Deck the Walls (and Hedges)
In late January, as our local Garden Conservancy Open Days committee was finalizing its selections for the 2010 Open Days tours in the DC area, we found ourselves walking down a street in the District with an amazing hedge. Two of the designers among us (pas moi, I can’t tell an American holly from anything but a Foster) thought it was a hedge of American holly. It was beautifully maintained and its crisp, deep green color was a welcome addition to the winter landscape.
What really impressed us, however, was the fact that some talented gardener had carefully pruned it to include a repeating pattern of swags and circles along its upper regions – punctuated with stars every so often. The photo doesn’t do it justice. Slanting afternoon light, peeping in and out of the clouds, raked across the tops of the swags, making them stand out when the light was best.
Seeing this work of art – for that’s what it was – made me think of other walls I’ve seen adorned with living art. Most of them are expanses of brick or stone, either house walls or retaining walls, that have been softened with flowering shrubs or (less often) trees.
Sculpting shapes out of climbing plants can be relatively easy (see the inverted ivy “V” shapes below) or more challenging (think thorny pyracantha, sorry, no photo available). Definitely less appealing than the stars and swags hedge above, but much better than the unadorned brick retaining walls would be without the ivy.
Much more appealing is this espaliered climbing rose on the walls of the garden at the British Embassy, which was open to the public for a day several years ago.
In England on a tour of public and private gardens in 2002, I saw how even a lowly barn wall can be transformed by climbing roses and evergreen plants.
Trees are harder to use as wall sculpture. In addition to fruiting trees, Magnolias are favorites of garden designers for this purpose.
I’ll close with my favorite living wall adornment. At Swarthmore College, the entire campus is a renowned arboretum. It was here I first encountered a cousin of the climbing hydrangea, Schizophragma hydrangeoides, or Japanese hydrangea vine. I love this plant because it will flower in shade and grows relatively quickly; a few years ago I planted it on my north-facing front wall. Here it is in flower at Swarthmore. Thank goodness I had my camera.
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