Old Shrubs, New Uses

kate wilson by Kate Wilson

It always amazes me how preferred landscaping styles can inspire such controversy. And I’m not here to condone one way or the other; but rather to encourage and hopefully inspire. Whatever your preference, own it. If you aren’t sure you even have one, then you’re in a great spot to explore and figure it out. I encourage everyone to view gardening as a safe place to take risks and experiment, but mostly to have fun. Where to start? How about the classics of landscape design? There are some oldie but goodie plants out there that are in need of a little creative reconfiguring.  Let’s look beyond their standard uses and come up with some alternatives. Here are a few ideas:

landscape bed--birches and arbs landscape--arbs and hostas

Arborvitae is overwhelmingly used for screening. When planted en masse, the arborvitae reins king of the budget-friendly “green” fence option. But that doesn’t have to be its only function. Why not a single vertical element in a border or perennial bed? If you have the space to allow for it, Arborvitae Techny or ‘Nigra’, which grow to be about 5’ wide and 18’ tall, have a great deep green color and a more attractive texture than some other varieties.

mailbox landscape bedAnother thought on good old arbs….Globe Arborvitaes. As the name implies, they are naturally globous in shape, giving value to the term low-maintenance – no sheering required. And for those who love the manicured look with less effort, I say go all in. Don’t be afraid to give your garden some balls. And why not lots of them!

There’s no arguing that the manicured garden style makes a bold statement. Another creative warose of sharon espaliery to achieve this look is with the Rose of Sharon. Typically desired for its repeat showy summer blooms, it can grow to be rather large naturally but can also tolerate sheering. More memorable, however, is seeing it pruned into a topiary, as a specimen at The Biltmore Estate left an impression on me years ago.

Vegetable and herb gardens are also typically grown in formal design beds or at least allotted a separate spot from the rest of the landscape. But why? There are so many beautiful varieties of food, why not grow them throughout your yard? Take companion planting to a whole new level when you have edibles mixed in your mixed borders! Or if that sounds too daring, try some ruffled kale or rainbow chard in your annual pot displays. Same idea, just on a smaller more manageable scale.

kale and cabbage container phlox in perennial bed

Speaking of daring, let’s talk about roses for a moment. There are so many colors and roses in bedvarieties available now, mostly all disease- and pest-resistant to boot, it would be a challenge not to get creative with them. If you have a sunny foundation in need of some pop, I’d suggest a row or mass planting of roses with a small evergreen hedge (read: boxwood) in front. The boxwoods would hide any inevitable naked leg syndrome and provide an evergreen backbone during the winter. Depending on the variety, you could potentially have a consistent blooming foundation from late spring into early fall. Not everybody has that!

ornamental grasses and black eyed susansMy last thought I’ll leave you with is with ornamental grasses. Typically used in threes to soften a corner or edge. Standard curb appeal. But when these guys get together en masse and with a couple different varieties thrown in, something magical happens. Yes, in early spring, everything will get cut back- but grasses will start to green up quickly and by the time June has arrived, the buzz cut will have completely grown out. The grasses will be full with varied heights and subtle color variations, and the bigger the mass, the bigger the impact, all year long. I’m using a few smaller varieties to frame in a wildflower patch in my front yard. Yup- front yard, folks. That has me thinking, maybe I should flank it with some globe arborvitaes…..

Happy Spring and Happy Gardening!

This entry was posted in Design, Gardening, Landscape, perennials, trees and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.