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Leaves falling make garden redos easier to plan

Leaves falling make garden redos easier to plan

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

It is a fortuitous coincidence that leaf-fall coincides with ideal planting time for most trees and shrubs, and at just the time nurseries and discount stores offer the year’s best bargains on many woody plants.
As your garden segues from ponderous leafage to spare effect, its bones are revealed and thus is presented an annual opportunity to add to or re-arrange (or both) its contents to your greater satisfaction. You need read no further if your garden is already perfect.
It is nothing short of amazing how evergreens seem to pop forth after deciduous trees have shed their load. They have been there all along, but gone largely unnoticed.
A prime example is (was) a 30-year-old Canadian hemlock in our woods. I looked forward to its winter contribution each year, especially when its drooping branches drooped even more with every fall of snow.
Alas, the late drought years finally did it in, as they have numerous other jewels on our place and yours. It has been replaced with a Donald Egolf redbud, which has the advantage, of course, of timely spring bloom but not evergreen foliage.
You have similar occasions for replacement of drought kills. Late fall or winter is the opportune time for planting them, as long as the ground is not frozen.
One caveat concerns marginally winter-hardy material, i.e. azaleas and some others. It is best to wait until danger of severe cold (we might still get some, even post-Gore) has passed; that is, mid-February onward.
Of even more significant import, perhaps, is considerable re-doing of whole areas of your garden.
I wrote of an example of that last week in the case of Donna Ellis and the timely refurbishing at her garden at Van Dyke. (She did plant some azaleas in fall, but they were varieties that exhibit extra winter hardiness.)
This kind of operation can be quite involved, more or less so depending on how big an area is to be considered. Your budget and available time will be quantifying factors, and it might be that one section can be tackled this year, another a year hence, etc
If you thus do it piecemeal, you will surely want to have priorities — No. 1 this year, No. 2 next year, and on down the line.
Sans leaves, your problem is considerably clarified. Without the cumber of leafage, the lines of your garden are distinctly defined and it is surprising how many possible changes evidence themselves that you hadn’t noticed before.
In my own case, there is an area at the top (north) end of our rock wall border that has recently disappointed me.
A Vicary privet there has leaves that flush yellow, and when I planted it (replacing a worn-out Boulevard cypress) a few years ago the idea was to shear it occasionally so that new, yellow leaves would continue to expand the summer through.
Alas, such has not been the case. Instead there have been only a few brief weeks of the year when the desired effect has evidenced itself. The rest of the time the leaves are a dull green.
It is going out this winter, and will be replaced with a Gilt Edge elaeagnus, with variegated yellow-and-green leaves the year-round.
It will tend to get too wide, but about twice a year I will clip it over.
Next to it is a big clump of cannas with pale yellow flowers, which will go just right, methinks, with the elaeagnus.
The cannas, however, will be moved back (replacing a Rose Glow barberry that also disappointed), and they, in turn, will be fronted with a Bombshell hydrangea.
Behind all this is a big clump of variegated Arundo donax, colloquially called “cane” hereabouts, which towers to 15 feet over the course of a summer.
Our garden is going on 39 years old, and such upheavals have been ongoing since Day 1, for one reason or another, and will continue as long as I can pick up a spade.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is the garden writer at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at (731) 642-1162.

Published in The Messenger 11.27.12