hiding A/C units, gas meters and other utilities..

wilbret(z8 GA)March 28, 2006

I am curious how you all have taken to the task of hiding things in your yard such as A/C units, gas meters, transformers, etc...

I am dealing with an A/C and gas meter that are placed in...less than desirable spots... on our house. I'm not sure what to do to conceal them, and am curious about your solutions.

I planted gardenias to hopefully hide the AC from people who drive up in our driveway, but it will still stand out to those going past. The gas meter is on the FRONT of the house by the walk...ugh. Hiding it will be a challenge thanks to the fact there is only about a 3-ft wide area to work in.

Maybe this thread will help others too.

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moeinoakforest(z5 IL)

Two words: ornamental grasses.

They look great and they're hardy enough that a little jostling won't hurt them (if a meter-reader needs to get back there).

Some grasses grow over six feet tall--plenty tall enough to hide the utilities. I like the ones with big, feathery plumes.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 2:21PM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Wilbret, my experience is in Texas, but some of it will work anywhere, so here goes:

Please do not put Pampas grass in any area where people must work or walk - that stuff has knife-like edges that can slice skin and take months to heal. There are lots of better, softer grasses.

When you're looking at plants & shrubs, also consider the color of the utility boxes. Most of the boxes in new subdivisions here are a blue-green color. I've noticed that where the owner has planted a solid hedge of a glossy, dark-green leaved shrub,[the screamingly assertive redtip Photinia, for example], it accentuates, rather than softens the presence of the utilities. It seems to work better when several fluffier, smaller-leaved shrubs in a similar color range are combined with something like a grass. Down here people use Cenizo [Leucophyllum frutescens], artemesias and salvias. Good luck with finding plants in your color range that will work in Georgia.

But those utilities will still be there, won't they?? I never did understand why it should be this way. New houses in Austin can cost close to a million dollars but still have these hideous obstructions front and center. And you know what?? Even if you succeed in your design and the plants grow beautifully, you may find all your work chopped up when the utility people come to call.

At my last house our utilities were dug up, the clay piled on the lawn for 3 weeks in 100 degree temperatures, then vaguely stuffed back together. It happened a few years back, but I guess the memory is still fresh! So don't use anything rare or expensive.

Best of luck,

Annie [now in an older, inexpensive neighborhood with no visible utilities]

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 3:51PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

In my mind it is a mistake to plant bushes to "hide" things. You may actually succeed in drawing more attention to them, or if you really do "hide" them, as annieinaustin pointed out, they may be hacked back when it comes time to do some work there.

I suggest you look at the design of your entire garden as though these utility units were not there, rather than focusing on "this spot" and "that spot". Make a beautiful garden and the gas meter will go unnoticed. Yes, really!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 5:03PM
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wilbret(z8 GA)

Thanks for the posts so far. Keep 'em coming!

I wonder if the gas company would allow you to paint the meter something other than gray? In fact, since I have been paying their ransom for a few months now, why would I care if they "let" me paint it or not?

I'll just paint it camoflauge!


    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 6:13PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

I painted miy meters. As long as you don't touch the face and they can still read it you should be fine. They never said anything to me, and now it blends much better, same color as the house.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 6:38AM
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I've been struggling with this one myself. For one air conditioning unit I tried some commercial lattice panels. However, similar to susan's thread on clutter, the panels were not really nice enough and didn't do the trick. In another area I was starting some fastigate euonymus as a kind of screen but then am having a similar feeling to that expressed here--annieaustin and catkim--that it will be too hedgy.

I still think it it possible that a well-made wooden or lattice screen that blends well with the adjacent house may look good--not because of "hiding" but just turning the thing into a structural element more similar in tone and material to something natural. I've been afraid of some plant materials in terms of getting too large.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 9:04AM
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wilbret(z8 GA)


What color did you paint your meter?

