If you notice your utility boxes at all, you probably don't see them as garden enhancements. Yet it's possible for these blocky eyesores to become works of succulent art. Not necessarily by painting them, though.
Above and in my new video, Lauraine Esparza of Hidden Meadows, CA, had her utility boxes wrapped (like a car) with vinyl laminate depicting Aeonium 'Kiwi'. As a finishing touch, she'll plant those same succulents around it.
The idea originated with San Diego photographer Lee Sie, who in 2012 first wrapped a box near his home to discourage taggers. "They don't tag objects that have a busy pattern," Lee told me at Lauraine's. I also found out:
Why wrapping is better than painting
- You know what you're getting. Art is subjective, and a painted box may not be to everyone's liking.
- Vinyl laminate lasts five to ten years depending on sun exposure. It's UV-treated, so colors stay true.
- It's easy to clean. If need be, wipe off grafitti with Goo Gone.
- You can select designs from Lee's site or have him create a custom one.On a utility box in San Diego's Point Loma neighborhood, a hummingbird enjoys Crassula 'Campfire' flowers. From www.LeeSiePhotography.com.
- Should your box stand out or disappear? If you prefer the latter, wrap it with a photo of nearby shrubbery.
- If need be, vinyl laminate is easily removed with a heat gun. No chemicals or sanding needed.
- My friend Lauraine's utility boxes are convenient for the power company---alongside her driveway at the curb---but sad for someone who loves garden art. (In the video, notice mosaics in Lauraine's garden by Hidden Meadows artist Marsha Rafter.)
When Lauraine asked me to help select a design from those on Lee's site, I was uncertain. Yet when I envisioned the area planted with similar succulents, the choice seemed obvious.
The charming Lee Sie
During the three-hour installation at Lauraine's, I stopped by and soon became excited to share Lee Sie with you. In the resulting video you'll watch Lee hard at work as he fields my questions. My video also shows more of his installations.
Lee has wrapped over 100 utility boxes for clients in the San Diego area and beyond. Succulents are a favorite because their geometric patterns work from any perspective. At Lauraine's, Lee also wrapped two tall, narrow boxes with a bird-of-paradise print to echo plants across the driveway. I've suggested she add dwarf variety near the boxes, too.
Wrapping boxes isn’t difficult, but it does take time and skill, plus a heat gun, box cutter and smoothing tool. It's a two-person job; a helper unrolled the vinyl and removed its paper backing as Lee smoothed it onto the box.
So, does the utility company mind? “They love it, because they don’t have to clean graffiti from boxes,” Lee says, adding that they do require their proprietary numbers and stickers be the box, and that it can be opened.