Hedges – Living In The Background

90918thumbPretty soon, as autumn weather starts to get cooler, some deciduous plants will develop brilliant color before defoliating for their winter dormancy. Throughout the rest of the year, evergreen plants with gold, silver, bronze, bluish, purplish, reddish or variegated foliage are more colorful than common green foliage is. A few deciduous plants with colored foliage turn different colors in autumn.

Such colorful foliage is generally appealing in the garden. However, there are reasons why not all plants in the garden are so colorful. There really is the potential for too much of a good thing. If all foliage was always colorful, landscapes would look cluttered. Flowers would not be so prominent. There are many situations for which plain and simple evergreen foliage is likely the best choice.

That is why simple evergreen hedges of the various species and cultivars of pittosporum, privet, holly, arborvitae and laurel are still so popular. Some are formally shorn. Where space is sufficient, others are informal screens in which the shrubbery is more or less allowed to assume its natural form and size. The various boxwoods are useful for smaller evergreen and formally shorn hedges.

Most contiguous hedges and screens are intended to separate spaces or obscure fences or buildings. Some sporadic sorts might only expected to disrupt the expansiveness of large buildings or partially deflect prevalent breezes. What they have in common, is that they are in the background. Some are behind or next to lawns, patios or decks. Others are behind more prominent plants.

Shearing hedges that are adjacent to lawns, patios and decks is of course much easier than shearing those that are behind other plants. Screens or hedges behind rose gardens, dahlias, flower beds, or anything that might be damaged by the process of shearing a hedge, should be of the sort that do not need to be shorn regularly. Nor should they be so colorful that they steal the show.

If possible, maintenance of hedges should be scheduled to coincide with the off season of plants in their foreground.

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Horridculture – Instant Hedge

P90220Back when horticulture was still respected, a very long time ago, dense shrubbery with finely textured foliage, such as Japanese boxwood, could be purchased already shorn into cubes that only needed to be installed in a closely set row to become an ‘instant hedge’. For some small hedges composed of small plants that recovered efficiently from transplant, it actually worked reasonably well, even if they did not look so great at first. It also worked for a few larger shrubs that happened to transplant very easily, such as glossy privet. Tall arborvitaes happen to work exceptionally well as instant hedges, although the best spacing for them leaves temporary gaps in between.
However, most of the best of the bigger shrubbery should not be planted as instant hedges. The taller specie of Pittosporum get too distressed from transplants when mature, so should instead be planted while small, and allowed to grow into a hedge. Larger and much more expensive shrubs, take a few years to recover from transplant, and some recover much slower than others, compromising the conformity of the hedge as it develops.
That being said, I am not certain what to say about this instant hedge. The individual plants are much too close to each other, probably because someone wanted instant coverage, but perhaps because the so-called ‘gardener’ could charge more for installing more plants. I seriously doubt that the so-called ‘gardener’ will be able to contain these junipers, which will want to get much taller and wider than their confined space will allow. Even if the hedge bulks out just a slight bit beyond the curb, it will shade out the lower foliage more than it already is. I actually expect the junipers to grow well out into the driveway within only a few years, as they compete for space. If they get big enough, they can break the curb and asphalt pavement. It annoys me mostly because I like Skyrocket juniper so much, that I hate to see it abused like this.
Yet, It could work. As unlikely as it seems, there is a very slight possibility that the so-called ‘gardeners’ may be more qualified than I give them credit for. (Or they might be replaces with such. This is after all, the backside of the same landscape that is inhabited by the crepe myrtle featured last Wednesday.) After all, someone seemed to have enough sense to select #5 (5 gallon) plants instead of #15 (15 gallon) plants that would not be doing so well now. If the top of the hedge is kept down to prevent the junipers from growing as trees, and the facade of the hedge is kept contained to within about a foot and half of the wall behind it, lower growth will regenerate and get enough sunlight to not get shaded out. It will take serious commitment, and a specialized combination of regular shearing and selective pruning to limit congestion, but this hedge just might work.

Horridculture – Satellite Dish

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Satellite dishes, tater tots, fish sticks, soldiers, flat tops, gobstoppers, corks, oil tanks and trip hazards are just some of the many but less objectionable names that my colleague down south and I have developed for what should be good shrubbery, trees, vines or whatever that so-called gardeners got to with their hedge shears. Tater tots are usually Heavenly bamboo shorn into stout cylinders. Fish sticks are the same, but taller, narrower, and often composed of Podocarpus macrophyllus. Corks are commonly breath of Heaven, but could be just about anything shorn to be somewhat cylindrical, but narrower down low, and wider on top. Trip hazards are ground cover plants like creeping California lilac or creeping cotoneaster, shorn into absurd low hedges next to sidewalks. Gobstoppers could be just about anything, but tend to hang over the curbs in parking lots, ready to impale a radiator grill with a gnarly stub. You can use your imagination for soldiers, flat tops and oil tanks. You probably can not conceive anything more absurd than what my colleague and I see on our job sites.

