Horridculture – Fences

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This is not exactly visually appealing.

Fences are necessary. They contain children, dogs and minor livestock. They exclude deer, cattle and others who are unwanted within an enclosed space. Some obscure unwanted scenery. However, even the more ornate sorts are more functional than aesthetically appealing.

That is why hedges are popularly grown to obscure fences that obscure outside scenery. Climbing vines take up less space than hedges, but are likely to damage the fences that they are intended to obscure.

Where I lived in town, the garden in back was surrounded by fences. I loathed them. I grew a grapevine on one. Another one was outfitted with a trellis of twine for pole beans to climb. Tall zonal geraniums obscured at least the lower half of the fence behind the laundry yard. I would have preferred no fences at all.

There were no children or dogs to contain. Nor were there cattle or deer to exclude. Except for the laundry and trash yards, there was no unwanted scenery to obscure. Nonetheless, the neighbors wanted fences, probably because they all believed that backyards should be fenced. It was just how it had always been.

Some urban fences are more like high and solidly constructed walls. Batons cover the seams between planks. Where local ordinance limits the height of fences, lattice is commonly added on top to (sort of) lawfully increase height. It is difficult to grow much on the shady north side of such tall fences.

I am fortunate that I do not work with many fences anymore. However, an area at work is surrounded by cyclone fences. It is necessary and practical, but would be very unappealing around landscape situations. I put pole beans on one, and two grape vines on another. If I must contend with them, I may as well take advantage of them.

‘Icee Blue’ Yellowwood

90313No, it is not an oxymoron. ‘Yellowwood’ is the common name for a few specie of Podocarpus. The evergreen (or ‘everblue’) foliage of ‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood, Podocarpus elongatus ‘Monmal’, really is as silvery grayish blue as the name implies. It can be as striking as some cultivars of Colorado blue spruce. It grows slowly in narrow columnar form to only about fifteen or twenty feet tall.

The finely textured evergreen foliage is ideal for both formal hedges and informal screens, although it takes a while to fill in, particularly for larger hedges and screens. Tip pruning of lanky growth of informal screens improves density. The narrow leaves are about two inches long. Fresh new foliage may be lighter and very slightly greener, which can contrast nicely with more mature foliage.

‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood will tolerate a bit of partial shade, but exhibits the best color in full sun. It prefers to be watered somewhat regularly while getting established. As it matures, it becomes less reliant on watering. Like many other Podocarpus, it is susceptible to infestation by scale insects and the ants that cultivate them. Scale produce sticky honeydew which blackens with sooty mold.

Bullwinkle II

P90303What makes this Bullwinkle worse than most is that I pruned it like this myself. What makes it worse than worse is that it did not need to be pruned in this disfiguring manner for clearance from utility cables like the last one I wrote about was. https://tonytomeo.com/2018/08/08/horridculture-bullwinkle/ It is instead an attempt to renovate an overgrown hedge that was behaving something like a fat hedge. https://tonytomeo.com/2018/06/06/horridculture-fat-hedges/

In fact, the only reason it did not qualify as a fat hedge is that it had plenty of space for all of its superfluous bulk The side to the left was only beginning to encroach into the driveway on that side, and was easily pruned back to the curb, which for now, is adequate confinement. The side on the right was only beginning to encroach into the upstairs balconies, and was likewise easily pruned back for reasonable clearance.

The problems with this hedge were within and on top. It had been shorn back only for minimal confinement for so long that all the foliage on the sides was within a thin external layer. Pruning any farther back would have exposed a thicket of necrotic stems in various degrees of deterioration that had been accumulating within the interior for many years. Almost all growth was directed to and concentrated on top, which shaded the interior and lower stems even more than the accumulation of necrotic crud within did. Since the top had always been pruned down to the same height, all subsequent growth after pruning on top was above where it had been pruned previously, which was of course above the height where it was wanted, and consequently removed when the hedge was pruned again. There was no incentive for lower foliage to develop.

The hedge is there to obscure the view of a building on the left from the windows of the building on the right. The most important foliage for that purpose is the lower foliage, which is precisely what is lacking. Almost all resources were going to the upper foliage, which was contributing nothing, while shading out the lower growth. Although the inner thicket of necrotic stems was partially helping to obscure the unwanted view, it was also inhibiting healthier lower growth.

The illustration shows what remains after the useless top and necrotic interior were removed. After the picture was taken, the left and right sides of the hedge were pruned lower to eliminate the useless upper foliage that was not contributing to the function of the hedge. As unsightly as it is, it partially obscures the view of the building on the left from the building on the right, and will obscure it more as new foliage develops. Now that the interior is exposed, new growth should develop within the interior, and lower to the ground. Because the area is partially shaded by nearby redwoods, the exposed interior limbs are not likely to be damaged by sun scald.

After the new interior growth is established and obscuring the view, the external sides that are there now can be pruned back farther and sloped inward toward the top so that the lower growth of the hedge gets more sunlight. The hedge certainly does not need to be as wide as it is. It would be easier to maintain if it were narrower and so close to the allowable boundaries. Ultimately, with appropriate pruning over the next few years, this old hedge should be restored.

