Stop planting things so close together, Holly!

I love Linda’s idea and there are some great comments – but y’all need to send her photo evidence of these gardening adventures/casualties to post! Would make me feel better. It doesn’t take much to get me going on dubious stuff I have done, gardening or otherwise.

Was just up to Northern Virginia to help with  Fairfax Master Gardener training (at the fabulous Merrifield Garden Center).  My talk was on "site analysis and plant selection." As I looked through my digital photos to illustrate the points made, I came across several "ahem" moments, that lead to the "do what I say, not what I do" caveat (but usually gets a few giggles and snorts). 

Here’s a classic:

East side of  our "yarden." The only preexisting material was the pair of white birch in the background and the purple-leaf plum.  Please direct your attention to the left side of the border.

We built the bed in spring of 2008. 

Inserted a very happy redbud, (7 gallon), Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Ogon’ (my pride and joy) ($$$ for a 15 gallon specimen),  Salix x ‘Hakuru Nishiki’ standard (7 gallon lollipop), underplanted with some sun/part shade perennials and one little Tetrapanax root dug from a friend’s garden. There was also a Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartledge Wine’ tucked between the redbud and dawn redwood but you can’t see it from this angle.

The sun perennials took off, and it looked AWESOME. 

Coming up on this border’s 4th anniversary, things are a bit…crowded. Only a few Echinacea remain to fight for the morning sun. The Tetrapanex just loves the light sandy loam and has gone ape-doo. The Phyllis Diller-esque Salix standard, despite my pruning it back each year, is about to get the chain saw.  ‘Hartledge Wine’ got relocated this fall.

I think this is a common gardener’s dilemma. Maybe I just can’t picture my pet dawn redwood reaching 50′ tall, like it probably said on the tag I ignored.  The upside is…"lush."  And there needs to be a new bed  built to relocate the sunny stuff (yay!).   I’m actually a pretty patient gardener; and I even distinctly recall with this particular bed I was all "Look how far apart I’m placing these! Suuuper genius!"  Feel free to giggle or snort.

7 thoughts on “Stop planting things so close together, Holly!”

  1. I didn’t giggle or snort. I downright laughed out loud remembering what we just went through. We bought and renovated a 30+ year old house last year and one of the first things we had to do was get the backhoe down off the trailer and start finding the house. There were so many overgrown shrubs and trees surrounding the place that it looked like the witch’s cottage in Hansel and Gretel! We relocated some of them but most were so lopsided from being so close to their neighbors that they were eyesores once set apart. There were some really gorgeous arborvitae and rhodies that could have been real assets if spaced correctly. (We did save a few of the rhododendrons after some extremely serious pruning. Hopefully they will come back and look nice in a couple of years.) It’s a common desire to have instant landscaping and push the limits on spacing. It almost never works out. I’ve heard people say that they would take out every other plant when they started to get some size, but have rarely seen it actually happen. At least, not in time to prevent that lopsidedness. That along with the wrong plant in the wrong place are the two most often made mistakes I see among gardeners, even experienced ones. I’m guilty of both of those myself.

  2. Ha! Thank you SandyG! @Shawn – the local wisdom was that tetrapanax usually (usually) is not hardy here. Mine missed that memo.

  3. About 6 years ago we installed an inground pool and needed privacy. I planted about 12 four foot Leyland cypress 10 feet from the edge of the pool. You probably can guess the question now they are huge and wanting to take over the pool deck. Question: Should I get rid of them or can I aggressively trim the side near the pool or will that make them unsteady. I know they have shallow roots. Thoughts?

  4. Mark, always a little difficult to make a judgement sight-unseen. There’s a limit on how far back you can prune Leyland cypresses. If you prune back into old wood you won’t get any re-growth. If you do decide to prune them back, you might consider pruning the other side as well, not only for stability but for visual balance as well. If that buys you enough space around the pool, you will need to keep hedging them back every year or two.

  5. I designed and planted a mixed border oh 15 yrs ago. The Tina sargent crabs were from the land conservation sale and smaller than whips and I stuck a Ivory Silk Japanese tree lilac in between them. Alas two are very close together as I did minimal pruning on the crabs to keep low to the ground. The other side of the border is better but I have three “dwarf” burning bush um trees-thanks to rabbits nibbling on them when they were young. One lone ligularia under an Adam crabapple is now a ligularia groove and spreading. Yikes!

  6. I loved your article. I think all, or most plant folk fall head over heels over plants and end up over planting (I am guilty as charged). I mean, seriously, isn’t it human nature to want more of something yu love? If one hydrangea looks good, why not get 5! I think a big challenge in design, is being able to visualize the ultimate size of a plant and position it accordingly. I want to stuff just one more plant in that bed so it looks better or so I can have it. Balance, beauty, simplicity. I struggle to attain these goals.

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