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 9:32AM
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flourish(z8 GA)

My meter is hiding amoung the azaleas. There is also a small angel statue tucked inside the leaves right in front of the meter. Ignore the kitty hamming it up for the camera.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 6:33AM
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amateur_expert(z6 MD)

I've been struggling with this same issue. We have the electric company -large green utility box, the phone company - tall slender but still ugly box, and the cable company- squat round box. They are all in one corner of the yard and they were hidden by two very large hollies until recently when the electric company needed to do some work. Now they are right back in the open and I have and my hollies were hacked up. One is gone and the other one is sheared in half. Not that I care, I was going to remove them anyway, but it looks rather ridiculous in my mind.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 6:49AM
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jasper_60103(z4 MN)

I have the same situation only its my front yard. 3 utility boxes are between me and my neighbors house. We were thinking sharing the expense to hide them. I had the utility companies come out and mark the lines. Now I'm having second thoughts because the lines may run shallow. Also, the utility co. requires 3 feet space around them.
Not sure what we'll do. May just leave it alone.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 9:05AM
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While everyone is suggesting plants as camouflage, what can you do if there is concrete (part of our driveway/parking pad) in front of the electric meter?
I've thought about painting the conduit and box to blend with the brick/mortar or garage trim, but can't force myself to do it yet. I have a couple of planters with a lattice-type screen behind the planters, but somehow I think there should be a better solution.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 11:29AM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Amateur_expert, that's the kind of thing I was dealing with at my previous house: not ordinary meters alone, but an area containing 3 utility boxes, with the largest box set on a concrete pad. These boxes took over a space about 4 feet wide by 9 feet long, just inside my lot line, begining 6 feet from the front curb. It was not ignorable!

Catkim, I made the front garden quite beautiful. From the inside looking out the windows it looked wonderful; when outside, it was a pleasant environment for sitting in, watching wildlife, gardening, etc., and my neighbors started coming over for gardening advice. However, when driving up to the house, it was still one ugly intrusion. There are lots of people with similar collections in the newer subdivisions.

For those of you with lesser utility problems - how much loose change are you willing to part with?? The expanded plastic manufacturers want some of your money. You can even get these things personalized.


Here is a link that might be useful: Mock Rocks

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 1:47PM
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I must say I'd rather have the old well showing than the big old fake boulder over it. Heck, I'd rather have my neighborhood's entire collection of utility boxes on my front lawn than of one of those things.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 1:53PM
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Fori is not pleased

For smaller boxes that are unplantable due to concrete, a hefty planter box with a trellis (and maybe casters) will help in some situations.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 3:22PM
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macfairman(10 N. CA)

I posted a similar question about hiding my sprinkler system valves. The best suggestion was to draw the eye away rather than hiding. I still wanted the PVC pipes out of actual sight, but I'm also trying to work in that sleight of hand that makes other things more interesting to look at than where the pipes and stuff are. I have a spigot there and require access, which is like what you are working with.

I have enough space in the bed that I can still plant something in front of the valves and have room to put something flashy off to the side. I went with two lantana ('Irene' that should get large) directly in front -- if nothing else I'm hoping the eye will stop at its flowers! :) Then I'm still not sure what to put off to the side, but probably between the lantanas and the fence I have space for a butterfly bush. (On the fence is pipevine and I have butterflies laying eggs on it so all the plants I mentioned are nectar sources.)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 4:53PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Plant like they aren't there, with planting that flows around--leaving access where required.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 4:56PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

I painted my meters drab brown to blend with the brick. They do blend nicely and your eye is not drawn to it.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 7:00AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

What bboy and catkim said. Just pretend they aren't there--most people won't even REGISTER them. Like telephone poles.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 8:33AM
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I have found that AC units in particular require balance between hiding vs. drawing even more attention. I tried some wood panels but by the time I included proper spacing for air circulation and the introduction of new color/material, it seemed to look like I had created a worse problem with a big wooden behemoth. Did not look like the marketing photos! Of course, something custom-designed and made would have worked better, as the exact measurements and materials make a difference.

Also tried some container plants but found that I had created "clutter" that was more disturbing than the unit. I still think there are ways to disguise, but it is so site-specific as to whether it improves the look or not. So I too, am back to the idea that many of these items can or do become "invisible" by their ubiquity in the landscape. Similar to planting the telephone or utility pole--better to leave it and to plant a climber somewhere you want to emphasize.

I did learn something on the previous thread on this issue, from one of the regulars here (I forgot who!) re: paying attention to the color of the object and using that to advantage--in my case, as in the example, the funny cool bluish gray of the units--is leading me to select some surrounding plants OR containers that blend in better and transition to the neighboring plantings. Also to use "fuzzy" (meaning blurring) vegetation and not rigid screening.

So what I have learned for my particular areas is that I was focusing on this too much, perhaps responding too much to marketing of "disguise this ugly area" to the detriment of more important landscape issues and of having fun with what I've got, and it looks better in my yard to unclutter these utility-type areas, keep them functional, and create something nice nearby.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 9:37AM
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