Coast Rosemary

51223Just like real rosemary, the coast rosemary can either be a low ground cover or a dense shrub. Lower cultivars can get nearly five feet wide without getting much more than a foot high. Shrubby types can get nearly six feet tall without getting much wider. Shrubby types are more popular than ground cover types, and are often pruned so that they do not get too broad.

The tiny leaves of coast rosemary are silvery or grayish green, and can be variegated. Small white or very pale lavender flowers bloom sporadically throughout the year, and can be profuse in spring. Established plants do not need much water, but are probably happiest if watered somewhat regularly through summer. Shade subdues silvery foliar color and inhibits bloom.

Shrubby coast rosemary makes a delightful low hedge. It can be shorn like any other formal hedge, but is best where it has space to develop naturally. If space is limited, but not ‘too’ limited, a coast rosemary hedge can be aggressively shorn once annually at the end of winter, and then allowed to grow wild for the rest of the year.

Guilt Trip

P80923It was so long ago that I barely remember it. I was just a little tyke. My older sister tripped on the driveway and broke one of the Japanese boxwood shrubs in the hedge on the edge of the driveway and front walkway. The hedge was still young then, and not completely filled in. My Pa replaced the missing shrub shortly afterward, but not before my younger brother and I learned that the gap was a shortcut through the hedge. The puny new shrub was not enough to compel us to go around like we had done before. Of course, it did not survive for long. It too got broken off.
We did feel sort of guilty, but only for a while. The second shrub was replaced with a third, which seemed like it should be sufficient to patch the gap in the otherwise formally shorn hedge. We were careful with this one, and actually got into the habit of going around the hedge to avoid altercation with it. However, it died even without our influence. Again, we felt guilty about the g. ap.
I do not remember if there were more attempts to fill the gap in the hedge with other shrubs. When we moved away from that house, the shrubs on either side were slowly filling in to obscure the void. A few years later, the gap could not be seen.
However, many years later, the hedge was pruned with an up-do, which exposed the lower few inches of trunk of each of the individual shrubs. Although there was no gap in the very uniform hedge, it was very obvious that one of the trunks was lacking, right where it had always been lacking. Oh, the guilt!
Even if someone wanted to go through the effort to cut a hole in the otherwise exemplary hedge to replace the missing shrub, it would be very difficult or impossible to find a shrub of that now old fashioned cultivar of Japanese boxwood. Modern cultivars are darker green. A single shrub of a modern cultivar would only compromise the uniformity of the now very uniform hedge. The missing shrub will need to stay missing forever. More guilt on top of guilt!
The satellite image below and the street level view from Google Maps shows that the hedge is now foliated all the way down the the ground. I will not even bother mentioning where the the missing shrub is missing from. I know you could not see it anyway. The hedge is a bit more overgrown than I can remember it ever being before, and it has a bit of that fat hedge syndrome going on, but it still looks great for half a century old. The gap is long gone. Only the guilt remains.P80923+

A Hedge Between Keeps Friendship Green

70517thumbIf good fences make good neighbors, what about hedges? If only it were that simple. There are all sorts of evergreen hedges to provide privacy, obstruct unwanted views, disperse wind, define spaces, or muffle noise. They can do much of what fences do, and muffle sound better. The problem is that they are composed of living plants, shorn into submission and very unnatural shapes.

Unlike fences, hedges need to be shorn very regularly. Otherwise, the shrubbery that they are composed of tries to grow into its natural forms. Slow growing plants like Japanese boxwood may only need to be shorn twice annually, especially if no one minds if it looks somewhat shaggy. Old fashioned glossy privet is so vigorous that it likely needs to be shorn a few times before autumn.

Even if the work of shearing is not a problem, accessibility might be. Hedges are popularly planted between properties. The outsides of such hedges are therefore accessible only from adjacent properties, which might have other plants or landscape features in the way. There is also the risk that the neighbors might not want anyone coming over to shear such a hedge! Beware of the dog!

Hedges in conjunction with backyard fences are easier to maintain as long as they are kept below or at the same height as their fences. They only need shearing on the inside and on top. Fences might be needed to keep dogs in or out anyway. When planning for a new hedge, other plants and garden features that might obstruct access within the same landscape must be considered too.

Taller hedges should be shorn so that they are slightly narrower on top, and wider at the bottom. This promotes more uniform growth, and hopefully prevents basal baldness. Upper growth gets more sunlight than lower growth, so grows faster, and too often shades out lower growth while becoming distended up high. Hedges should also be watered and fertilized evenly from end to end.

It is important to remember that hedges work for the landscape, and should not be allowed to dominate. Fat hedges waste space. A well groomed hedge that is only two feet from front to back works just as well as a hedge that is three times as plump. Feral plants that ‘volunteer’ within a hedge must be removed instead of shorn along with the hedge. They only compromise uniformity.