Archive for December 2010

Green Screens for Small Spaces

December 18, 2010

One of the requests I hear most frequently as a designer who lives in a suburban area is for screening plants. Maybe your neighbor’s house is a McMansion, or perhaps you just don’t want to look out your porch or the dining room window and see the street or – whatever. If you’re lucky, you have a large enough yard and enough sun that you can accommodate a mixed grouping of trees – some conifers (no Leyland cypresses, please!), a holly or two, and some deciduous but ornamental trees mixed in.

In some cases, however, the space available is more limited. Here is where I make a pitch for a tree that may not be as well known as the American holly or even the Japanese cryptomeria. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata,’ or the fastigiate hornbeam.

Before looking at the slimmed-down version, the straight species deserves its own moment of glory. I first encountered Carpinus betulus on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville, North Carolina many years ago on a glorious early autumn day. Although the fall color is only hinted at in this photo, it’s a glorious golden hue and a real plus.

Carpinus betulus, European hornbeam

A mature Carpinus betulus starting to show fall color on the grounds of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina

At the time, I didn’t know what kind of tree it was, but I made it my business to find out later. Since then, while I haven’t had clients with the kind of space needed in their gardens to plant one of these “regular” Carpinus, I’ve discovered the merits of its smaller cousin.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'

Young Carpinus betulus

Fastigiate hornbeams (‘Fastigiata’ or a supposedly even narrower version, ‘Franz Fontaine,’) have a branching structure that is so tight it stops the eye, even when the tree isn’t in leaf. I’ve seen them planted as close together as 4′ on center, although I prefer to space them out six to seven feet apart (measured from trunk to trunk). This photo shows three ‘Fastigiata,’ planted along a six-foot fence in a back yard in the District of Columbia about seven years ago. Today they are fully grown together, about twenty feet high, and the garden owner loves them, especially since she can no longer see the car parked in her neighbor’s back yard.

I have seen them planted more formally (and seemingly “topped”), as a backdrop for a parking area at Muddy Rugs in Connecticut last August on a Garden Conservancy Tour.

Carpinus betulus, fastigiate

Fastigiate hornbeams, looking like lollipops, screening a parking area at a Connecticut house.

They can be kept relatively short and used as a hedge in smaller suburban spaces between houses, although I’m not sure how attractive I find them when treated that way if the height is seriously curtailed.

Carpinus betulus, hedge

These fastigiate hornbeams have been clipped into a kind of hedge between two new houses in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

(Of course, the Ellipse at Dumbarton Oaks is the most famous use of a clipped hornbeam hedge that I know of, but there the height at which the trees are kept is probably closer to 30-40 feet.)

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, Patrick Dougherty

The hornbeam hedge at Dumbarton Oaks (shown here with Patrick Dougherty's 'Easy Rider' installation).

So you probably get the picture. The added bonus is that hornbeams can “take a little shade,” as designers like to say. That allows them to be used in less than ideally sunny sites, either mixed with other kinds of screening trees or on their own. And the fastigiate varieties can be utilized where space is very tight (a narrow space between two houses, for example); over time you can limb up the lower branches so that they can clear a low fence, or prune them to keep them tight.

But truthfully? I prefer situations where you can give them some breathing room, even when using them for screening. Here’s a perfect example, where local landscape architect Guy Williams has used matching pairs to great effect on one side of a somewhat formally designed back yard, both to screen the house next door but also to set off the space with grace.

Carpinus betulus

Four European hornbeam trees act as a screen but also as a focal point in this garden.

So the next time you’re contemplating how to screen a view – or just add some beauty to your garden – give some thought to a hornbeam. You won’t regret it.

Garden Shoots will take a brief holiday break over the Christmas weekend. See you in the New Year!

Disguising an Eyesore, Granting a Wish

December 11, 2010

What is on your garden wish list? A Lunaform pot? A gazebo? Hot tub (please, don’t make me go there . . .)?  Several years ago, I had a client whose list included a potting shed. Only problem was, she had a minuscule back yard and many, many other items on that list. She also had an unsightly under-deck area courtesy of her contractor.

