John Kelly's Washington

John Kelly: Creative camo helps hide outdoor trash cans

Diana McLellan hopes to patent her Topiary Trash-Can Topper, made of fencing and fake ivy.
Diana McLellan hopes to patent her Topiary Trash-Can Topper, made of fencing and fake ivy. (John Kelly/the Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Thursday, December 10, 2009

Diana McLellan has seen a lot of ugly things in her life -- after all, she spent her career as a journalist, including a sublime decade when she was known as the "Ear," peddling gossip in, sequentially, each of D.C.'s daily newspapers: the Star, The Post, the Times.

But that doesn't mean she enjoys looking at ugly things, and as I sat in her Capitol Hill townhouse sipping tea and eating smoked salmon on crustless bread (the salmon was on crustless bread; I wasn't), Diana described her crusade to blot out at least a little of the world's hideousness. It's an invention she calls the Topiary Trash-Can Topper.

"It isn't that I think it's an object of beauty," Diana said. "It's that it disguises an object of such loathsome ugliness."

That loathsomely ugly object is the outdoor trash can.

There was a time when trash cans -- and their pungent, flyblown contents -- were consigned to the alley, the province of trashmen and hobos and children playing kick the can. But the trash can has moved to in front of the house. In Diana's case, that means the front patio of the house she shares with her husband, Dick.

Diana was tired of looking out the window of her basement sitting room and seeing . . . it.

"It was just an affliction upon my eyesight," she said.

So this past summer, she invented a product that helps the bin blend in.

"I make it out of this stuff," said Diana, dragging a long, heavy cardboard box into her sitting room from the hall. She pulled out a coil of fencing, not quite as stiff as chain-link but sturdier than chicken wire.

Woven into the links were green plastic leaves called EZ-Ivy, made by a California company that sells it primarily for use as privacy fencing. Diana repurposed it. Formed into a cylinder and topped with a faux ivy-festooned disk, it becomes a trash can cozy that fits around the can. Her patent application is pending.

You can patent a leafy green cylinder of EZ-Ivy? I asked.

"I wondered that," she said. "But yes, you can. People have patented the most bizarre things."

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