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Weekend Warrior: Hiding in Plain Sight

Wooden swing seat in flower garden.

Every yard has eyesores a homeowner can’t easily get rid of — utility boxes, AC units, protruding pipes, a next-door-neighbor’s questionable choice of paint color for a toolshed. Here are some simple ways to hide them from view, or, if that doesn’t work, trick your eyes into not seeing them.

Leave enough elbow room
Before starting any yard concealment project, consider that some eyesores, like AC units, need space on all sides and the top for air circulation. Meanwhile, elements such as utility boxes and propane tanks require access for service and monitoring. A couple of feet of clearance on all sides may be enough, although for easy access, the distance may need to be up to 10 feet. Check local ordinances for required clearances, as well as for fence and wall heights and for root systems of trees and large shrubs that could prove damaging to underground pipes.
 
In praise of foliage
Almost any outdoor eyesore can be hidden by foliage, especially if the foliage is evergreen and can afford coverage year-round. Tall shrubs or climbing vines can disguise even the concrete side of a garage. But be wary of aggressive plants, such as ivy, that may creep into other parts of the yard and of anything whose roots could prove problematic. The simple way to avoid both issues is by using potted plants. Not only are they easier to contain, but they can also be moved around if the foliage isn’t doing the concealment job you hoped for or if the object you are trying to hide occasionally needs to be accessed.
 
Screens and fences to the rescue
Sometimes, though, the solution is not foliage. A changing season can turn a foliage screen skeletal, or the hot air discharged from an air conditioner can prove withering. In those cases, a good alternative may be a privacy screen, which is typically a short section of wood lattice fencing, often moveable to aid access, that can be used to hide anything from trash cans and AC units to garden hoses and charcoal grills. However, the griller-in-chief may sometimes object to hiding the latter, as part of the function of that office is to be seen front and center.

Like privacy screens, good fences make good neighbors, especially if the fence is solid enough or high enough to hide your good neighbors’ eyesores from view. If local ordinances don’t allow for a high-enough fence, supplementing it with a row of tall shrubs or trees can often be the solution. If the fence belongs to the neighbors and is industrial-looking chain-link, try a friendly offer to soften its impact by spray-painting it a color that blends with the surroundings, typically a shade of green or brown, or weaving a lattice of reed or bamboo between the links.



Conceal necessary nuisances
As helpful as it can be, another item that can create an eyesore is a garden hose. Many commercial wall-mounted hangers are available if you want to keep it neatly on display (“neatly” will depend on how good you are about rewinding it after each use), and enclosed boxes if you don’t. But to be more creative, hide the hose by coiling it inside an under-bench box, a bronze storage tub, or if you’re a funkier family, a re-purposed car tire, painted to blend in.

For protruding pipes, one creative way of hiding them is with hollowed-out fake rocks or tree stumps. For the obsessive DIYer, it is possible to create your own rocks out of concrete or, less permanently, papier-mâché. Everyone else will find them at larger garden supply stores. Just make sure they look like they are native to your region, or at least your planet.
 Other artificial landscaping elements that work well at concealing protruding pipes are garden benches, especially if they have a back, as well as planters, birdbaths, fountains, statues, and obelisks, ideally hollow.
 
Distract the eye
If concealment isn’t practical, an alternative approach is to hide offending objects in plain sight. A paintbrush can be as effective as a magician’s wand for making some eyesores disappear. If the offending object, such as a utility box, is close to the house or attached to it, just paint it the same color as the house and it vanishes.



Another solution is to create an arrangement of objects or foliage that takes attention away from an eyesore. A colorful garden can help do that, and trees or tall shrubs can draw your eyes upward and away from the offending object. Sound, too, can play a role, as in a gurgling water element that says, “Look here, not there.”

Keep in mind, though, that the various elements, spread out across a yard, work best if they are tied together thematically – lattice fences and trellises of a similar style and color, groupings of plants that create a cohesive design.

When drawing the eye away, scale is important, too. If the objects meant to distract are too small, they can be overwhelmed by their surroundings. If they are too large, they can become eyesores themselves and have people wondering if the statement you are trying to make is that the Jolly Green Giant is having a yard sale.  


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