Design a Custom Garden Screen
Learn how to create a decorative garden screen to create privacy in your yard.
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There's a trend in landscaping these days to apply interior decorating ideas to outdoor areas. Decorative garden screens have a variety of uses, much like interior screens.
Homeowners Jeremiah and Jennifer Power have a large, open backyard overlooking a scenic lagoon with plenty of room for entertaining guests and for the kids to play. However, there's no privacy from the neighbors if they want to have an intimate dinner on the patio. They want a hand-painted screen that will make a statement in their yard.
Bringing indoor elements out into the landscape is a smart idea, says landscape architect Louise Leff. An outdoor screen functions in the same way as an indoor screen to create separation and privacy or to hide an area. She designs a decorative screen that will be a focal point in the yard, painted to tie in with the setting so that it is attractive from every angle.
The screen will be placed at the edge of the patio (figure A) to create an intimate dining area set off by a unique backdrop. Keep in mind that a screen that's too small doesn't afford much privacy, whereas one that's too tall can be imposing and make you feel closed in. So choose a design and size that offers intimacy but an opening, welcoming style.
Louise estimates that a professional would charge about $1,000 to design, build, and paint a custom screen. However, do-it-yourselfers can build their own for only $250, excluding the cost of surrounding plants. There are lots of ways to personalize a screen that are fairly easy, so Leff gives this project a 2 on a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (difficult) and says that it can be completed in one weekend.
Step One: Making the Template
Woodworker Joel Asulin says that for the design, consider the style of your house and garden and what kind of statement you want to make. You can keep the design simple, or if you have some carpentry skills, you can incorporate intricate design features. The design for this project has a curved top to soften the screen and a crescent-shaped cut-out, which will allow light through it.
Joel makes a template (figure B) so that all the panels will look the same. He uses a 2- by 2-foot panel of medium-density fiberboard for the template.
To lay out a series of circles for the curved top design, mark the center point of each circle and use a scrap piece of lumber as a compass to draw the circles, as shown in figure C. The circles outline the curved top, curved sides and crescent-shaped window. After marking the design, drill a hole on the design edge, insert a jigsaw blade and work slowly around the outline to cut out the template.
Step Two: Assembling the Screen
Joel chose pine for this project because it is readily available and inexpensive ($24 per panel). It comes in 24- by 72-inch sheets, an ideal size for a screen, so you don't have to cut it to size. Redwood and cedar are also excellent lumbers. Pine, however, needs to be protected with a coat of sealant, and Joel recommends bringing the screen inside during bad weather to extend its life.
Lay the template on the panel (figure D), lined up at the top and sides, and trace around it with a pencil. Rough-cut the panel with a jigsaw. Then place the template on the panel again and smooth out the edges with a router that has a flush trimmer. Sand down the edges for a perfect finish. Make two more panels in the same manner.
Once the panels are cut out (figure E), attach the hinges. Use double-action screen hinges galvanized for outdoor use which will enable the screen to move in either direction.
Stack the panels together and mark the placement of the hinges on the panel edges, about a foot apart. Screw on the hinges (figure F).
To give the screen extra support, cut out a template for two curved footings and trace the design onto another pine panel (figure G).
Run a router down the center of the footings to make a groove (figure H) so that it will fit snugly against the bottom of the screen. Then cut out the footings with a jigsaw.
Attach the footings with thumb screws (figure I), which can easily be removed if you want to fold up the screen for storage.
Step Three: Apply the Base Coat
Artist David Floyd demonstrates how to paint the panels. He applies a faux finish, often used in interior design. The colors he chooses connect the screen with its surroundings: terra cotta and gold tie in with the patio, blue draws in the sky and house siding, and purple and red complement the flowers in the garden. David stresses that anyone can paint a faux finish.
Prime the screen with an exterior/interior primer and let dry for at least 30 minutes. Lay out some stencils to get an idea of how they'll look (figure K). Mark the borders with a pencil and reinforce the outlines with a marker.
Tape the border between the base of the panels and the curved tops to define where different colors will go. Then apply paint in two different primary base colors (figure L) by dabbing it on with a wide brush. Then dab on a few spots of another color or two.
Use a damp sponge to lightly blend the colors, but be careful not to over-blend. The colors should fade into one another.
Step Four: Stenciling the Screen
Stencils come in a wide variety of patters and make painting a design very easy. David chose a geometric pattern for the bottom and top of the rectangular portion of the panel and nature patterns of flowers and vines for the middle of the rectangular portion and arched top. Stencils are available at art supply stores for about $5 to $10 each.
Line up a stencil with the marks you made earlier and tape it in place. Use a stencil brush to dab on two to three colors of paint on the openings of the stencil (figure O). Don't worry about being precise; you want the colors to blend to create a subtle, faded look. Lift up the stencil and position it next to the pattern you just painted. Continue stenciling around the whole panel, using a different stencil for the borders.
Next, mix three parts charcoal gray paint with one part water and apply it to the screen over the already painted patterned with a wadded up cotton t-shirt or rag. The gray gives the panel a weathered, patina look (figure Q).
After the paint dries, make the colors really pop with a transparent oil-based stain, which gives the panels a rich honey glow. Apply the stain evenly with a roller.
Then roll on a coat of satin polyurethane sealant to protect the screen from the weather. If you plan to leave the screen outdoors, you'll need to reapply the sealant each year to keep the screen looking its best.
Planting a Garden Screen
Because the screen is portable, Louise plants flowers in containers, which can move with the screen. She chose pots in colors that tie in with the screen colors: sky blue and terra cotta pots. Louise adds fragrant shrubs and colorful annuals in purple and red. Her selections include:
- Johnny jump-ups (Violal tricolor), Zones 4-8, which range from dark purple to yellow to white and bloom from spring through fall
- Primrose (Primula pubescens), Zones 3-8, with clusters of rosettes
The finished screen is a light, airy backdrop for the potted flowers. With the portable containers of color, the screen can be a beautiful showpiece anywhere in the yard.
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