A Design Dilemma

– Posted in: Garden Design

In working with a couple this past spring on a design renovation of their backyard pool area and a design for their newly built guest house, they mentioned that they were bothered by some plastic covers on top of the grates in the front of their house. They asked me to do something about it.

Because their request was a ‘by the way’ one and not part of the original design in question, I felt it best not to raise the issue of re-doing the entire front area but to try to come up with a simple solution.

And although it appeared that no formal design had been implemented for this area in recent years, there was a tremendous amount of exuberant spring bulbs and annuals in the front beds that were stunning and which I felt should not be disturbed (as shown in this photo taken in late May).

The only pre-existing perennials in the beds were mature clumps of blue hostas, Creeping Jenny and ajuga. I wanted to offer some consistency by planting the area in front of each of the plastic covers with a combination of soft, colorful plant material. I chose Geranium x ‘Rozanne’ and Heuchera x villosa ‘Pinot Noir’.

So, this is what I ended up doing around the plastic covers. I bought three varieties of sprawling perennials: Geranium x ‘Dilys’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny) and Lamium galeobdolon ‘Variegatum’. Any ivy that was already growing near the area in question was replanted so that it could begin to work its way over the plastic covers. This is hardly what I would call a ‘quick fix solution’ but it was the best one I could come up with at the time.

So, fellow bloggers, now it’s your turn. What other ways could have I dealt with this design dilemma? I’m sure there are several. Please feel free to chime in and offer up your thoughts and ideas. If you have any photos that you’d like to share that can shed some light on how to deal with a similar problem, send us a link.

Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
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vanillalotus September 6, 2008, 6:29 pm

I think your idea is great. I would have done the same most likely. Other ideas would be to put some tall plants around it like aspidistra. Or another thing would be to stick some mesh or chicken wire around and have the vines grow up that like make a box, but that involves building something. I think you did well even if it isn’t a quick fix.

Vanillalotus-
I did consider placing some tall plants around them to camouflage the area. But it just would have looked out of scale with all of the other plantings. Your idea of using some mesh or chicken wire is an interesting one. Thanks for your input! Fran

VP September 7, 2008, 8:06 am

Hi Fran,I have a similar problem in my front garden – we have  5 drain covers, plus a concrete cover that provides access to a telephone junction box. For some of the covers, I’ve planted around them as a disguise just like you have. I’ve just had several years head start on you! Others have pots on them, others have been covered with ‘coin’ paviors so they look like stepping stones to another part of the garden.I’ve chosen the latter 2 solutions because we may need access to said covers in an emergency or if the telephone company needs to do some work.I’ll work up a post on this so you can see what I mean. I’ve only just started to introduce the front garden’s design to you all, so here’s an excuse to tell you a bit more about it!Link to follow in due course…

VP-I had actually considered doing exactly what you did…using pots with slabs of stone underneath so as not to even have the plastic covers showing but the owners were adamant that they needed access from inside to the grates outdoors. I’m looking forward to receiving your post! Fran

chidy September 7, 2008, 2:37 pm

i’ve never seen anything like that on the side of a house before! is there a “reason” why grates need a plastic cover? seriously, i’m scratching my head over that one- what’s the point of grates if you’re covering them?how much light does it get? that’s the real question and determines everything for these side of house type projects. if it had been me, i’d have taken a couple of pieces of twine, or perhaps even some chicken wire, and grown some morning glories over that plastic. ick, it’s so unnatural. or perhaps a creeper; i’ve got some lamium and vinca which move quickly over surfaces. or, depending on the light, some ‘droopy-bushy’ plants; aramanth and day lillies come to mind and could be closely planted to droop over the plastic. how about trumpet vine? that covers everything and is hard to kill. if it were my property i’d arrange a trellis at least a foot or two up and around the plastic and grow something on that. annuals or otherwise, that’s just too much of an eyesore to bear.

Chidy-
You’re absolutely right about the grates being covered. I guess they felt it was less of an eye sore that way unless it was to keep out water (although I doubt that it would).

The area is a partially shady spot and the beds are not deep at all. Plus there are several windowboxes which become a bit intrusive in dealing with any height around the grates. I do like your trellis idea and actually can imagine putting it to use in some other plan.

I also think the morning glory concept is a great one if it were a sunny location. I am concerned that any of those perennials vines could become real problems in the future, especially the trumpet vine.
You’ve offered up some good ideas. Thanks! Fran

Chookie September 11, 2008, 6:06 am

Well, I can’t understand the plastic covers either. What use is a drain that’s covered up? Where is their run-off going? I would have told them to ditch the shiny, eye-catching plastic covers. If they weren’t happy with good honest function, they could paint the concrete dark brown to camouflage it. Then the same soft planting as the rest of the bed.

Chookie-
Good idea about letting vines grow directly over the grates. Don’t know what purpose the plastic covers are serving, if any. Something to check out in the future. Fran

Lois J. de Vries September 12, 2008, 4:30 pm

Sorry to focus on the wrong thing, Fran, but I’m also curious about the plastic covers. New stormwater regs in NJ require that all runoff be disposed of on-site. For many new homes, that means drywells at specific locations around the house, figured out by engineers and approved by the local planning board. If that’s the case, covering up the grates with anything is a big no-no.

Lois-
I don’t think it’s agains the law in PA. to cover grates. Am going to site on Friday and will check it out with the landscaper on the job. Thanks for that input. Fran