‘Garage sales’ are probably the worst. They are a variety of plants that were probably intended to function as a practical landscape, but instead got shorn collectively into a large thicket of mixed foliage that rarely gets the chance to bloom. Bougainvillea, New Zealand flax, jade plant, pampas grass, wisteria, fruit trees and even the occasional century plant; anything goes! If the so-called gardeners can reach it, they will shear it.

The original satellite dish was a carob tree in Westchester. I first saw it in the early 1990s, when some homes that had a bit of space to spare were still outfitted with huge parabolic satellite dishes, before the much smaller ones that can be mounted on roofs were invented. This tree had a normal trunk that went up into a remarkably flat ceiling under which no foliage was allowed to hang. This ceiling was only about seven feet above the lawn below. Above that, there was a remarkably symmetrical but low dome of very tightly shorn foliage that looked something like a downward facing satellite dish. This dome was perhaps twenty feet wide, but less than four feet from top to bottom. So, with seven feet of clearance above the lawn, the entire tree was no more than twelve feet tall, barely higher than the eaves of the home behind it. I really wish I had a picture to share. Who puts so much work into ruining a tree?! Maintaining it properly would have been much less effort.

Earlier, we discussed renovating overgrown shrubbery as small trees. https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/overgrown-shrubbery-becomes-small-trees/ . The satellite dish was the exact opposite of such useful procedures. What is the point of planting trees and then not allowing them to develop as anything more than abused shrubbery?

The pair of satellite dishes in the picture above are Japanese maples. Their canopies are about the same depth as that of the carob tree in Westchester, but are only about half as broad. What is the point of planting Japanese maples if they are not allowed to look like Japanese maples? They look ridiculous. What is worse is that someone puts significant effort into making them look so ridiculous. They would be so much prettier if pruned only very rarely, and only for clearance above the driveway and away from the building behind. Such pruning would have been less work than shearing these disgraced trees just once.

Even more effort goes into humiliating the plants in the picture below. The fish stick to the upper right is a wisteria vine that is not allowed to bloom or climb onto the trellis that was built for it (which is not visible in the picture). The trip hazard to the lower left is some sort of lavender that is not allowed to spread out over the bare soil as it was intended to do. The cork in the middle is a New Zealand tea tree that can never develop the gracefully irregular canopy and sculptural trunks that it would be pleased to display. It is just a cork.

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Horridculture – Fat Hedges

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This is the first article within the designated ‘rant’ format, that will continue each Wednesday. Articles for the other six days of the week will be more cheerful, or at least less objectionable. These articles may not always be rants, so might alternatively include discussions of particular fad, trends, gimmicks and so on. Perhaps some topics will remain just that; discussions in which the advantages and disadvantages of a particular subject are compared. Categories may develop, so besides ‘Horriduclture’, there could be a category for discussions of fads, for example. This is a new format for me, so I will keep it open to modification, and see how it goes.

Fat hedges are one of my serious peeves!

Hedges done properly are very useful landscape features, that provide privacy, obscure undesirable views, muffle outside sound or simply divide a large garden space into smaller garden rooms. Landscape designers know how to use them, and are good at planning their locations and orientations, as well as designating the plant material to be used for particular hedges. Some informal hedges or screens are outside of useful space, where they have plenty of room to grow plump and wild without becoming obtrusive. Formal hedges are those that require shearing for confinement within limited space.

Fat hedges are those that are designed to be contained, typically by formal shearing, but are instead allowed to encroach into the usable space within the landscape that they are designed to enclose. They can be a serious problem in confined garden space, and sometimes occupy most of the space themselves.

Seriously, they are very often several feet deep (from front to rear). Fat hedges on either side of a small garden room that is only about twelve feet wide can easily occupy more than half of the area. Think about it. If each hedge is just three feet deep, and there are two hedges, that means that six feet of the width of the twelve foot wide space is occupied by fat hedge! That is half of the area available! Some fat hedges are even deeper! A fat hedge does nothing more than a properly maintained hedge. Really, a three foot hedge accomplishes no more than the same sort of hedge that is only one foot deep. The interior is only bare twigs.

Fat hedges are mostly the result of inept gardeners who allow the hedges to gain a bit more width with each shearing, without ever renovating overgrown hedges. To make matters worse, they allow the tops of the hedges to get wider, which shades out lower foliage, which becomes sparse. Then the fat hedge becomes a top heavy hedge, leaning into usable space where it should be leaning slightly away. Ends of top heavy hedges often protrude a bit more than the sides of the hedges. If these hedges flank a driveway or walkway that is perpendicular to the sidewalk or a patio, the distended end is particularly obnoxious.

In the picture above, the low hedge seems to be well maintained. If it is a fat hedge, it is in a situation where it is not really crowding much. However, notice the width of the sidewalk. It is quite broad. Then there is a significant constriction where the hedge protrudes over the sidewalk. What is the point of so much concrete and such a wide sidewalk if almost a quarter of the width of it is overwhelmed by vegetation? It is like four lanes of freeway that merge into three, only to merge back into four.

Cherry Laurel

80530There is a reason why the most popular specie for frequently shorn formal hedges have small leaves and finely textured foliage. Technically, a formal hedge of cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, can be shorn as well, but should be shorn only once or twice annually, and then allowed to fluff back out. Otherwise, the big leaves get shredded as quickly as they recover from previous shearing.

