In California, it is hard to imagine that hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, gets big enough to be harvested for lumber in Japan. Almost all of the local garden varieties stay quite short. The largest rarely get up to second story eaves. The most compact types that are grown for bonsai, do not get much more than a few inches tall. Most are somewhere in between, to about ten feet tall.
The ruffled sprays of evergreen foliage are surprisingly dense relative to the soft texture and often irregularly loose branch structure. Mature trees often shed branches to reveal sculptural reddish trunks and limbs within, while maintaining the distinct density of their foliar tufts. The minute leaf scales have rounded tips. (Other specie have pointed leaves.) Tiny round cones are rarely seen.
Because of slow growth and irregular form, hinoki cypress is an excellent specimen ‘trophy’ tree, but not so useful as hedging shrubbery. It prefers a bit of shade, and will tolerate considerable shade. However, varieties with yellow new growth are more colorful with good (but not harsh) exposure. It does not take much pruning and grooming to enhance form and expose branch structure.
‘Shrubbery’ sounds so unflattering for a pine; but mugo pine, Pinus mugo, is not really much of a tree. The tallest trees do not reach eaves. Most old trees are only a few feet tall and about twice as broad, with strictly rounded form, and dense forest green foliage. The stout paired needles are only about one or two inches long. The plump cones, which are rarely seen, are not much longer.
Although very rare in other types of landscapes, and originally from the Austrian and Italian Alps, mugo pine is one of the most popular and traditional features in Japanese gardens. Even though it grows very slowly, it should have enough room to do so without competing with other more aggressive plants that might overwhelm it. It should neither be shorn nor pruned back too aggressively.
It does not grow fast, but by the time it gets old, mayten, Maytenus boaria, might be tall enough to reach upstairs eaves, and nearly as broad. The main trunk and limbs are nicely outfitted with uniformly checked grayish bark. Smaller stems are so very limber that it is a wonder that trees are able to gain any height at all. These stems arch gracefully, with their wiry tips hanging vertically.
Almost all modern maytens are of the cultivar ‘Green Showers’, which has slightly larger leaves. Yet, the evergreen leaves are so small that it is not easy to discern much difference from the slightly yellower leaves of older trees. Ironically, older trees seem to be more resilient. Newer trees seem to be more sensitive to rot if watered too frequently, particularly if soil does not drain adequately.
Pruning and grooming is not as simple as it might seem to be from the outside. If the very pendulous stems around the edges get cut like bangs, bunched stems accumulate and lose their softly pendulous texture. They need to be thinned too, so that they can hang more softly. Dead stems should be groomed from within. Main stems are not likely to regenerate if cut back too severely.
No, 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.
The first half of the name sound appealing enough. The second half, not so much. Do the seeds grow into snails? Do they just look like snails? Not many have seen them. Tiny pale white flowers that are supposed to bloom in spring, as well as small black berries that develop after bloom, are rare. Laurel-leaf snailseed, Cocculus laurifolius, is grown just for its glossy evergreen foliage.
The foliage superficially resembles that of common privets. Upon closer inspection, the leaves are somewhat elongated, and outfitted with distinct marginal veins flanking the midveins. As stems that become heavy with lush foliage lean over, vigorously vertical stems fill in the space, until they too arch over as they become fluffy with foliage. Mature trees might get twenty feet high and wide.
Because of its complaisant roots and tolerance of partial shade, laurel-leaf snailseed is popularly installed as a foundation plant (at the foundation of a home) but then obscures windows as it gets too big and awkward. Its arching branch structured does not do well with formal shearing. It works much better as an informal screen in the background, or as small tree with multiple trunks.
Those of us with ‘maintenance gardeners’ are likely aware of how rare it is to find someone who knows how to maintain hedges properly. It seemed so simple years ago. Several identical plants could simply be planted in a row, and then somewhat regularly shorn for confinement to a prescribed space. They were not allowed to exceed a specific height or width for long between shearing.
Formal hedges are now passe. They do not conform to modern landscape style. No one wants to maintain their formality anyway. If a gap develops, it is likely to be filled with a different cultivar or species that is not identical to the rest of the hedge, merely because it happened to be available at the nursery. Feral or invading shrubs, vines or even trees get shorn right into the whole mess.
Then there is the problem with bloat. Rather than staying confined, hedges typically get slightly larger with each shearing. What is worst is that most of the extra bulk is high up and shading lower growth, causing it to grow slower. Hedges eventually develop that all too familiar top-heavy appearance, and encroach into otherwise usable space that they were designed to provide privacy for.
