Cherry Laurel

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Cherry laurel makes a delightful hedge.

Victorian landscapes made good use of cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus. It works well as a large formal hedge. For more relaxed modern landscapes, it makes delightful informal screen. The main reason that it is now less popular than other hedging shrubbery is that it gets rather broad if not shorn back regularly. If allowed to grow as a low rounded tree, it can get twenty-five feet high!

Regularly shearing is not necessarily frequent. It should be efficient though. Confinement for such broad shrubbery is important. If shorn back farther than where the outer surface is desired late in winter, fresh new foliage can fluff out nicely within allowable space through spring. Subsequent aggressive shearing to maintain confinement may only be necessary once or twice during summer.

The big leaves are about three inches long, and luxuriantly glossy. If hedges get shorn less aggressively, but more frequently than two or three times annually, such big leaves can be rather shabby much of the time. If shorn less frequently, small trusses of creamy white flowers may get a chance to bloom. Cultivars are more compact than the species. One cultivar is variegated with pale gold.

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.

English Boxwood

90306While flashier but typically weaker modern cultivars of so many other specie are being developed, the most popular of the many cultivars of English boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, remain the same. There is not much to improve on. Most cultivars get only a few feet tall, and are densely foliated with inch long evergreen leaves that are excellent for topiary and low formally shorn hedges.

One of the difficulties with formal hedges, or any formal application, is replacement of any specimens that die. There are not very many of the different cultivars available locally; but it can be quite difficult to distinguish between some of them. One specimen of the wrong cultivar ruins conformity! Another concern is that the aroma of the foliage when disturbed may be objectionable to some.

In the wild, English boxwood grows as small trees or rather larger shrubs with relatively open structure. Locally, such specimens are only very rarely found in old Victorian landscapes, such as at the Winchester House. ‘Suffruticosa’ is so compact that it popularly allowed to grow as as unshorn and nearly spherical shrubs. ‘Argenteo-Variegata’, ‘Variegata’ and ‘Marginata’ are variegated.

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+

Wax Privet

70517The pros and cons of wax privet, Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’ might get it a rating of about 2.5 out of 5. It seems that every asset is offset by a liability. The profuse clusters of tiny white flowers are sweetly fragrant, but are also a serious problem for those allergic to pollen. The berries attract birds, but are also very messy, and contain seeds that can germinate in the strangest of places.

The dense evergreen foliage is prettier and actually glossier than that of the more common glossy privet. Growth is slower, and therefore easier to maintain as a shorn hedge. Regular shearing deprives wax privet of most, but not all of its bloom and seed. Glossy privet is more invasive if allowed to set seed, but less invasive as a shorn hedge deprived of bloom before producing seed. Without shearing, wax privet eventually reaches ground floor eaves, and gets about half as broad. It can be groomed into a small tree.

Unwanted feral seedlings should be pulled as soon as they are detected. If cut instead of pulled, they are likely to regenerate, and will be impossible to pull the second time around. Roots are rather greedy.

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.