Ideas/advice for replacing monster evergreen shrub

arlene_82 (zone 6 OH)July 26, 2014

My boyfriend and I have been working on his small urban front yard this year, and we think the evergreen shrub against the house needs to go (not sure what exactly it is, but it manages to be formidable in the small space and ugly at the same time). Once it's gone, my thought is to divide and move the clod of iris currently next to the steps back against the house, and then fill in the empty spots along the foundation between the iris and Japanese maple with hostas, but the boyfriend isn't all that keen on hostas. We were hoping some of the experienced, knowledgeable folks on GW might have some good suggestions for possible replacement plantings. We found a praying mantis cocoon in the shrub this spring, and it would be nice to find a replacement that's equally hospitable to good creatures like that, but without taking up such a big footprint.

I think the smaller evergreen in the back of the photo will probably stay for now. There's a small raised bed in the middle of the area (currently planted with petunias) that will probably go or get moved. In the front against the fence, we planted some David Austin (Mayflower) roses and catmint (Nepeta Walker's Low) this spring, and the lady's mantle in front of the fence went in about 2 weeks ago. In between the iris and petunias are a couple of delphiniums that will hopefully open up soon. I started them from seed under lights this winter and I am ridiculously excited that I might see a bloom. Thanks in advance for any responses or advice.

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arlene_82 (zone 6 OH)

Here is another view from the front sidewalk. The fence itself probably needs replaced too, but that probably won't happen this year.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 12:18PM
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Hi Arlene,
This is a fun project!

I am wondering if that evergreen shrub was planted to hide a fieldstone foundation. Would you consider just trimming that evergreen shrub, because it looks like a nice backdrop for your other flowering perennials? Or how about planting some hydrangeas against the wall? (Best in an area with morning sun).

One of the challenges for designing a front urban garden is around a person's view, ie, the rule to keep tallest plants at the back, with short plants at the front, doesn't really work for a front garden because it might look good from the sidewalk, but it will look unbalanced as you walk up to the house.

A slow growing emerald gaiety euonymous might be nice if it was trained to grow up beside the stair railing. You could plant three there.

The lady's mantle is lovely and mine doesn't suffer from the same slug problems as my hostas. I have white clip campanulas planted in between my lady's mantle.

Good luck and I'd love to see your "after" photos!


    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 1:35PM
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Just a few quick thoughts:

I'd clip off a bit of the evergreen shrubs and take them to a nursery and try to find out what they are. Maybe they are a type if shrub that you could cut back or shape--lthinking of boxwood, for example. But I agree, as it is, it looks like a boxy blob! If you could end up with one rounded shaped evergreen that could even grow taller, say, between the windows (unless that is too close to the jm) I think that would add a bit more interest. I could also imagine one more upright evergreen to the right of the window, near the front porch edge.

Do you need the fence along the front? I would be tempted to remove that section as I do not immediately see it serving any purpose (doesn't keep a dog in, for example). Now, maybe it keeps people from cutting through the yard or provides a certain privacy that you value, but it doesn't look as though you all use the area as a patio for example. Then you could have the roses grow in what is now the area behind the fence and great a rose shrub fence, in a sense. On the other hand, fences like that can be quite charming in a garden but here you have little space in front of the fence.

I'm guessing you house faces south and the yard gets a lot of morning sun?

Some other shrubs you might consider include weigela and deutzia. So much depends on what you like in a garden though.

Your delphiniums look great! I understand your excitement over having them bloom. :)

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 1:39PM
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Nice work on your front garden which has some classic cottage garden plants. I like the way the fence frames the garden, and it will help keep folks' dogs from damaging your plants. I grew up in Cleveland and it's a great place to garden. What direction is the house facing?

Your shrub is a yew and is planted much too close to the house, a common problem with foundation shrubs, particularly yews. I think your instincts are right in deciding to remove it because they want to be large shrubs, but they can be cut back very hard and still regrow. Then an annual trimming or two could keep it smaller if you change your mind and want to try keeping it. I think you could have something more decorative there, however. I like the idea of moving the iris away from the walkway, though they do need a good amount of sun, and I am not sure that there's enough right by the building. They are gorgeous in spring but the foliage isn't highly ornamental, so if they are planted where the flowers are visible but the leaves are camouflaged later in the season by other plants, the overall effect will be more ornamental.

Small hydrangeas would look great in this garden, and there are now several types of relatively small reblooming Hydrangea macrophylla (AKA big leaf hydrangea) available on the market now some as small as 3'. You could plant them anywhere in the bed that gets morning sun and afternoon shade since they are relatively small. Since Cleveland is on the lake which has a moderating effect on temperature swings, I wouldn't expect you would have issues with late frosts causing damage, so you could have flowers from April through late summer. There are a few small Hydrangea paniculata that would bloom from mid-June until freeze as well, though they may be a touch larger. H. paniculata is happy in lots of sun.

