Not your mama’s hedgerow

Over my years of gardening, I have been inspired by all different kinds of tremendous garden designs. Many have had a lasting impact on me, while others have faded away like so many memories do over time. I love large garden spaces that present the opportunity to create smaller, more intimate garden rooms to enjoy while strolling through the garden or when available, being able to stop and dwell in a “private” space which is enclosed by all kinds of plants. I try to keep mental notes of those inspirational settings so that I can draw from them to implement similar concepts in the gardens I design.

Picea abies ‘Pendula’ may be easily trained to provide an excellent, low-maintenance screen.

When we arrived at our little lot, the 30 year-old fence showed signs of haphazard repair, barely helping the fence to stand and with the first big windstorm, down came sections that had not yet been patched together. Fortunately, we were prepared and had already scheduled the old, rotting fence to be removed and an nice chain-link fence to be put in its place. Of course we lost any privacy the old fence provided, but my strategy is to utilize a number of great conifers (and other exciting plants) to create natural screening that will grow and eventually offer complete privacy to our back-yard space.

Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ is pliable when young and can be trained for height, breadth or however you might desire.

To achieve this goal, I have an overall strategy that will utilize a number of different selections, planted in layers, beginning near the fence and then working inward toward areas that will feature smaller, more ornamental plants, vegetables and herbs. I have already planned the placement of “rooms” that will be considered more private than others and will require planting combinations that will fill in quickly to provide the desired screening effect as soon as possible.

My first strategy is to plant an initial layer that will block eye-level views into our garden from the adjacent city park. My desire is that this outer layer will be as low-maintenance as possible. I have no desire to spend the final years of my life shearing large hedges to contain them and keep them looking tidy. I’ll be using a combination of groups of weeping conifers for this Fence Layer of the screen.

The super bright color of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’ can brighten most any space.

Picea abies ‘Pendula’ can be commonly found in many garden centers around the USA. What I love about using this selection as a screen is that it has a perfect curtain-like effect. Similar to the example photo above from the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, I’ll be staking my plants to a height of about seven feet, along my five foot chain-link fence. As the trees grow, I’ll spread side branches along the top of the fence and their lateral branches will fall and eventually cover the fence from tree to tree. I will also take side branches at about the six foot mark and train them loosely from tree to tree for a softly sweeping effect. At the top, once I no longer train the central leader up the stake, it will simply flop over creating a rounded top. Planting several of these in a line along the fence will create a very attractive, first level of screening.

A finer textured option for garden screening, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ may be trained along fence or even to cover a gazebo to provide privacy and shade.

I don’t intend to simply plant a row of Weeping Norway spruce along the entire length of my fence – that would be terribly monotonous. My plan is to use the same technique with conifers of different colors or textures depending on what “room” of the garden they are screening. In a more shaded area, I’ll use the shade tolerant, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ with very much the same technique of training. To brighten a smaller space, I may use Picea pungens ‘The Blues’, which has a very similar growth habit but its bright silvery, powder blue color will reflect light. To really brighten a space, a hedge of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’PP#22296 could be used. I may plant a row along the north side of my vegetable garden to reflect more light into the space for those sun-loving plants.

Remember, the weeping plants I’ve mentioned today are just the first layer of screening that I will be using in my new garden. I’ll also consider mixing a row of a combination of these plants (or others) for a beautiful non-conventional screen. Imagine the color of ‘Jantar’ placed between a pair of ‘The Blues’ and continuing that effect for 30 feet or more. Stay tuned to learn more of my strategy to screen my garden for privacy – and for fun!

Conifer Lover

Spring awakening

The calendar tells us that we are well into the spring season now. Our local Pacific Northwest weather has been hinting to us that summer is not far behind. Rather than an April filled with cold, gray, wet days, we have enjoyed some very refreshing downpours of rain followed by days of sunshine and temperatures up to the low 80s! After three days of having the windows open all day and working out in the garden in short pants and a tee shirt, it is easy to forget we are just in the month of April. Reality refreshes the memory the next day when temperatures drop 25 degrees, blustery winds bring in dark clouds and the rain returns. Back and forth it has been this month, giving me several good working days in the garden and confidence that everything is still being irrigated with our natural rain.

Fresh, colorful, new foliage begins to emerge as springtime awakens in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden with warmer temperatures and sunny, blue skies.

Clearing out the two spaces where I will grow fresh vegetables and herbs, and the back corner where the native, larger tree seedlings will be planted, I believe I am ready to begin delineating the new, enlarged bed spaces for planting my ornamental conifers and other exciting plants. Once we have more dry days in a row than wet ones, I think our soil will drain enough that I can bring out the rototiller and begin grinding up the old lawn grass to build new beds and expand upon those already there.

One of the first planting projects will be to create the privacy “hedges” on the borders of the property. I enclosed the word, hedges, with quotes because I do not intend to plant a single row of one plant type along the border to create privacy—what fun would that be? No, I’ll be planting a selection of plants that will serve the same purpose as a privacy hedge without the mono-culture monotony with will help prevent an insect or disease infestation as well as make the whole thing much more visually appealing.

