Overplanted by design

Bed's fit for a pruning master, or
a multi-phase landscape project

We got into quite a discussion over this overplanted bed.
(Skip this discussion; take me to the pictures!)

Discussing others' designs is a way to focus on basics in our own work. It helps us develop better designs and solutions to problems.

We don't think there is any "right" or "wrong" in landscape design. It's art, a subjective medium meant to fulfill property owners' unique wishes and needs.

The landscapes we most often discuss are those that make us wonder what purpose was being served. As often, we come to the conclusion that the designer slipped up in identifying and fulfilling the owners' needs.

This garden is one of those. Thus we suspect its owner may be unaware the bed is overplanted, or what consequences overplanting can have. So our discussion of this bed included:
"When will realization dawn?"
"What will be left then that's salvageable?"
"How could we make the garden keep working from that point forward?"

To answer those questions, we needed to list what features of the bed a person would value, watch, and want to keep. We settled on these "keepers", here:

  • The color and flowing form of the gold thread false cypresses.
  • The variety of textures and foliage colors.
  • The massing of secondary plants around individual stars.
  • The house colors repeated in the bed, but without losing the plants against any same-color background.
  • The winter interest.

We think most of that can be saved if someone begins pruning, well, and soon. Or they can all be retained throughout the larger landscape if the bed is actually a holding bed.

 

Pruner's heaven

Everything that's in the bed can stay if a gardener begins pruning next year to keep the plants small.

Delay could ruin this plan (below). If a person waits until the bed's obviously overgrown, it will be impractical to reclaim the evergreens. Even bringing the simplest shrub back into line -- the dwarf lilac -- will require extra time. (See Prune a dwarf lilac for the how-to.)

The gardener who prunes as we suggest must have skill and confidence to keep a 'Gold Mop' falsecypress from reaching its full size (12'+).

The gardener who prunes as we suggest must have skill and confidence to keep a 'Gold Mop' falsecypress from reaching its full size (12'+).

We manage to keep this batch of Gold Mops attractively shaggy and healthy at only about 24" tall but as we've explained elsewhere, *it's a challenge. At another property (bottom) we allow some of the same type to reach just one foot taller and find them much simpler to maintain at that size.

We manage to keep this batch of Gold Mops attractively shaggy and healthy at only about 24" tall but as we've explained elsewhere, *it's a challenge. At another property (bottom) we allow some of the same type to reach just one foot taller and find them much simpler to maintain at that size.

*it's a challenge

Or we can treat it as one big holding bed

All but a few plants can be transplanted out of this bed over two to four years and used in other places in the landscape, such as creating a hedge from the dwarf lilacs (right; yup, those are the "dwarves."). They could be replaced with plants of similar design characteristic but smaller stature.

Above:  A standard upright redleaf Japanese maple, 25'. In this plan of replacement, we opt to keep the Japanese maple and allow it to grow to this full size.

Above: A standard upright redleaf Japanese maple, 25'. In this plan of replacement, we opt to keep the Japanese maple and allow it to grow to this full size.

Plenty of true dwarf conifers could stand in for the white spruce originally planted here. Do your research to *predict a conifer's size and growth rate before you plant it. This 'Fat Albert' dwarf blue spruce will reach 5' in about 10 years so it will eventually need pruning. Its growth rate is slow enough that pruning is a realistic strategy.

Plenty of true dwarf conifers could stand in for the white spruce originally planted here. Do your research to *predict a conifer's size and growth rate before you plant it. This 'Fat Albert' dwarf blue spruce will reach 5' in about 10 years so it will eventually need pruning. Its growth rate is slow enough that pruning is a realistic strategy.

*predict a conifer's size and growth rate

Golden satin grass (Hakonechloa macra aureolata) can stand in for the Gold Mops in terms of texture, foliage color and form, yet they won't get too big.

Golden satin grass (Hakonechloa macra aureolata) can stand in for the Gold Mops in terms of texture, foliage color and form, yet they won't get too big.

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