There are few simple options for hedges and shorn shrubbery that have gotten too big for their space. Some can be renovated and cut back beyond their outer surfaces, but recovery will take a bit of time, and can not fix unmatched plants. However, such restoration is likely better than replacement. Just like for a new hedge, feral and invading vegetation must be removed in the process.
Another option is to completely change the form of improperly shorn shrubbery to small trees. This can be done with individual shrubs, or a few selected remnants of an otherwise removed hedge. Cherry laurel, photinia, bottlebrush, tea tree, privet, various pittosporums and many other large hedge shrubs work quite nicely. Rather than getting pruned back into submission, the lower growth gets pruned away to expose sculptural trunks within, and the upper growth gets pruned only for clearance above.
My weekly gardening column does not have much space for everything that should be said about the various topics and featured specie. I just try to fit the most basic of information into the space available, but usually would like to fit more in.
Sometimes, I would like to fit more pictures in too. It can be difficult to select just one camellia, or just one rhododendron. I typically select those that have the best contrast for black and white pictures, just in case some newspapers must deprive them of their color. That often means that I get to select my favorite white flowers rather than their more colorful counterparts. Regardless, there are so many good pictures that do not get seen. Then, there are also many qualities of the subjects that are difficult or impossible to show in pictures.
The dogwood picture that will get posted on Tuesday is pretty good, and happens to be white, but does not show how spectacular the tree that produced the bloom is. I selected a picture that was a close up of the same flowers in the picture below. Unfortunately, even if I had room for another picture, I could not get one that adequately represented the splendor of the tree. The best I could get is the picture above. I might try to get more pictures of pink and red dogwoods in the next few days, but pictures are nothing like the real thing. I had the same difficulty with the flowering cherries. The bloom was spectacular close up, but the trees looked like pink clouds on trunks from a distance.
If you can imagine, the tree in the picture is about twenty feet tall. It can be seen half a block away, through the adjacent deciduous trees. It looks just like a dogwood in Virginia should look, but happens to be right here on the West Coast, where you would not expect to see such an excellent specimen. Does that help?
I used to grow dogwood trees in the mid 1990s. They are not my favorite spring flowering tree because they do not do so well in the Santa Clara Valley. You would not know that by how well they do here on the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just a few miles away. There are many specimens in the neighborhood that are comparable to this one. Some are pink. A few are almost brick red. The foliage probably does not color as well in autumn as it would in Virginia, but by our standards, it colors nicely.
Two very happy pink dogwoods are in front of an elegant home of early American architecture that is located just downhill from the white dogwood in the picture above. Even with redwoods and coast live oaks all around, the dogwood trees and home really look like they could be in the vicinity of Virginia. It is obvious why those from the East are so fond of dogwoods.
Fans of the Brady Bunch might recognized agonis, Agonis flexuosa, from the front yard of the Brady Residence. That particular tree was rather dark olive green, and might have grown two or three feet annually to reach the upstairs eaves. Most of the popular modern cultivars are darker bronze or burgundy, and probably stay a bit shorter, but attain the same elegant and slender form.
The narrow evergreen leaves hang softly from limber stems, like the foliage of weeping willow. Anyone who has pruned agonis has likely noticed that the foliage is aromatic if disturbed. The tiny pinkish white flowers that bloom in spring or summer are not much to look at, but can be fragrant if there are enough of them. The fibrous and furrowed bark is quite distinguished for a small tree.
Agonis is not too demanding as long as it gets enough sunlight. It will lean away from shade. It prefers to be watered somewhat regularly through summer, although established plants can be quite happy if watered only a few times. Too much water rots their roots. If pruned to promote branching while young, and pruned for confinement as it matures, agonis can be a striking unshorn hedge.
With such an odd variety of flowers blooming out of season, it should be no surprise that New Zealand tea tree, Leptospermum scoparium, decided to join the party. It starts blooming in phases in spring, and continues into autumn, so is not too terribly out of season. Besides, some varieties are known for spontaneous bloom phases at any time of year. Bloom can be pink, white or red.
The finely textured and aromatic evergreen foliage is slightly prickly to touch. Individual leaves are tiny and rather narrow, with pointed tips. Flowers are also tiny, but compensate with profusion. A few varieties have darker, almost bronzed foliage. A few varieties have fluffier double flowers (although the flowers are no wider than single flowers). The weight of bloom can cause limbs to sag.
Most garden varieties can reach the eaves. Larger varieties can eventually get to upstairs eaves. With minimal pruning, New Zealand tea tree is a colorful big shrub, with blooming stems from top to bottom. Alternatively, it can be an excellent small tree, with lower stems pruned away to expose the finely furrowed bark of the main trunks. It wants full sun, but not much else once established.