border redesign

saypoint(6b CT)April 18, 2014

When I was 10 years younger and not gainfully employed, I planted several long mixed perennial/shrub borders. They were lovely, but...
Now that I don't have the time to tend them properly, they turn into weedy messes. It's time to rethink the situation.
The driveway border is nearly 100 ft. long and ranges from 6-7 ft. deep at the top to about 12 ft. deep at the bottom, backed by a sheared hedge that separates the driveway and parking areas from the garden. I began adding some low junipers a couple of years ago, and removed some of the most aggressive spreaders and poor performers, some of them inherited from the PO.

The end of the drive has some overgrown cotoneaster, nice in flower and fruit, but a trap for leaves and debris. Scattered up the length are Sedum, bearded iris, Siberian iris, Becky Shasta daisies, Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', catmint, a couple of Caryopteris, Russian sage, red daylilies, a lone Itea virginica, two sad looking Potentillas, a small leafed Rhododendron, and the previously mentioned Junipers sprinkled around. Halfway up there is a good sized arbor with a New Dawn rose on it.
My idea was to dig up all of the perennials and stick them into nursery pots until I could put some back in groups that are planned instead of by default. I also have a lot of Green Velvet boxwood I thought I might be able to transplant to this area. The goal is to eliminate weeding, deadheading, dividing etc. as much as possible.
I have another 150 ft. or so of border inside the hedge. I'm ready to set the mower deck on "high" and just run it all over. I may post the inside garden later for suggestions on that.
If I could do it over, I'd have planted an informal hedge of flowering shrubs for privacy, and left it at that.
All suggestions welcome.

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I remember you from when you used to post here often, years ago... :-)

From the perennials you listed, I assume this is a sunny area even though there are lots of threes in the pictures....? Shady areas are SO much easier to keep relatively weed-free! (Do those trees drop a lot of seed-keys? Ash tree seedlings are my biggest weed problem in the shady backyard.)

Shading the ground is the best way I've found to minimize weeds - which is why shaded areas are easier to keep weed-free (a few big hostas in strategic spots are a big help - weeds can't cope with the dense shade under those leaves!) I'm currently fighting back some couch grass in the sunny front garden by planting a big 'Elegans' hosta to shade it. I moved the hosta there in 2012. There was no signs of the couch grass in that area by late summer 2013 and the hosta seemed to be coping with the sun, so I'm going to try a few more in some problem areas in sun. It might be worth experimenting in your driveway border if you have some big hostas elsewhere that are on the sun-tolerant lists and could be divided to give pretty quick coverage. I have been searching for some large-leafed plants for sun but there doesn't seem to be anything equivalent to hostas in terms of dense leaf coverage to be a good weed-suppressor. I wish heuchera breeders would concentrate on breeding for big leaves - I think they could eventually become a reasonable full-sun hosta-like plant. The largest ones I can find are in the 23" range (Chocolate Ruffles, Crimson Curls, and Midnight Rose) I like Midnight Rose the best because the leaves lay down flat so give better shade, and the dark wine color looks good under/with other plants.

I'm gradually moving my biggest full-sun bed to flowering/ornamental shrubs, trees, and vines with underplantings of spring bulbs and heucheras. I'm experimenting with dwarf Iberis as groundcover too as well as pulsatilla too - because the foliage stays so nice. There are still lots of other perennials in the bed too but all are under critical review :-)

So, if you're prepared to do a major renovation I think it's well worth considering doing an ornamental woody-material (shrubs, trees) dominated border with selected ground-shading underplantings. The woody plants will eventually provide more shade for things like hostas. Keep the perennials at the end closest to the house. Big ones - e.g. Persicaria polymorpha - would fit easily into an ornamental shrub border because they are very shrub-like in appearance (but need deadheadinng to improve the appearance after the flowers turn brown.)