I'd also consider putting one of the smaller Clematis vines in there. Some such as Piilu, Westerplatte, or the plants in the Evison Boulevard collection are in the 4-6 foot range, and will grow will on a relatively small trellis or obelisk. They do best with at least 5 hours of sun, so you probably don't want to put them where the yew is now, but instead in one of the brighter spots in the garden. I find them easy care as long as they get regular moisture (mulch helps) and they add bloom for quite a while. One might be trained onto the fence with some mesh fencing on the house side as well.

Something to keep in mind when planting is what the garden will look like in the winter. You'll want some plants that stay evergreen, whether they are perennials such as Heuchera or a Carex like 'Ice Dance' (which you could use in some of the half-day sun spots) or smaller evergreen shrubs such as dwarf Chamaecyparis (AKA false cypress) or dwarf Thuja (AKA arborvitae) or small Rhododendrons like 'Yaku Prince' which is 3' tall and wide (and was bred in Cleveland by Tony Shammarello in the 60's.) Or use a combination of small shrubs and perennials. Currently, without the yew, for winter interest you have the small evergreen, the fence, the ornamental branch structure of the maple, and if you add a hard prune (type 3) clematis, the trellis will add interest.

Also keep in mind the look of plants when not blooming. Since you have a small space, using plants that have more than one type of interest will help. For instance if in the shady area you use a couple of hostas with different leaf types and coloring and some astilbes or a maroon-leafed Cimicifuga along with a groundcover that will weave between them you will have varied leaf texture and color even when the plants aren't blooming. Hakone grass AKA Japanese forest grass AKA Hakonechloa macra has a striped variety and I grow a golden form (see photo below), either of which will light up a dark area of the garden. When you plant them, get smaller plants so that you can dig small holes and not overly disturb the roots of the Japanese maple. This area will need regular watering, and mulch will help here as well, since the perennials and the maple will compete for water and nutrients.

Here's a photo of a shaded bed in my garden. I will be adding a small hydrangea in one of the brighter spots. It currently has Hakone grass on the right, a hosta on the left (as well as some less visible further back), and in the middle front a foxglove (large green leaves) that isn't yet blooming mingling with a painted fern. There are also (not necessarily in the photo) columbine, Heuchera (AKA coral bells), Leucosceptrum japonicum (the larger chartreuse mound farther back), some shade-loving perennial geraniums, a few bulbs and wildflowers, and some periwinkle/myrtle (which I would NOT recommend for a smaller garden as it is too overwhelming for me and I have acres.)
From July 11, 2014 Clems etc

The repetition of the charteuse color gives some continuity, and since most of the plants in this bed flower in the spring foliage is the main action here for most of the summer except when the hostas and a couple of daylilies bloom on the brighter edges.

Below is a link to a thread with photos of Heucheras and Hostas combined that may give you some ideas.

Here is a link that might be useful: Heucheras and Hostas

This post was edited by nhbabs on Sat, Jul 26, 14 at 15:24

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 3:22PM
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arlene_82 (zone 6 OH)

Thanks for the quick, thoughtful responses!

Mira - I like the idea of hydrangeas too, but unfortunately my bf isn't a big fan of those either (he likes to be a rebel and has something against the popular plants you see everywhere, but of course there's a reason why some plants become so popular). The emerald gaiety euonymous is beautiful and definitely will get some consideration. Love the idea of having something variegated - or at least something with a white flower.

White clip campanulas amongst lady's mantle sounds lovely! I'll admit that I got the idea for the front planting combo from this thread

Not sure the lady's mantle will survive in that spot. It isn't quite full sun, but definitely the sunniest spot on the property. Nonetheless, I am holding out hope that it lives to flower next spring.

phlowerpower - I think adding something with more height would work well and complement the house, definitely. Here's a picture of the whole front exterior from last fall. Now I'm seeing a tall, narrow evergreen to the left of the door in the spot where you suggested. Hmm...things to think about.

I agree that a shrub rose "fence" sounds lovely, and that might well happen after a year or two of letting the roses get established.

The house does face southeast and gets some morning sun, but only after around 11 or so when it clears the maple in front of the neighbors' house on our east. A deutzia looks like it would be really nice, and a possible good hydrangea compromise. I like the idea of having something with an element of white there. And thanks re: the delphiniums! I'm sure I'll be so newbie-gardener excited when I see a flower that i won't be able to resist posting a photo.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 3:50PM
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arlene_82 (zone 6 OH)

nhbabs - thanks so much for identifying the yew and for all of the great suggestions! The house faces southeast. It's good to know that the yew can be cut back pretty hard. We may start there and see if that alone helps improve the look of the garden (not to mention being less work and money than a full-on extraction & replacement). Clematis is something on my list to try. And I agree that a decorative trellis would certainly add interest - that's a great idea.

Also - yes - I can recall gazing out of the front window this past winter and being so glad for the evergreen shrub. Thanks for reminding me of this. Phlowerpower recommended adding some height with a tall upright evergreen, and I'm liking this idea the more I think about it.

I think your gorgeous shade garden photo will help me talk my cohabitant into putting in some hostas. I appreciate your use of chartreuse, and I really like how it can brighten up a shady spot. I like the idea of a chartreuse hosta to echo the lady's mantle in-bloom (assuming it survives - fingers crossed).

