Eyesore in the garden: Now you see it, now you don't.

Make your garden eyesores disappear, with a little landscaping 'sleight of hand.'

Courtesy of Lois J. de Vries
Before: This propane tank must be in the front yard for ease of servicing in cold, icy weather. But it's an eyesore in the landscape. How to make it look better? Click the arrow below to see the 'after' view.
Courtesy of Lois J. de Vries
After: An artistic garden screen attracts the eye away from and partially hides the propane tank behind it.

Most homeowners deal with the necessary-but-ugly utility equipment in the garden by building a fence around the objects, or constructing a box to house them. But the only thing these “solutions” accomplish is to substitute one visual blight for another.

Large eyesores, such as a 300-gallon propane tank, 2-ton air-conditioning compressor, pool mechanicals, etc., require a magician’s talents on a grand scale; the kind of sleight-of-eye that makes the monstrosity “vanish” while still in plain sight.

The stock-in-trade of magicians who specialize in coin, card, and other sleight-of-hand tricks is to get you to look at one hand, so that you don’t notice what they’re doing with the other one.

Like the magician who performed at my brother’s recent birthday party, you can employ this craft right under the noses of garden guests, with none of them being the wiser.

The most satisfying approach is to eliminate the eyesore entirely but, as with a propane tank, that may not be practical. Our tank has to be in the front yard, in order for the delivery person to be able to access it in ice and snow from our steep, winding driveway.

How to 'hide' a propane tank

For many years, the otherwise pleasant view across my front yard lavender garden, from both the driveway and the house, came to an abrupt halt at that ugly utilitarian object --- a nine-foot-long by three-foot-diameter puice cylinder that we called “the yellow submarine” long after I had painted it brown to try to make it blend in.

Something had to be done. I discovered that it would cost less than $200 to move: $50 for a permit; $40 for two trenching tools; and $106 for the propane company to send two installers and a boom truck to swap out the old tank for a new one.

By moving the tank back just 10 feet, but out of constant view from the living room/office window, we reduced my level of irritation with it by at least 75 percent.

I quickly dubbed the new white version “Moby Dick." Poor Moby still loomed large as he floated above the landscape, accosting our aesthetic sensibilities every time we drove in, or gardened in the front yard.

We decided to make a feature out of it. In front of it, we built a wood, copper, and stone screen that incorporates a piece of architectural salvage, and stained it the same color as the house. To hide the narrow end, which could be seen from the back and side yards, we built a rack for firewood. The other end, which can be seen from the driveway, will be hidden by a rustic gate made of closely-spaced branches.

A pair of dwarf blue junipers, with branch tips that match the screen’s patina, flanks the opening. Blue Wild Rye Grass, confined in pots to control their spread, line each corner. Sea holly is planted in between, together with purple tulips and allium for spring color. The lavender garden has been expanded, to fill the space between it and the screen’s border plants. Next year, lavender roses and purple clematis will begin climbing the pair of stone pillars.

And, presto, chango! No one will even notice that “Moby Dick” is there.

Do some planning first

If you'd like to do something similar, use caution: Call the utility to establish a safe distance for your new structure and use your community's One-Call system to locate underground utilities before you dig.

To see clever and artistic painted treatments of large and small tanks, click here.


 Lois de Vries, a popular speaker at regional flower shows and garden clubs, writes from her home in rural northwestern New Jersey. To read her other posts at Diggin' It, click here. She's a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens magazines and has been a contributing editor for other national publications. She was awarded the Jefferson Presidential Award for public service in environmental work. Click here and here to read about her garden design and environmental ideas and her holistic approach to gardening.You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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