Hedging Your Bets

Deciduous grasses are an uncommon seasonal hedge, certainly not a traditional one.

What is a hedge?

By definition, a hedge is “a fence or boundary formed by closely growing shrubs.”

During wintertime, we are more aware of hedges. Usually evergreen, they dominate the barren landscape when there’s not much else happening. The rest of the year they fade into the background, serving as backdrop for a more interesting garden display.

Because hedges are usually repetitive and often made up of tightly formed geometric shapes, they create a green wall — especially in contrast with a garden that has a more natural feel. If you want to soften a hedge, choose plants with a more natural growth habit. For this, Myrica californica, Laurus noblis or even great perennial grasses need only some shaping and thinning to stay in check.

Can a “hedge” be used as a landscape feature, not just a boundary?

English gardens provide some of the best lessons in using a hedge as a feature. Hedges serve as the walls of an outdoor room. This can be very effective on a large piece of property, such as in estate. A hedged area can provide intimacy and “people scale” or it can be used to define and contain a perennial or vegetable garden.

Low hedges (the obvious example being Buxus sempirvirens, the boxwood) will create a border to contain a garden bed and keep a clean edge and tidy appearance around otherwise floppy perennials, as well as provide structure in the winter.

Only in Japanese gardens can one get away with pruning Azaleas into a hedge or mounded drift. Pruned carefully and at the right time of year, Azaleas are solidly covered by flowers and a quite stunning sight. However, taken out of context —outside a formal Japanese setting — too many Azaleas can be problematic.

Keep in mind that your hedges do not have to be at the borders of the property.  They can define space within a space, mark an entry or be juxtaposed with one another in modern planes creating an interesting interplay of light and shadow — think Stonehenge in England.

How do you choose shrubs for a hedge?

Before buying hedge plants, carefully consider the finished height and width you would like to obtain. Consider the site and growth rate along with the size the plants will achieve in ten years.

Beware the conifer Cedrus leylandii — it is rarely used properly for hedges, and after a few years it turns into a monster that can no longer be pruned to size (plus it has dead growth at the base, just where you don’t want it). If you use it in the city, be prepared to remove and replant shrubs every several years. This plant is better off bordering a field or rolling estate lawn, where it can be allowed to grow without pruning. I advise spending a little more up front and buying a conifer that won’t grow so quickly. Taxus bacatta, commonly called a yew, is a good choice. It grows slowly, but its rich green foliage keeps a pleasing shape. Buy plants big, plant them closer together, and you’ll get the look and size you want without the bother of overgrowth later.

I have designed both tiny gardens and estate gardens with hedges, and the principles of good design hold true for both. Contact us to talk about the best plant for your hedge and how to use hedges in innovative ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of Color in a Winter Landscape

A garden is for all seasons, but it’s always possible to super-charge your landscape for your favorite season. For some people, it’s all about garden beds bursting with summer-blooming perennials (they can put up with barren-looking beds during the dormant season).

But winter interest will be a priority for you if you are fond of the way icicles glisten in the sun on a Red Twig Dogwood or the way snow on the branches of conifers lets the imagination see horticultural “caricatures.”

Coral Bark Maple

If winter is your favorite season, consider adding these plants to your garden:

  • Plants and trees with red bark. These include the Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’), the Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) and the Marina Strawberry Tree (Arbutus x ‘Marina’).
  • Colorful conifers. Consider the Blue Ice Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Ice’) and the Dwarf Golden Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’).
  • Trees and plants that bloom in late winter. You might use the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis sp.), the early blooming Hellebores (Lenten rose sp.) and the Winter Sun hybrid Oregon Grape (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’).

It’s a bonus that most of these versatile plants can have a place in any garden.

Take a break from the holiday buzz to breathe in the clean winter air and take a look around your garden. Envision where you might like to give your landscape the gift of color.

— Season’s Greetings from Michael Muro Garden Design

 

 

 

 

Another Dimension

GobbleWell-designed topography adds richness and dimension to a landscape. In gardens, grade changes offer opportunities for artful design and dynamic compositions. While terraces, rockeries and retaining walls are often put in place to capture views and manage functional needs (such as drainage and steep slope), they are also opportunities for mindful garden design.

With some forethought, plantings cascading over walls, graceful terraces, and bubbling streams can look completely natural. On a hillside, cozy grottos create welcoming entries or back yard escapes. Terraces that have been made to maximize views are also excellent vantage points to enjoy gardens below.

If you are building or remodeling, think about how your landscaping will integrate with the architecture of your home and other site features. Consider landscaping from the outset while making decisions about grading the site.

Bring together your engineer, garden designer, architect, and general contractor to collaborate on a holistic design. By planning ahead you will probably be surprised by all of the creative options those professionals can suggest. You’ll be able to choose the one that best suits your own vision for combining form + function in your garden.

Are you ready to remove the guesswork and increase your success rate with plantings and garden features? Contact us to learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and solutions for challenging sites.