Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Green Fences -- Boxwood Hedges to Hydrangea Hedgerows

evergreen boxwood hedge zone 5 or 6
There's nothing nearly as elegant as a clipped boxwood hedge.  Try one along the pathway, or in an "L" shape around a patio or deck.  Ours curves along the driveway, partially circling an antique iron fountain which doubles as a two tiered planter.  Hedges aren't just for foundation plantings any more.

evergreen boxwood hedge
There's some work, but a good clipping in  mid June followed by a clean up trim  in late September is all that's needed.  And there's nothing like the cake icing look of a hedgerow after a light snow.  If the holiday lights are in place underneath--its magic. 

When our privet was first planted, the fledgling hedglings didn't touch.  A few years later it's not possible to tell where one bush begins and the other ends. When it came time for the first haircut, I insisted  I wished to mimic a "hedge" nearby where each individual boxwood had been cut into a perfect globe, like a procession of green bowling balls. Mike, who'd installed the hedge, patiently explained to me how much excess work I was inviting with those green meatballs--once I committed to carving up the shrubs, there was no going back. I'm thankful for his advice.  Life's busy enough.

Hedges provide an outline of structure to the garden. 

Consider the location when chosing the shrub.  Boxwoods do best with morning sunlight but they'll become sparse in full shade and grow pale in full sun..  Boxwoods are prized for their shiny flat broad leaves which stay green through winter, the color deeping into a blue green tone in cold weather.  Clippings inserted in flower arrangements last for weeks.  Wintergreen boxwood are well suited for zones five to eight.  Emerald Jewel Boxwood is more diminutive, but stays fuller at the bottom. 

Junipers can be restrained into hedge formation and  thrive in locations with lots of direct sunlight. 

rhododendron hedge
For a less traditional hedge, a line of hydrangea create a bilious effect, or rhododendrons give a smart pop of color each spring. 

The key to maintaining hedge fullness--thin out thick areas by hand, and taper the top of the shrub a few inches.  Be sure to "bevel" the top edges when trimming to allow sunlight to reach the bottom branches, avoiding the "crewcut" look. Sharpen handshears with the Shark to avoid bruising leaves which could cause brown edges for a few weeks.  Brush the plant lightly afterwards to evict chopped foliage.  Don't panic if one section looks a bit lower than it should, or the van doesn't quite stop in time. Minor indentations fill in quickly.  Shrubbery flubbery is rarely permanent. 

Hydrangea Hedge Zone 5
Still, always have back up.  For a time, dog Ralph took a liking to one specific area of the hedge.  We weren't aware until the damage became apparent.  Good thing there was a Plan B.  When planting a hedge, buy one or two extra shrubs and plant them in a nearby location.  If one of the original privets dies back, there's a replacement of suitable maturity as back up. 

Best of all, green fences require no painting, permits or padlocks.

More Articles of Interest:

Shrubbery Flubbery -- The Effect of Ice and Snow on Evergreens

No More Bad Haircuts -- How to Trim Shrubs

Rockery and Roll -- Xeriscape Gardening

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Father's Day -- The Mighty Acorn

Father's Day's alway a little complicated in our house.  Bill usually gets up and heads off alone--to the memorial garden next to the little church on the corner.  I offer to go with him, but he prefers to go solo.  I can't imagine what it feels like to spend father's day without your child.  He and I have had our own losses too. 

Dad got up this morning and ushered as usual.  He made his own stop to pay his respects to the mother of his children.  I can't imagine that either. 

The girls are always torn on this day.  They adore their father and he deserves their undivided attention, but they love and respect their stepfather too, and are mindful of the poignancy of this day for him.  He rarely complains, but these days set aside for celebration can be complicated for some families.

What defines a father?  We joke that Bill married not one but three women, and he hasn't seen his hairbrush since.  He's provided comfort, security, and plenty of laughter over the years.  He's made everyone sit down to dinner nearly every night.  He's given them the world, literally.

