As you ease into your favorite patio chair and reach for that tall glass of iced tea, IT catches your eye. “It” could be an unsightly patio wall or your neighbor’s idea of a backyard design—an unkempt lawn strewn with toys. Either way, the mood is lost, but fear not, you can fix either of these irritations in just a weekend.
Wall of shame
Give an unsightly patio wall a facelift with a cover of foliage and flowers in three steps: hide the eyesore, add a focal point and accessorize with existing container plants and garden art or a few new purchases.
You can take a multi-faceted approach to hiding patio wall eyesores:
- Camouflage large areas with fast-growing climbers—clematis, bougainvillea, wisteria, honeysuckle, passion flowers and mandevilla. Each of these vines produces thick foliage and a profusion of blooms.
- Create an instant distraction by attaching a large wooden trellis painted to blend with the wall. Plant vines in rectangular trough containers and place directly against the patio wall to make the most economical use of floor space.
- Conceal narrow vertical imperfections with pots containing tall grasses or small trees.
- Hide large blocks of space with sprawling plants. For example, the habit and gargantuan leaves of black or green elephant ears are great for hiding a 4’ X 4’ damaged area.
- Disguise the top of the patio wall by securing boxes or hanging planters with brackets and filling with trailing and/or bushy plants. Brilliant fuchsias in pink, red, coral and fuchsia can grow up to six feet and produce tear-shaped buds and exotic blooms. Intertwined purple and green sweet potato vines pop with their contrasting colors. Purslane and portulaca produce prolific rose-like blooms all season and require zero attention—the lazy gardener’s dream.
Define a focal point
Every living area needs a focal point. Select a large plant or small tree, water element or objet d’art as your focal point. The focal object doesn’t need to live near the patio wall; in fact, you might want to draw the eye to another area. Ficus trees with braided trunks work well in shaded corners. Palm and banana trees thrive in full sun. Bamboo reaches dramatic heights its first growing season and produces a quick vertical screen—and it’s not fussy about light.
An extra-large vase-style container perched in front of the vines gives the eye a visual break from the mass of foliage and flowers. For a similar look, start with three graduated terra cotta containers filled with a growing medium. Secure the medium container slightly askew in the large container, and then secure the smallest container slightly askew in the medium container so that you have a tower of containers. The off-kilter look adds a touch of drama. Plant the containers sparingly with one trailer such as lobelia, strawberry, fuchsia or variegated ivy to keep the focus on the tower.
Pull it all together
With the main elements in place, it’s time to accessorize the patio the same as you would any other room. It’s the accessories that speak to you and convey your personality to others. Arrange your favorite containers on the patio, and give away any that no longer speak to you. Add a new purchase or two, and your makeover is complete.
Room with a view
Unsightly backyard views call for a different, but simpler plant design. Pick and choose from the list to suit your individual needs:
- The simplest long-term solution is to plant a border of fast-growing trees, a privacy hedge or a mass of tall shrubs along the lot line.
- Surround the patio with a few trees, and plant at least 10 feet from the patio—dogwood, crape myrtle and Japanese maple (Crimson Queen) are ideal.
- Group containers with tall ornamental grasses, butterfly bushes, asparagus ferns, etc., at the patio’s edge. Rearrange the containers until you’ve found a balance of aesthetics and privacy that works.
- Build some open space into your plant design. What may seem like blessed privacy the first week can quickly turn into raging claustrophobia.
- If you like the plant design but the patio feels crowded, move the plants to a garden around the patio. Leave at least two wide paths into the yard and add decorative stepping stones to the path. This assures guests that they’re supposed to walk through the path and indicates that the bare spot is part of the garden design.
There’s plenty of time between now and the last frost to sharpen your colored pencils and work on plant design. Once you’ve executed your backyard ideas, you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction at having met a challenge head on and designing your way around it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MJ Plaster has been a professional writer for more than two decades, originally an instructional designer and trainer, more recently specializing in lifestyle topics. She also serves as managing editor of the Florida Turf Digest. A former master gardener, when she’s not writing, she’s practicing alchemy in her gardens or helping friends to design and plant their gardens.