We got into quite a discussion over this overplanted bed.
(Skip this discussion; take me to
Discussing others' designs is a way to focus on basics in our
own work. It helps us develop better designs and solutions to
We don't think there is any "right" or "wrong" in landscape
design. It's art, a subjective medium meant to fulfill property
owners' unique wishes and needs.
The landscapes we most often discuss are those that make us
wonder what purpose was being served. As often, we come to the
conclusion that the designer slipped up in identifying and
fulfilling the owners' needs.
This garden is one of those. Thus we suspect its owner may be
unaware the bed is overplanted, or what consequences overplanting
can have. So our discussion of this bed included:
"When will realization dawn?"
"What will be left then that's salvageable?"
"How could we make the garden keep working from that point
To answer those questions, we needed to list what features of
the bed a person would value, watch, and want to keep. We settled
on these "keepers", here:
- The color and flowing form of the gold thread false
- The variety of textures and foliage colors.
- The massing of secondary plants around individual stars.
- The house colors repeated in the bed, but without losing the
plants against any same-color background.
- The winter interest.
We think most of that can be saved if someone begins pruning,
well, and soon. Or they can all be retained throughout the larger
landscape if the bed is actually a holding bed.
Everything that's in the bed can stay if a gardener begins
pruning next year to keep the plants small.
Delay could ruin this plan (below). If
a person waits until the bed's obviously overgrown, it will be
impractical to reclaim the evergreens. Even bringing the simplest
shrub back into line -- the dwarf lilac -- will require extra time.
(See Prune a dwarf lilac for
Below: The gardener who prunes as we
suggest must have skill and confidence
to keep a 'Gold Mop' falsecypress from
reaching its full size (12'+).
Below: We manage to keep
this batch of Gold Mops attractively shaggy and healthy
at only about 24" tall but as we've explained
it's a challenge. At another
property (bottom) we allow
some of the same type to reach just one foot taller and
find them much simpler to maintain at that size.
Or we can treat it as one
big holding bed
All but a few plants can be transplanted out of this bed
over two to four years and used in other places in the landscape,
such as creating a hedge from the dwarf lilacs (right; yup,
those are the "dwarves."). They could be replaced with plants
of similar design characteristic but smaller stature.
Above: A standard
upright redleaf Japanese
maple, 25'. In this plan of replacement,
we opt to keep the Japanese maple and
allow it to grow to this full size.
Right: Plenty of true dwarf
conifers could stand in for the white spruce originally planted
here. Do your research to predict a conifer's size and growth rate
before you plant it. This 'Fat Albert' dwarf blue spruce will reach
5' in about 10 years so it will eventually need pruning. Its growth
rate is slow enough that pruning is a realistic strategy.
Below, left: Golden satin grass
(Hakonechloa macra aureolata) can stand in for the Gold
Mops in terms of texture, foliage color and form, yet they won't
get too big.