Bearded irises have long since been evicted here - iris borer makes such a mess of them! Siberians are nice though and I still have some of those. Becky daisy used to be a favorite - but it spreads by both creeping and seeding too much so all are gone now.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 3:57PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Hi Saypoint, Your long deep bed would be the envy of many an ambitious gardener, as you once were yourself. I can identify with "simplify, simplify, simplify" these days. Your low junipers and other slow-growing, mounding plants will make your life easier and also look very nice. The foreground of photo #2 is a good start -- contrasting foliage and growth habit, maybe even flowers in season, but give up those plants that need deadheading or that appear and disappear with the seasons (excepting bulbs). Why not do that "informal hedge for privacy" in front of your green hedge? But do it with low growers. My seasons are nothing like yours, and naming plants would be in vain.

Like the calendar, our lives have seasons, and why not make the best of them. Please show us your spring photos, we could use a little joy around here.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 8:35PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, I used to LIVE on these forums until I went back to work in 2008. The lack of free time has really taken a toll on my gardens.
The area is mostly full sun, and not very close to the hose, so I need to stick to fairly drought tolerant plants, though the soil is good and retains moisture well without watering. The large tree is a river birch, limbed up, so the shade is not too dense under it.
I have a lot the Becky, it does spread quickly, but nothing grows through it. I also have a lot of Walkers Low catmint, which looks decent all summer if I shear it back after blooming, I was thinking also of transplanting some of the dwarf Deutzia I have in other areas. It suckers a bit, enough to take divisions off the edges, and is dense enough to keep weeds from coming up. Flowers in spring but otherwise green foliage and some slightly purplish fall color. Not much going on in the winter, which is why I thought of the boxwood.
I also might reduce the depth and widen the driveway slightly. The bed has crept out a bit anyway. If it wouldn't look crappy, I'd just pull everything out and plant grass.
I've also thought about planting an informal hedge in front of the arborvitae hedge and take out the arbs when the new hedge fills in a bit. PeeGee Hydrangea? Weigela? I'm craving a less formal look.
I still have plenty of work to do inside the hedge.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 8:44PM
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Certain portions of the scenes are strong and handsome. In the last picture, the hedge, juniper bed, and built elements (walk, gate, arbor) seem like the heart of the work. The other miscellaneous plants seem patchy, scruffy, and haphazard by comparison ... like distractions from the main effort. In replanting, I think your efforts could be improved by simplifying the scheme, or keeping the already simple core, uncomplicated. It seems like there could be a nice display of plants surrounded with the hedge as a background and the juniper as a foreground, at central portion of each panel of hedge. What the display could be depends on your overall inventory of plants. I wouldn't try to re-use everything you have, but just those things that fit well in size and have long periods of visual interest. Simpler is better. You might take a look at Google Images of "Williamsburg, Va. gardens" to see the large quantities of plants and simple planting schemes that end up being quite powerful and good looking ... and much lower maintenance than what you have.

I think the hedge would be improved in appearance and lower maintenance if it were sheared as a solid monolithic feature, and that the wood structures (arbor and gate) would have much more impact, if painted ... a handsome color, of course! (A color along the lines of oxidized copper come to mind.) Sorry, I like the formal elements of the picture the best!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 8:56PM
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For the north, I find ground cover to be a huge headache and only use it for slopes that demand it for erosion protection. It just gathers leaves and debris, as you mentioned.

I'd formalize the beds, by separating the driveway using cobblestone or other natural stone of your choice. I'd then line the beds with brown landscape fabric, fill with brown mulch, move the arbor to the real entry and paint white, then just add some simple, easy to maintain bushes, trees, ect.

* Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'
* Dwarf white azalea or hydrangea
* Picea pungens 'Glauca Globosa' on standard

Since you are in CT, I would highly recommend a trip to Broken Arrow Nursery if you have not already been. Probably one of the best nurseries on the east coast.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 11:23PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Catkim, we were posting at the same time. I thought that if the perennials were massed they would be easier to tend and have more impact as well, but weeding and deadheading will still be a regular task. The juniper in the foreground is the first one I transplanted from the front, and it took off. There are small ones interspersed with the perennials and I think I was hoping they would just take over and save me some effort. Guess not.
Here's the other side of the hedge, right before I went back to work. It hasn't suffered as much neglect as the outside.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 9:16AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Yarvaark, thanks for your thoughts. The area looks a lot worse right now because nothing is growing yet, it will look much better when some of the foliage comes out.
The hedge is still growing together, in a couple of years the individual plants won't be noticeable. You can see in the pic of the inside garden that they were grown in even less.
Can't move the arbor, it was built in place and is not wide enough for the 5 ft. wide walk. I plan on redesigning the gates soon, though.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 9:25AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Yarvaark, thanks for your thoughts. The area looks a lot worse right now because nothing is growing yet, it will look much better when some of the foliage comes out.
The hedge is still growing together, in a couple of years the individual plants won't be noticeable. You can see in the pic of the inside garden that they were grown in even less.
Can't move the arbor, it was built in place and is not wide enough for the 5 ft. wide walk. I plan on redesigning the gates soon, though.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 9:45AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Sorry for the double post.
SC, thanks for the mockup. The mulch does look neat and tidy. I'd love to put a Belgian block edging in, but the cost would be way over my budget. I've been relying on plants that spill over the edge to hide the messy meeting of gravel and soil.
You're right about the groundcover. The cotoneaster in particular looks nasty when it's not flowering or covered with berries. I have other groundcovers in various places that were an attempt to keep weeds down, and I'm thinking of pulling them all out.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 10:07AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

saypoint - I love the look of the inside! Whatever you do with it, keep that beautiful rectangular negative space. I use that look in our backyard and find it has such a powerful peaceful effect, regardless of what is in the beds around it.

When I say 'groundcover' I usually mean anything that covers the ground well rather than just the usual creeping plants that are traditionally considered groundcover. I have some of that too but the majority of my 'groundcovers' are a mix of many low growing plants.

I definitely like the looks of SC77's stone edged version of the border which nicely defines the spaces similar to the effect of your lawn on the inside, but I prefer a covering of growing things rather than mulch.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 11:01AM
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To clarify, it was not me who suggested moving the arbor. I suggested painting it and the gate. I'm with woodyoak on liking the look of plants over the look of mulch. I consider mulch a temporary necessity only until plants get up and running.

I thought the hedge was already grown together but being trimmed as individuals (because so many people do that!)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 5:46PM
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OP asked for low maintenance. Id add more evergreens or shrubs, but you cant beat mulch for easy, clean, weed blocking...

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 6:26PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Saypoint, thanks for that stunning view of your private space. If that is on the inside, wow, don't worry too much about the outside. Gorgeous! Sublime!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2014 at 9:13PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Yardvaark, sorry, I was trying to respond to several posts at once and got my thoughts mixed up on who said what. :o)
thanks for the compliments, folks. I've been struggling with the urge to take out most of the garden in favor of easier maintenance, because I do love it. The private garden is only half of the back/side yard, the rest is mostly trees and shrub borders, and then there's the front and veggie beds behind the garage. I used to have the time.
I figured that simplifying other parts would allow me to do justice to the inside borders.
I started digging out some of the plants that I'd like to save and possibly replant in masses or drifts. Once I get it cleared out, it will be easier to see what I've got to work with.
Mulch is neat looks nice, but this area would probably take 5 pickup loads and would need replenishing regularly. Ouch.
I can't plant anything tall in front of the hedge because it will shade it out. I already have a couple of dead spots on the inside where some Hydrangea macrophylla went berserk. I have around 15 green velvet boxwood about 2-3 ft. tall that I could bring out here, if my back can handle it. The deutzia 'Nikko' would work, with purple Siberian Iris in spring. Catmint overlapping in early summer, masses of red daylilies in summer, white Becky in late-ish summer, and sedum and Montauk daisy in late summer. I always end up with a flowerless gap in July.
Or white azaleas and landscape roses up the whole length for a formal look? Maybe with Becky, too? More of a plant selection question that I can take to the NE forum.
I think if the plants were in discreet masses and the leftover non-performers removed, it would be workable.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 9:25AM
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"I think if the plants were in discreet masses and the leftover non-performers removed, it would be workable." I agree with what I think you're saying here. And you mentioned "simplify." I don't think there's any question that a simpler garden is easier to care for ... in addition to usually being the stronger, easier-to-grasp artistic statement.

