Dress up dreary walls

17 Dec 2008

Even if you cannot demolish an ugly wall, you may still be able to give it a facelift, camouflage it with plants, or hide it behind a screen of some sort. The important thing is to be able to visualise which would offer the most attractive finish.

Even the best kept garden can be spoiled by an obtrusive, unattractive slab of masonry. This can be the back wall of the house itself, boundary walls at the sides or the bottom of the garden, or even an undistinguished outbuilding of some sort. Demolition may be the long overdue answer to any building or walls that are redundant. But more often the eyesore serves a purpose and has to remain. The options are to improve the appearance of the wall itself, cover it with greenery or build a screen to block it from view.

Cosmetics for house walls

The first thing you must do is to appraise the problem carefully. If your troublesome wall is part of the house, a cosmetic job is likely to be your only option. If the wall is made from unplastered bricks or stone, consider having it professionally cleaned by hosing or sand-blasting. This is a very quick job and not necessarily too expensive either. Before it gets sandblasted, the wall in question will need to be fixed up – you will need to replace all the bricks that are damaged beyond repair and you will need to repoint where the mortar is cracked or crumbling. The end result can be extremely attractive, with the wall looking as it was the day it was built. The only problem with this method is that you may feel tempted to have the rest of your property brought up to the same standard.

A less drastic solution is to consider painting the wall surfaces, using exterior wall paint. Preparation should be thorough – including brushing down and repointing – and you should choose your paint colour carefully to blend in with the house style and surroundings. You should also remember that once painted, the wall cannot be restored to its original condition except with great difficulty and it will also need regular decoration. An alternative to painting is rendering. In this case, the finish can be trowelled smooth or textured in a variety of ways.

The more expensive solutions comprise tile hanging, timber or natural stone cladding are also suitable as cover-ups for walls in bad condition, or just to give them an aesthetically appealing finish. If you choose timber cladding, be sure that the wood used is treated with preservative before it is fixed in place and decorate it with preservative stains rather than paint if you want to avoid having to repaint it every year. While giving your wall its facelift, consider repainting or even replacing windows, doors, bargeboards, soffits, gutters and downpipes at the same time.

Outbuildings and garden walls

Single-storey outbuildings, boundary and retaining walls pose fewer difficulties than house walls – at least in terms of scale. All can be given cosmetic treatments of the type outlined above especially buildings such as garages and sheds. Low retaining walls, whether constructed from bricks, blockwork or stone, often lose their looks because of staining or discoloration due to water percolating through the wall's structure. Although they should have been waterproofed on the inner face and perforated with drainage holes during construction, many retaining walls act as dams for all the moisture trapped in the soil behind them. Painting and rendering often fails for this reason, so it is better to chip out new drainage openings in the existing wall and face the wall with a new skin of masonry. Use split stone, bricks or man-made block, bonded to the old wall and incorporate new drainage openings.

Another solution to unsightly boundary walls and outbuildings is to hide them behind a wall of pierced screen blocks built just in front of the eyesore. Such walls can easily be built to a height of 2m with suitable reinforcement. They make a screen that is solid without being impenetrable and there is a wide range of block styles to choose from. You can also use split-pole fencing to create the screen.

Plant camouflage

Vegetation makes an excellent cover-up for unsightly alls and you can use a wide variety of plant life to conceal even the ugliest eyesore. Clothing a wall with vegetation encroaches very little on to the existing garden and provides an attractive backdrop for it. A boundary wall requires climbing plants, but for a retaining wall, you have the alternative of trailing plants too. However, it is important to think carefully about the effect you want to achieve before rushing off to your local garden centre.

Climbing plants come in all shapes, sizes and colours. The garden centre or nursery will be able to advise on a choice to suit sandy, chalk or clay soils in sunny or shady positions. But you should first decide whether you want evergreen cover or a profusion of spring or summer blooms. The key to training the plants lies in covering the surface effectively. Creepers generally look after themselves once they have started to grow in the right direction, with a few strategically placed plant ties. Other plants are best retained by a series of horizontal wires strung across the wall surface about 300mm apart so that they support the plants without interfering in any way with their growth.

You can also train plants up walls by letting them wrap their way round a wall-mounted trellis. The traditional garden trellis is a light framework of wooden laths nailed together to form a square or diamond lattice. This can cheers up the wall surface even before the plants have begun to grow up it. Plastic-coated mesh is another alternative. In either case, firm fixing is essential as established climbing plants are heavy and replacing a collapsed trellis interwoven with roses can be a very painful process.

Be sure to make an allowance for the plants to grow round and through the trellis work by fixing it on spacer blocks, which hold the lattice away from the wall surface. If the wall is painted, you may want to make provision for future redecoration without damaging the plants. One way of doing this is to hinge the lower edge of the trellis to a wall batten, and to hold its upper edge in place with stout hooks and eyes. At painting time, the top edge of the trellis can be unhooked and the trellis swung carefully away from the wall without causing unnecessary damage to plants.

Tree screens

Sometimes climbing plants do not offer a solution because you cannot provide suitable planting for them at the foot of the wall, even using planting tubs: in this case a screen of vegetation planted in front of the wall is the answer. The unrivalled leader in fast screen formation is the family of quick-growing conifers and a row of saplings should grow into a very effective screen in about five years. The common mistake many people make with conifers is to plant them too close together and then fail to trim them so that they stay within manageable proportions.

Unless you specifically want a dense, high screen, it is better to select slower-growing species, or perhaps to concentrate on traditional hedging plants such as Privets and Lonicera, which are easier to keep under control. Your local nursery is the best source of advice, whether you want a low flowering hedge to conceal the pool pump, or a boundary screen to conceal neighbouring high-rise flats. Whatever you do, think ahead; you do not want to be tackling an eyesore of a different kind in five years because your screen of vegetation has overtaken your garden. – Antonella Dési

Pictures

Images courtesy of:
- Lifestyle Garden Centre:
- Renaldo and YZ Gardens

For more information click here to visit the Lifestyle Garden Centre website.
For more information click here to visit the Renaldo and YZ Gardens website.

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