Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Industrial Site / Garden Oasis

Cold and windy, and no snow yet this year as we approach the end of January, but they are predicting quite a snowfall coming up this weekend. Ah, winter.

I've gotten really good at taking garden photos that do not include any shots of the utilities, but occasionally, as in this early spring picture from last year, the electric meters and a/c units are visible, and there is no question they are always visible when sitting in the gravel garden.

I've gotten pretty good at planting around them to minimize their visual impact. Dwarf Alberta spruces are in front of the meters, but don't enclose them completely.

The complexity of plants and their maturing size along the side of the house helps distract, but not hide, the ugly mechanics. For the most part.

I did try to find ways to completely hide the big a/c units, but tall grasses, which did obscure them totally, ended up creating a repair bill when the units weren't getting enough airflow around them. So the grasses came out and the units are no longer hidden.

Pretty alchemillas, Japanese forest grass and flowering low shrubs do the work of distracting the eye as you pass down this walk. It's okay I guess.

On the house wall I have to hide something that looks like the Large Hadron Collider, and it's installed a good seven feet up. That's a lot of vertical height to camouflage, but the Alberta spruces in front of it at least offer dense height if not complete screening.

And the lower end of this power station complex is the ugliest of all, so the ground level needs screening, which the dense Alberta spruces also provide. How on earth is this wiring tangle acceptable, featured on the outside of a house? But all the homes are wired this way.

The obvious solution is some kind of structure to enclose the meters and there are great examples on Pinterest, although they don't look to be seven feet tall.

I thought about something like this, but the cost (these are custom made expensive constructions) and the source (where to find a local woodworker who could even build one of these?) and the maintenance (another outdoor structure to preserve) and the lack of space behind the spruces nixed the idea.

I don't want to take the Alberta spruces out -- they do more than partially obscure the meters, as they offer color and height and greenery along that long flat wall. And there's little room behind them for meter houses bigger than some garden sheds.

And look . . . . from some angles you can't see the utilities at all. Behind that line of Alberta spruces at the top of the driveway is the power plant, but you wouldn't know.

An area I can't camouflage at all is the entrance to our property.  A forbidding purple Norway maple stands sentinel over electrical boxes to welcome anyone up our drive and into our garden.  For years I've wanted to paint Welcome on the biggest box.

Whaddya think? Would the utility company mind?

There is simply no way to disguise these boxes. That corner of the road and drive is not wide enough for large, tall shrubbery, and the plow piles giant snowbanks right there. Perennials would have to be huge, (miscanthus again?) to hide anything, and the snowplow would make a mess of anything there.

Fake fiberglass rock covers are expensive and would only fit the little green box. The bigger one is the size of a small refrigerator and hums all day, and probably shouldn't be enclosed.

I do love turning  the corner into our driveway, coming up the small rise to the paver section at the top where the low stone wall invites you to stop. It's such a short entrance, but particularly in fall the plantings along the drive draw you in and there is a sense of arriving in a special place.

But it all starts at the corner entrance from the road, and that's just ugly. At night the streetlight illuminates the boxes, and only the boxes, as it throws very little light. It really does spotlight them.

Wait, you say. You're the same homeowner gardener who put hulking shiny black solar panels smack on the front of the house?

And you think metal boxes on the corner spotlighted by a streetlamp are kind of ugly?

You're right. The utility boxes are probably the least of my garden's blights. The panels and the electric boxes actually kind of balance each other in a feng shui kind of way, offering blatantly utilitarian hardscape contrasted with greenery and repose.

Welcome to my garden, where industrial vibe meets garden oasis. It's intentional.


  1. I love all your garden blight :). And I really love how your plantings have that wonderful fall color.

    1. Thanks! I'm getting used to just not looking at the "blights"!