Larry, their dad never missed a school conference, ball game or precollege meeting even when he was exhausted from driving his sales territory all day.  He always picked them up on time and brought them home well fed and full of funny stories.  He never "visited" with them, he parented--even when it was desperately hard to return them, he did so with a smile and a kiss.  And he never undermined or interrogated.  He just loved them and respected their mother and stepfather.  He also had the good sense to marry an exceptional woman and have more lovely children. 

In the last storm we lost a gigantic oak in our yard. A hundred thousand acorns grew on its branches. The oak and its offspring provided shelter to us our home and surroundings. Now that it's gone, it's irreplaceable, yet eventually those medium oaks that grew under its giant canopy will pick up speed.

Our family is sort of that oak in reverse.  Each acorn has more than one tree.  Fathering is complicated sometimes and not always easy or seamless.  My husband accepted my girls first out of love for me and then out of affection for them. We were a package deal.   My former husband gave up his day to day parenting but still provided unconditional love and laughter to his girls, his ultimate imprint no less had they wakened in his home each day.  My father raised his children, then learned to accept them unconditionally even when that acceptance might become difficult.  He never had difficulty accepting his grandchildren.  He thinks they are perfect.
What a joy to have a man fall in love with a child as a father, a father who never stops loving, and a grandfather who sees you as flawless.  It certainly is a joy from the sidelines.

Happy fathers day to all the oaks and acorns.

More Articles of Interest:

Graduation -- Magnolia Blooms

Pushing the Zone -- USDA Hardiness Zones

Curb Appeal -- Leaving Normile

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Four "C's" of Curb Appeal

Pulling into the driveway, distracted by the competing interests of a busy household, the exterior curb appeal of a home becomes nearly invisible to the occupant at times.  Thus, it's important to occasionally regard it with a fresh eye. 

Pull over and spend a couple minutes observing your abode from the street.  What is the impression given to a first time viewer? Look at the other homes on the block.  Which do you admire most, and why?  Glancing back, would you wish to be your own neighbor?

If the answer's "No," perhaps a few improvements are in order.

Curb appeal of a home depends upon the four "C's": 

Compatibility, Color, Contrast and Cleanliness:

Compatibility:   Are the features of the home and garden consistent with the style and period?  Coach lights on a modernist cube would not be complementary.  Cape Cods and Tudors call for a different exterior planting style than a Colonial.  A tangled English garden is lovely, but confounds the clean lines of an American bungalow.

Color:  Is the color of the home and trim consistent with exterior plantings?   Purple pansies or wave petunia look fabulous against a yellow sided home.  The most stand-out color?  Surprisingly it's white!  Clean white blooms against dark or red brick or planted along evergreens really pop.  Red blooms may fight in tones with a similar exterior.  Lay down some red Knockout Roses against a white Cape Cod and the contrast is lovely.

Contrast: Too much neutrality renders the home invisible.  It's difficult to duplicate the same hues amongst plants and bricks and mortar.  There's no need for the yard to be "matchy matchy."  It's not just the blooms that provide contrast, and thus interest.  In the long run it's the staples of the garden, the shrubs and trees.  Lighter bark stands out against reds and browns, darker trunks against whites, tans and yellows.

Cleanliness:  Nothing spoils curb appeal like overgrowth or an unkempt look.  Shrubs and trees shouldn't block or overwhelm windows.  Hedges are meant to be clipped and thinned.  Sweep the front porch, and send dried annuals from the previous year to the compost heap.   Crisply edge not only the lawn, but the front beds which should have some curvature to soften the lines of the home.  Shrubs should be trimmed and natural mulch is mandatory.  If the yard contains growth other than trees from grandmother's era, then some removal and updating is necessary.

Recycle bins should be stored out back. Welcome mats are exactly that. 

Rule of thumb--less is more.  Keep it simple and clean. The front steps are not the best place to display the entire collection of antique butter churns.

Play up the highlights, the unique features of your home--the appeal won't end at the curb.

More Articles of Interest:

Curb Appeal -- Leaving Normile

Hens and Chicks -- Garden Bouquets are Cheep!

When Should I Plant Annuals in Southeast Michigan?