If pruned more frequently, hand pruning works best, and is not as tedious as it sounds. Informal pruning is even easier, and is done primarily to prevent hedges from getting to deep (from front to back), and to prevent individual shrubs from dominating or subordinating. Pruning also eliminates most of the abundant summer bloom of upright trusses of thirty or so tiny creamy white flowers.

Cherry laurel is densely foliated and quite stout, even without shearing or pruning, and can eventually but rarely get thirty feet tall! The glossy evergreen leaves are about three inches long. There happens to be a few cultivars, including one that is variegated with light yellow, and others that are compact dwarfs. (Prunus caroliniana is different species that is also known as cherry laurel.)

Hedges Are Like Green Fences

80502thumbHedges are a complicated topic! Like lawns, they are among the more functional features of a landscape. They can be used to provide privacy within, obscure unwanted views beyond, or merely to separate a large landscape into cozier or more functional spaces. Except for hedges that are grown for spring flowers or autumn color, most hedges are evergreen with finely textured foliage.

Informal screens, which might also be know simply as informal hedges, can function like hedges, but are a bit different. They are not regularly shorn, so do not need such finely textured foliage. They are either compact plants that stay proportionate to their particular situations, or are grown outside of a refined landscape, where they have plenty of space to grow wild to their natural size.

Although they do the work of fences and walls, hedges do not substitute for them. Fences are relatively ‘low maintenance’. Hedges are quite ‘high maintenance’. They need everything that other plants need, as well as dutiful shearing. Espaliers, trellised vines or vines clinging to fences or walls are also very different, with their own intense maintenance requirements and innate problems.

Most hedges were shorn late last summer or early autumn, but have not done much since then. They should have been shorn early enough for new growth to toughen up a bit to not look shabby or sparse through winter. Now that hedges are growing again, they will need to be shorn again. If space allows, shearing of photinia hedges can be delayed until the red new foliage fades to green.

While hedges get shorn, any volunteer plants that have self sown into them must be removed. Different species of shrubs or vines that sneak in will ruin the symmetry. This is also very important when adding new shrubs to replace any that might be missing. Even different cultivars of the same species will exhibit different color and growth rates. The sides of hedges should be sloped slightly inward at the top to allow more sunlight to reach the bottom, and to compensate for faster upper growth.

Someone Got Payed For This?!

P71216See what happens when the plants in the garden are happy? They do pretty things. It is now halfway through December and this honeysuckle is still blooming nicely. The cool weather has inhibited bloom somewhat, but has not totally prevented it yet. By the end of winter, this honeysuckle will get pruned back so that it can regenerate new growth to bloom through next year.

This honeysuckle happens to be growing on a chain link fence behind a small group of apartments. Someone who lives in one of the apartments enjoys tending a few vegetables and flowers, but really does not put too much effort into the surrounding vines and shrubbery that obscure the view of the parking lot next door. That region of the garden gets only the maintenance that is required to keep it under control. The person who does it is no horticultural professional; merely someone who enjoys a bit of home gardening.

Horticultural professionals should know more about horticulture than someone who just enjoys growing a few vegetables and flowers after coming home from working at another profession. That is what they get payed for. That is why they are professionals. . . because it is their profession.

Right across Highway 9 from the homes with the honeysuckled fence is a pharmacy with a parking lot that is ‘maintained’ by ‘gardeners’. It looks like a parking lot. There are some nice young but shady elms that were recently pruned up for clearance by professional arborists who did a rather impressive job. Below the elms is a mixture of typical ‘low maintenance’ plants that are often found in parking lots, including lily-of-the-Nile, African iris, Oregon grape and Indian hawthorn, with a few dwarf Heavenly bamboo to add a slight bit of Japanese ethnic diversity into an otherwise African-American landscape.

Except for the elms and other young trees, none of the plants are exemplary. They are all tough plants that are resilient to the climate and abuse that they get in a pharmacy parking lot. Their main problem is the ‘maintenance’ performed by the ‘professional gardeners’. I could go on about this, but for now, I just want to describe what was done to the Heavenly bamboo.

It never really looks that good. It does not get a chance to. At least this time of year, this particular cultivar of Heavenly bamboo gets some rather nice color on it. Even if the foliage is mutilated and crowed from a lack of ‘proper’ pruning and an excess of ‘improper’ pruning, the reddish or burgundy color is pretty from a distance. At least, it would have been.

The ‘gardeners’ cut all the foliage off, just as it was beginning to color. Yep. It is all gone. The canes were cut into these tightly shorn but somehow awkwardly asymmetrical cylinders with angular edges around the circular and flat tops. How does one put that much effort into shearing something so tightly, and perfecting the flat top, without getting it symmetrical? Why put that much effort into ruining something just before the performance that it waited all year for, and just prior to the longest time of year before the weather warms enough for it to recover?

Shear abuse – with shears.

Perhaps those are questions that Rhody is pondering in the picture. Perhaps he just wants to leave a ‘message’ for the ‘gardeners’.P71216+