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 4:19PM
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The lady's mantle should be fine in part sun to mostly shade.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 1:43PM
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I do like what you have going on with the nepeta and lady's mantle and the inspirational photo is lovely.

Seeing the entire front if the house, I might plant a tall evergreen off the side corner opposite the japanese msple. There might not be enough space just to the left of the front door because it can't be centered between the window and the door and would probably end up covering the window eventually. Although, maybe just a mounding evergreen that will not grow above the window base anytime soon could be nice.

How do you all feel about heucheras? Several types would probably grow well for you there and a wide variety of shapes and color are available.
Caramel, circus, Pinot Gris and palace purple have been strong growers for me in zone 5 so far. I think they do well in that kind if partial sun exposure.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 8:48PM
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arlene_82 (zone 6 OH)

phlower, We are very much into the idea of putting a tall evergreen opposite the JM, rather than right up against the house. It might provide some added security between the houses as well. Thinking about possibly a Skyrocket Juniper?

We have one heuchera (palace purple I believe) that I moved last year from immediately behind one of the front fence posts where it got very little (almost none) direct sun exposure. It went over to the east side of the front yard, where it seems to be doing much better - even got a bloom from it this year. It is pretty now that it's doing well, and I have thought about adding some more coral bells in that general area, since the one by itself seems out of place.

Our tentative plan now is to take out both of the yews, and plant some type of tall evergreen further out from the house. I want to try clematis (jackmanii, maybe?) on a trellis to the left of the door to add some kind of vertical interest and color closer to the facade of the house. I have dreams of finding a suitable climbing rose to companion with the clematis, but that might be a bit much without some kind of more expansive structure there to support it. Along the foundation, we'll probably plant some combination of ferns, hostas, heucheras, and hopefully another smaller shrub with some ornamental interest if we can figure out a way to fit everything without overcrowding.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 2:56PM
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paul_(z5 MI)

Always interesting to hear others views.

Although I'm sure you already know to do this, I'll say it anyway just in case you haven't .... investigate the recommendations given you. Not that any of us would try to steer you wrong, but your actual situation may differ from ours.
For example, how moist or dry is your bf's yard?
If you choose moisture loving plants but are unable to water with regularity, for example, the plants will do poorly or die and lead to a very unhappy experience for the two of you.

How much upkeep are the two of you willing to commit to?
If you choose a plant(s) that grow "vigorously", will regular trimming be unrealistic?

With regards to deadheading -- how much time can be devoted to doing so? Some flowering plants require rather frequent deadheading to get the most out of their blooming season or even to keep them from looking like crap.

I agree with nhbabs -- I like the fence (and for the same reasons).

"... but the boyfriend isn't all that keen on hostas"

Well hosta aren't for everyone. (But then no plant is.) However, it might make a difference if he saw more of what is available out there. That in turn might require taking him somewhere other than a BBS or a walk around the "hood".

My folks were never much into hosta ... until the fateful day 3 yrs ago when we went to a rather spectacular hosta nursery. I was up visiting for the week and my dad -- knowing that I enjoy perusing plants (I'm the only gardener in the family) -- happened to see an article in the newspaper about a hosta nursery in a nearby town. So we decided to pop over and have a looksee. The nursery, which was also part of the woman's yard was in a woods. It was a muggy, warm day and the mosquitos were out in force. We hadn't been out of the car more than a couple minutes when my mom said that we wouldn't be staying long and I couldn't fault her (did I mention the mosquitos were REALLY bad?). The owner of the nursery came out with a can of OFF! in hand ... bless her! She then showed us around the grounds which she and her hubby had beautifully landscaped. Needless to say, hosta played a huge role in their landscaping. While many of the run-of-the-mill mass produced hosta were present, there were many, many more that you would never find at a BBS nor most nurseries that cater to a wider array of plants. 1.5 HOURS later (so much for a short visit ... and that had nothing to do with me) we finally left along with several hosta that my folks decided to buy. Since then they've returned to that nursery a couple of times and have added a few more hosta each time. So a change of heart for your bf could happen. heh

"Our tentative plan now is to take out both of the yews, and plant some type of tall evergreen further out from the house."

Personally, I'd advise against that.

1) I can see why the former owners put the yews there. As has been mentioned, yews can take a pretty hard pruning and reliably fill out again and they make a nice backdrop for the plants in front of them.

2) That front yard is not that big. Even the more upright growing evergreens like arborvitae (Thuja) will, I believe, get far too big for that space -- not only blocking your windows but also overwhelming that space and muscling out the other plants therein. Do not be fooled by their diminutive nature at the BBS or nursery.

If you decide to plant an upright evergreen, might I suggest you do so on the other side of the walkway ... providing a counterbalance to the maple?

Always a bit leery when I hear that someone has planted a catmint. Buggers can become rampant spreaders showing up in all sorts of places you never intended. I've heard that Nepeta Walker's Low is seed sterile, so hopefully you won't have any problems. I'd still recommend keeping an eye on it, but some plants make me rather paranoid that way. heh.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 2:42PM
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