Over the years of writing this blog I have discussed alternatives to traditional hedge-row planting, and I will be putting those ideas to work in my new garden. Since the new privacy screen will essentially run along the length of my property, I’ll be keeping in mind the “garden rooms” that will flow and change along the length of the screen and those changes will influence my choices in screening plants to use. I will need to keep in mind the movement of the sun and be careful not to place screening plants that will grow too tall and shade out adjacent space designed for full sun exposure. Likewise, I will certainly plan the right specimens that will provide needed summer, late afternoon/evening shade to outdoor seating spaces. Not all areas will require the same level of privacy, so I will very likely plan some smaller privacy plants in more localized spaces to provide that extra level of screening desired for sun-bathing or skinny-dipping in the grandchild’s wading pool.

Next time I will begin to describe my choices for different kinds of screening and how to mix plants for efficiency and aesthetic appeal. I hope you’ll join me!

Is it considered “peeping” if…?

You may have seen on the news that we are experiencing record high temperatures throughout the Pacific Northwest. With hotter temperatures, people tend to wear fewer clothes; which from my perspective can have both its ups and downs.

Take this morning for example. I get up at 5:45am and the outdoor temperature is 71 degrees F. So, I open the house up, and take my bowl of blueberries and melon out on the front porch to enjoy the early morning garden while the temperature is most comfortable. I hear some kind of racket going on next door, the neighbor’s dog begins to bark aggressively and then a naked man flops over the short fence and runs through my front yard. As I was processing that sight, here comes the neighbor’s dog rounding the fence near the road with what appeared to be the man’s pajama bottoms in his mouth.

Not sure what I should do about all this activity, my mind immediately went to what conifers I should consider planting along that short fence to prevent this sight from occurring in the future.

Thuja occidentalis 'Golden Globe'
Thuja occidentalis 'Golden Globe'

Now, I like my neighbors quite a lot; in fact we are good friends, so I really don’t want to plant anything that will get huge or require a lot of shearing to maintain. My first thought is something with very long and sharp needles (to defend against unwanted fence hopping). Then again, I don’t want to be mean, and I am sure there must have been some kind of rational explanation for the activity I just witnessed.

Thuja occidentalis Mr. Bowling Ball
Thuja occidentalis "Mr. Bowling Ball"

I decide on a mix of dwarf cultivars of Thuja occidentalis. They will grow slowly enough not to take over the entire border between our two homes and will add nice color and a soft texture to the hedge.

A few great dwarf and intermediate cultivars of Thuja occidentalis that I will consider are:

  • ‘Hetz Midget’ – a good green globe-shaped mounding plant.
  • ‘Golden Globe’ – great color and very tidy globe-shaped habit.
  • ‘Sherwood Frost’ – makes a fine textured narrow pyramid with nice creamy variegated foliage.
  • ‘Bobazam’ (“Mr. Bowling Ball®”) – is a fun, small, ball-shaped, fine textured green mound.
  • ‘Yellow Ribbon’ – although it will grow large, one or three of these placed along the hedge row will add impact with their contrasting color and size.

Of course there are others to consider as well. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of designing the hedge to creatively incorporate all these different shapes, sizes and textures to make my new hedge not only functional, but a showpiece as well.

Now, the rest of the story.

As it turns out, the man was fleeing the home on the other side of my neighbor. When he hopped the fence on that side, he tipped over a couple garbage cans which alerted the dog and well, as they say, the rest is history.

Conifer Lover

Who doesn’t love emeralds?

Have you ever seen some hedge rows after a big snowfall? They will often look a little like an octopus after an undersea bar room brawl. Branches layed out this way and that due to the heavy load of the snow. Then add the brownish / bronze winter color and you’ve got a hedge that will not only require a tremendous amount of work to prune back into shape, but even when in good form will retain that winter color until the warming temps of spring wake it up and revive its green color. Surely there is a better alternative to that old garden standby, Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’.

Fortunately,  we are in luck, there is a superior introduction from Denmark that solves the problems described above. Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ has beautiful glossy dark green foliage that remains green all year long. Not only that, but it has a more compact habit which makes it more resistant to “blowing out” in heavy snow loads. So, now we have an improved Arborvitae, but who outside of Denmark can pronounce it’s name?

Thuja occidentalis Smaragd
Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’

Back in the early 1980’s, when my good friend Jean Iseli introduced me to the plant, he told me to, “begin with an ‘s’ sound, clear your throat and end with a solid ‘d'”. As it turns out, ‘Smaragd’ translates to “Emerald,” describing its year-round color, so we will often find it labeled, Emerald Green Arborvitae in our local garden centers.

Whichever name you prefer; if you are looking for a hardy, good-natured tree for a hedge, to flank the driveway or as a single specimen you should definitely consider ‘Smaragd.’

Conifer Lover