Deck supports

This part of my client's back yard gave me pause, to say the least, when I first saw it.

Hmm, I thought. Not to worry, she said, the contractor was going to “screen” it for her with lattice work. So he did.

Under deck lattice screening

The contractor's version of under-deck screening

Better? I’ll let you be the judge, but I thought it was pretty ugly. And there was still the matter of the potting shed. I came up with an idea. I huddled with our company’s ace carpenter and special projects manager. I consulted with the client; there was really no room for a real potting shed, I pointed out (and in another post, I’ll show you the whole lot and you’ll realize why). But we could give her the illusion of one and solve a difficult aesthetic problem at the same time.

Under deck screening

Voila! A "faux" potting shed, complete with stone planter area for annuals and clematis

The door you see on the left leads to the under-deck storage area, where the clients keep firewood and where the air conditioning units are located. We took design elements, including the slat openings in the door and screening, from the style of fencing the owners had installed around the yard, and I added lattice panels to provide support for clematis and dress up the woodwork a bit. The client was delighted, and we had solved a pesky problem by turning an eyesore into a plus in the landscape.

My Favorite Floribunda Rose, Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 3, 2010

As most of my friends know, I wasn’t a big fan of roses in the garden until I visited England in 2003. My tour’s stop at David Austin Roses’ headquarters will be the subject of another post, I promise, in part because I have any number of wonderful photos to share.

But here in the Washington DC area, finding roses that work well in the average garden without extra care is a challenge. There is, of course, the ubiquitous ‘Knockout Rose’ series, which have an extended bloom period and fewer problems with black spot (the bane of rose growing here) than other varieties. To me, they look best planted in groups and are not ideal candidates for cutting or up-close admiration. And hybrid teas, as beautiful as they are when at their best, require a lot of specialized care and have a growth habit I personally find somewhat awkward to incorporate into designed borders.

Rosa Our Lady of Guadaloupe, floribunda rose

The floribunda rose 'Our Lady of Guadalupe'

One of my clients, however, wanted some roses in her garden when we were designing it five or six years ago, and so I did some research and ended up planting a floribunda rose, ‘Our Lady of Guadaloupe,’ right outside her kitchen door. To say it has not disappointed is an understatement.

Floribunda roses are a cross between polyantha roses and hybrid teas. One of the first developed was “Gruss an Aachen,” which I saw at Broughton Castle in England in 2003. Our Lady of Guadalupe, like all floribundas, has small but prolific blooms that can cover the plant.

Rosa Our Lady of Guadalupe, roses, floribunda roses

A mass of the 'Lady of Guadalupe' roses in bloom on a single shrub in September

This ‘Lady’ begins blooming as early as April and is often going strong as late as October or November. Its blo0ms can rival those of any hybrid tea’s, in my book.

Rosa Our Lady of Guadalupe, floribunda rose

Both the buds and the mature flowers of Our Lady of Guadalupe are delightful despite their relatively small size.

Add a light, sweet scent and its relative resistance to black spot, and you have a great small shrub rose for the mixed border. My client grows it alone, surrounded by annuals for complementary summer color (blue salvia and white “Euphorbia Diamond Frost”) but it’s versatile enough to incorporate in other settings.

Want a different color? Here’s the floribunda rose ‘Eureka,’ growing at Brookside Gardens near me, in a glorious golden yellow hue.

Rosa floribunda Eureka, floribunda rose, Brookside Garden Rose Garden

Floribunda rose 'Eureka' blooming in May 2004 in the Rose Garden at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland

So if you haven’t made the acquaintance of this kind of rose, put it on your list for spring. A further bonus for planting the Lady of Guadalupe rose: Jackson and Perkins’ website indicates that the company  donates five percent of its net sales of this rose to Hispanic College Fund scholarships.


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