You mention not placing taller things next to the hedge. I agree and think there is no need to do it ... especially if anything next to it starts looking, itself, hedge-like only smaller. It is a consistent pet peeve of mine to see a lower wall (or section thereof) in front of a taller wall. There is no point to covering part of a hedge with another hedge.

I'm not complaining that mulch is ugly (though sometimes it CAN be.) I just don't think it's as good looking or as durable as plants. If all that mulch in SC77's illustration turned into a low uniform groundcover -- like that juniper -- I think it could look like quite the royal entrance (befitting that garden on the other side of the hedge!!)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 1:21PM
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Your garden is lovely. I can appreciate how much work this is to maintain. I think replacing some perennials with flowing shrubs would minimize some work. Limelight hydrangea, or other paniculatas, give you a lot of bang for the buck and are easy. Some ornamential grasses may work well, hameln. I do have question that I hope you will take the time to answer. Your hedge row looks like a sheared arborvitae. What kind and how often do you shear it and when? Thanks so much. Good Luck. Beautiful garden/landscape!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 5:37AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Thanks, gayled. I think shrubs are the way to go, too. I'm putting the perennials I'm digging out into nursery pots and will put them aside. If I don't end up using them, I can always put them out at my tag sale.

I need to keep the shrubs small, because the hedge gets shaded out otherwise. Yes, it is Arborvitae, Emerald Green. In hindsight, I would have planted them a bit closer together so they would grow in faster, but I was being conservative and didn't want to crowd them too much. The hedge was planted about 8 years ago.

I trim it once a year when to top starts to look uneven and when I have the time, usually in summer after the new growth has started to look ratty. It's a little taller than me, so I can usually do it without a ladder, but it is hard on the arms working overhead.

I think if I'd sheared the sides a bit more it would have grown together more by now.

Downside is that it gets shaded out if something large is planted next to it, and if you lose one, as I did at the very end near the garage, it will look bad while the replacement grows in.

It's a nice backdrop for the beds, though, and the birds love it. I have nesting birds in it every year, and I'm sure they use it for winter shelter too. On the other side there is a welded wire fence on metal stakes embedded in the hedge, as I have small dogs to contain, hence the homemade wooden gates. :o(

If I had to do it over, I'd have planted an informal hedge of mixed evergreen and deciduous flowering shrubs and called it a day, but I didn't plan for getting old and being too busy to keep up.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 9:37AM
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Arborvitae can take a considerable amount of shade, much more than would be delivered by planting an airy, upright, and deciduous tree like service berry. If you want to keep the shrubs small for aesthetic purposes that's fine, but I wouldn't not plant something taller for fear of shading out the arbs

I think my emerald green hedge is probably in double the shade yours is in with no signs of stress or sparseness. Not trying to change your mind, just wanted to provide my experience so you can keep your options open.

This post was edited by SC77 on Thu, Apr 24, 14 at 11:17

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:16AM
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Saypoint, thanks so much for responding - I appreciate it. Your Emeralds look wonderful and I really like the way you prune them. I'm in the same boat as you, looking for ways to minimize maintenance. My borders are all mixed - conifers for structure, flowering shrubs and only easy care perennials. Although somewhat common, I do mix pjm's with the conifers because I like the rounded form. In some cases I treat them like boxwood and prune them hard after bloom. Your redesign will be a lot of work, but it will pay off in the end. You've got great bones. Good Luck. Just beautiful!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 6:54AM
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