Spare No Expanse

Don't let the bare exterior wall of a garage or shed dominate your yard. Give it a job to do.

By Shirley Remes

Photography by Bob Stefko


When designing an outdoor space, be sure to utilize any walls.The blank expanse of a wall in a landscape can loom large. What is to be done with it? The easy thing is to do nothing, or resort to plopping a lone ornament there.

But a plain wall can be an exciting springboard for design opportunities, such as creating a backdrop for a garden room, injecting style and personality into a garden, or establishing mood.

"Consider it a great asset, not a liability," says John Staab, landscape architect for The Brickman Group in Long Grove, Illinois, on the outskirts of Chicago. Here are some ideas for making the most of a featureless wall.

Create a view.

Soften the vast space of a blank wall by decorating it with materials that blend with the home's architecture and the style of the garden. For instance, add a real or faux window, with or without shutters. An arrangement of thoughtfully chosen ornaments, similar to a grouping of pictures inside the home, cheers up a lifeless wall. Vine-clothed trellises, Victorian-era latticework, a row of vintage shutters, or a fruit tree pruned to hug the wall can also be used to break up the surface.

Trompe l'oeil—a technique for painting murals so realistic that they appear to be three-dimensional—introduces a note of whimsy. For example, an empty wall in a tiny Chicago back yard was painted with a scene of a door opening out into a fantasy garden, pulling visitors instinctively toward it.

New weather-tolerant outdoor fabrics provide even more design opportunities. They can be hung as draperies and pulled back with ties, or run entirely across a wall to soften it, as is done inside a home.

Decorating a wall in a garden introduces verticality, bringing the eye up from ground level. Columns, pergolas, and trellises against a wall add not just height but also depth, infusing more interest into the outdoor space.