It's hard to find the charm in a structure that is just so ugly it doesn't fit into any landscaping style at all. An unsightly metal shed, cinder block garage, tool storage unit or that truly awkward playhouse the kids adore doesn't have to ruin the views in your beautiful backyard oasis. Instead, defeat the ugly with clever tactics to conceal the structure's presence and add an unexpected level of charm to your garden design.
Install a tall decorative fence in front of the structure. Choose a smooth wood surface, soft-colored vinyl panels or richly ornamental metal fencing. Arrange medium-height and low-growing shrubs at both ends of the fence to smooth the visual transition from the solid lines of the fence to the softer textures of the surrounding landscape.
Plant a row of fast-growing, narrow evergreen shrubs to form a hedge interrupting the line of sight between the main part of your backyard and an unattractive permanent structure. “Spartan” juniper (Juniperus chinensis “Spartan”) is suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, reaches about 5 feet wide at maturity and brings rich, deep green color to the landscape. For smaller spaces, “Skyrocket” juniper (Juniperus scopulorum “Skyrocket”), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, grows just 2 to 3 feet wide and provides year-round interest with blue-green foliage.
Screen off structures that will eventually be removed using shrubs or ornamental grass planted in large containers. Several big urns with 4-foot-tall clumps of purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum”), hardy in USDA zones 9 and 10 and grown as an annual elsewhere, offer a gracious way to camouflage a summer clubhouse the kids decide to cobble together from scrap. Later, repurpose both the decorative containers and plants elsewhere in the yard.
Position sturdy perennial vine plants at the corners of a sad-looking structure. Train the vines up and over the feature, transforming it into a unique trellis supporting the lush foliage and festive bursts of color when the flowers bloom. Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, and clematis (Clematis), in USDA zones 4 through 8, lend robust color and texture to a backyard setting, while disguising the structure beneath their vining branches.
Create a living sculpture with the espalier technique of training plants to grow in a flat plane across the offending structure's facade. Strategically pruned branches of small trees, vines and shrubs, like red-leaf Japanese photinia (Photinia glabra), hardy in USDA zones 7A through 11, are trained along horizontal and vertical wires to create eye-catching geometric designs. Apple (Malus spp.) and plum (Prunus spp.) trees may also be trained in espalier style, offering a convenient, space-saving way to hide a structure in the summer and produce tasty edibles at the same time.