Adding clipped boxwood balls to informal garden

sergeantcuffApril 11, 2013

My garden is informal in style, but I have been working on improving its overall structure. I would like to add some small boxwood, clipped into balls, to the front of some borders. I think this may help tie things together as I have some other globe-shaped evergreens. Any rules of thumb? or pitfalls to look out for? I've been searching for some direction as my garden totally lacks symmetry. (And its difficult to photograph, so no photo).

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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

A pleasing design in an informal landscape will have balance and cohesion, but symmetry (think ink blot with line down the middle and like halves) is a formal garden style.

Mixing formal and informal isn't going to be very successful with just a few spiral junipers growing in an informal setting, for example. There must be enough strong formal structure in the design for it work. If you viewed/drew just the formal elements of the design area, with the remainder just being a mowed lawn, would it be strong enough to stand on it's own?

Naturally globe-shaped evergreens can work in an informal garden. It has more to do with placement. There should be an odd number (say 3 or 5), and they should be arranged in an irregular triangle(s) per the scale of the design area. If yours are in a straight row, then that may be a more formal element looking out of place in your informal garden. The fix may be as simple as moving one or two, or purchasing a few more and placing them in other areas of your garden.

But without any idea of what your garden looks like, I can only suggest these things to consider.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 1:30PM
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Thank you for your response - that confirms what I've been thinking. I was hoping to sprinkle them around - maybe only 3 as they are expensive - rather than place them in a grouping though. Can they be repeated along a border? What if that border is curved?

The is no definitive viewing point for this garden. The house sits IN the garden. This old picture shows a portion of the area I wish to add the balls to - along the fence, and left of the photo frame where the border curves around and connects to the part shown in the foreground.

I worked all winter trying to simplify and neaten the plantings. I am very interested in cottage-y, heirloom plants - roses, dahlias, uncommon annuals - the things that require lots of maintenance !
edited to remove useless photo

This post was edited by maureeninmd on Fri, Apr 12, 13 at 13:58

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 12:23PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I think shrubs clipped into balls aren't the best fit for your yard. Go for shrubs that have a natural shape instead. Many shrubs naturally grow into a roundish shape anyway, and will look very nice in a cottage style setting.

As long as your landscape has balance, it doesn't need symmetry. In the photo you posted, what I don't see are evergreen medium/large shrubs. They will help give weight to your plantings along the fence.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 1:43PM
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This is the only area that doesn't not have evergreens. The rest of the yard is filled with hollies and aucubas, etc. I already have some clipped yew and globe arborvitae. I suppose I am trying to tie the area shown in the photo to the rest of the garden. But i do not want to lose any of the mature shrubs along the fence.

The photo is very misleading. I do not think photos are helpful unless it is a "curb appeal" question. And one can see very little of my house/property from the street.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 1:55PM
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a photo helps show the shape of the bed you're talking about and how things would relate in placements.

How about using dwarf yaupon Hollies - it naturally looks like a shaped round bush.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 3:12PM
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"Any rules of thumb? or pitfalls to look out for?"

If you're going to add clipped shrub balls to the garden, it would be better to add dome shapes instead. Undercutting a shrub (regardless of its size) lead to turning it into a small tree (with a canopy raised above the ground.) All up-to-date pruning advice, for decades now, has it that the bottoms of shrubs should be wider than the top to prevent loss of foliage (raising the canopy) due to lack of sunlight reaching the bottom foliage. On top of that, the dome shape provides a sophisticated look compared to the country granny look of the ball shape.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 8:22PM
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Lyfia - those do look nice but may be marginally hardy here?

Yardvaark - that is good to know, and makes sense. I prefer the look of the ball but it's best to have a healthy plant.

I took lots of pictures of gardens on my last trip to England and I am sorting through them for inspiration. I am admittedly a plant collector and somehow ended up with over 80 roses. I've seen lots of boxwood and yew with roses, in both formal and informal plantings. I want boxwood because I don't have any - but they are extremely expensive!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 4:24PM
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"I prefer the look of the ball ..." You might not want to admit that publicly. :-)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 7:13PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

My preference is for a beautiful sphere shape as an accent form vs a dome shape . The sphere is a classic form and judging from centuries of clipped orbs in gardens across the world , they have held up well .

One of my favorite gardens of clipped plants is located in Bonnieux , Provence France by the late designer Nichole de Vesian. She used clipped forms to create a stunning tapestry of subdued elegance.

I often use clipped spheres in the garden to create green architectural interest.
Some of my favorite plants to use are boxwood, teucrium, lavender and berberis ( which is not an invasive plant in my N. Cal climate).

Here is a link that might be useful: Nichole de Vesian's garden in France

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 10:23PM
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deviant-deziner - Thanks for sharing that French garden - How lovely. It's so interesting to me that a garden so very beautiful could have so few flowers. I love the stone!

I've always wanted flowers, flowers, and more flowers. I've spent years working towards an utter exuberance of bloom and now it's making me feel tired.

I do not grow teucrium - it looks like an evergreen nepeta? My lavendar always looks messy.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 9:50AM
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There's no doubt that one could find exceptions to just about any rule. How much undercutting a person can get away with depends on the overall light conditions, how tolerant of shade a particular species is, light coming from reflected sources, plant life expectancy, etc. The general principle I'm speaking of is just that ... a general guide on how NOT to lose the lower foliage on a clipped plant. It's pretty easy to find examples of what "going too far" with the undercutting looks like. I can't go anywhere without passing examples of it. (And almost no examples of shrubs trimmed properly!) If a person doesn't want to lose lower foliage, they should learn this principle. Take a good look at some of the undercut plants in the Nicole de Vesian Garden. Several of them are showing signs of the lower foliage thinning out. If this progresses, at some point the plants will need to be replaced or rejuvenated.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 10:44AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

We tend to use a lot of lavender here in my Northern California climate and have found that shearing it back by a third after it blooms keeps it compact. Depending on the variety it needs to be replaced every 6 or 7 years due to it becoming too woody.
Attached is a garden that we designed and built 13 years ago .This is what the lavender ( Lavandula provence) looks like in the winter
From Loropetalum chinese

And what it looks like in the summer :
From California Gardening

Teucrium does sort of look like an evergreen nepeta. There are two distinctly sp. of teucruim that I like to use. Teucrimm fruiticans is very silver and can reach heights of 4 feet, it trims up beautifully into a form and holds beautiful light violet colored flowers.
Teucrium chamadrys grows much lower ( like a nepeta) and has pinkish flowers.

Below is another garden in Northern Cal. that we did 16 years ago using clipped Teucrium fruiticans, rosemary, westringia, cistus and cotinus - this is a heavily deer browsed garden in Anderson Valley.
From Alexander Valley

one more image from another old garden we did about 20 years ago ( which we just renovated using lots of succulents ) that shows Felicia , Cistus and Erigeron clipped into spherical forms juxtaposed against some looser foliage plants for a nice balance of yin and yang.
From California Gardening

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 3:02PM
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deviant-deziner, what is that plant with the spikey blue flower lining the path?

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 7:00PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)


    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 9:52PM
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This post brought to mind a beautiful picture I saw in a gardening book of clipped boxwood in an informal medow garden. I finally remembered where I saw it. It is on page 146 of John Greelee's "The American Meadow Garden" book. I don't know if something like this would work in your yard, but maybe it will give you some inspiration.

Here is a link that might be useful: Clipped Boxwood in Sedge Meadow

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 2:08PM
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