Other fine points of the elderberry include flowers, berries and herbal properties. “I also like it because it’s tall enough to shade the unit from the top. That shade in the summer can make a big difference in the efficiency of the air conditioner.”


A Do-It-Yourself Footnote

Sometimes gardeners create their own eyesores. Let’s face it: Lovely gardens result from unlovely equipment. Frequently you need a space to store leftover pots and wire fences and potting benches. Some neighborhoods don’t allow sheds in the backyards, so a mask can create the diversion.

One idea for an outdoor potting area, easy on the labor as well as the pocketbook, involves a piece of wooden trellis, two metal T-posts and a roll of colored outdoor chair webbing. First, thread the webbing through the trellis, and then support it in your chosen spot with the T-posts. If possible, a good-sized tree can provide a “roof.” Snug the potting bench behind it and select a large shrub to plant in front of it. Not only does this hide the mechanics of gardening, it allows a private getaway for the gardener.


(From Kentucky Gardener Volume IV Issue VII. Photos by Pat Sturm.)


Posted: 11/09/11   RSS | Print


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