Growing On

Picture this, from fifteen years ago. Nicole and Ross had a mass planting of yews original to their house right up against the foundation of the right side of the house, and enclosing the front porch. They had gotten large and leggy,  as yews frequently do. The house has a distinctively low and wide profile that was overwhelmed by all those yews. The house could barely breathe. The only other landscape elements existing were trees-a large gleditsia, or honey locust, and a very large and imposing American elm.

I told them we could move the yews away from the front porch and foundation, and plant them in a spot that would provide a little privacy from to their front porch and door without looming over them. I couldn’t wait to dig them out and move them. We also removed the concrete sidewalk that came from the drive, and ran along the near foundation to the front porch. We closed off that side entrance to the front door by moving one of the iron panels from the center front of the porch to the side. I envisioned a new walkway that would lead visitors to the middle front of the porch, placing them face to face with the front door.

There would be some private space in front of the porch. The trunk of the big honey locust  would provide a sculptural element.

 

The front yard was a large grassy area completely open to the street. Those yews were all different sizes and heights, but we hoped to groom and prune them to encourage them to grow better at the ground level in the future. In an effort to speed up the process, we installed parallel row of new and smaller yews on the inside, to hide the bare legs you see in the picture above. We planted boxwood next to the foundation of the house. This smaller growing evergreen would not overpower their low slung house or windows. Foundation plantings need to be respectful of the architecture that sits on that foundation. A landscape should feature the most prominent feature, not engulf it. The location of these yews had everything to do with a capped pipe sticking up out of the grass – flagged in the above picture.  It could not be moved or removed, so we landscaped to disguise it.

At the end of this renovation, we installed a stone walkway with concrete tiles, running in front of an old cedar adjacent to the drive. I placed and planted a fern leaf beech in the lawn, and a tricolor beech to the right of the picture window. It did not seem like much at the time, but growing time would favor what had been done.

A month ago they called.  Everything had grown a lot, and some things not so much-could I come and take a look. The boxwood had grown so much that the stone path to the front door looked and functioned more like bed edging. The big honey locust had gotten a lot bigger, meaning that moss had all but overtaken the grass and the stone landing in front of the porch. The tricolor beech had grown in handsomely.

The interior row of smaller yews had not fared so well.  The shade from the locust, beech, and the old yews had about done them in. Even though the original yews were as leggy as ever, they now completely blocked the view of the front yard.

The American elm is now of enormous size. It must be better than 80 feet tall, and the canopy casts an enormous amount of shade in all directions. To the left in this picture, a white pine that had also grown out over the lawn.  Behind the white pine, a huge branch of the honey locust hanging over the yews.

The south face of the yews was more than decent, as it had much better light. They had grown several feet taller, and they did a great job of screening the pipe.

But the house side view presented a much bleaker picture.Yews are amazingly shade tolerant, but there is a limit to what they can take. A number of the smaller ones had been pruned, or browsed to death by deer. The arborvitae at the end of the yews was in much the same shape-too much shade for too long had taken its toll. It was too big and in too poor a shape to make it worthwhile to move.

It did not take long to get those yews out. Nor did it appear that something was missing from the landscape. The shade has become a major element of the landscape. The trees and the shade-atmospheric.

The biggest surprise was the fern leaf beech.  That 4 foot tall tree had grown incredibly tall and wide in 15 years. It seemed like the landscape needed little beyond what the beautiful trees were already doing there.

The trees are large enough now to provide some privacy from the road, and frame the view out to the treed lot across the street.  There is a long view now from the house, out.  We did add enough soil to level the ground, and we seeded the area with a sun-shade grass mix. However, I feel sure that the moss will reclaim the area from the grass in short order.

We enlarged the sidewalk by 18″ from the drive to the porch terrace. Once we got close to the locust, we quit digging for a base for the stone. I had no intentions of cutting into the surface roots of the tree. We had some flagstone stockpiled at the landscape yard that was a pretty good match.  Once the surface of the stone ages, and the moss fills the gravel joints, it will be difficult to tell that the walk had ever been disturbed.

The view from the drive is inviting. The wider walkway makes it possible for two people to walk side by side.

The landscape lights were readily relocated, as were a trio of vintage concrete mushrooms.  They have taken on the job of screening the pipe in the grass.The tricolor beech, and a pair of vintage stone ravens on pedestals are beautiful and distinctive.

The view from the street will be greatly improved once their arborist comes to cut the dead wood out of the locust, and the suckers from the base of that incredible elm.  The lower trunk of that elm is spectacular, and will easily be seen from the walk and the street. I know my clients will continue to take great care of all of their trees. The healthy American elm is ample evidence of that.

 

Saving The Best For Last

Persian ironwoodMy designing life may have been consumed with finishing up as many of our landscape projects as possible, and dealing with the demands of our holiday and winter container work, but the garden has never been far from my mind. Every day, as I am loading up the corgis in the morning, or preparing for them to disembark in the evening, I see what is pictured above. This antique French pot from Biot sits on an Italian terracotta socle, which in turn sits on top of the substantial stump of a maple that succumbed years ago to girdling roots. It was made in the early part of the 20th century by a French pottery that is no longer. I love the shape, the color, and the history. The pale yellow glazed rim finishes the hand thrown raw clay body. There is ample evidence of its age.  Moss spores have infiltrated the surface, and taken up residence. I have never felt the need to plant this pot, as I doubt a planting would make it look any better than it already does.  It pleases me to see this pot every day, in every season, year after year. In the summer, the ground is covered by Sum and Substance hostas, and ferns. In mid-November, the pot is embraced by a pair of Parrotias, just coming into fall color.

persian ironwoodThis essay is not really about my old garden pot. It is about a not so well known and underused small growing tree that saves the best of its beauty for the last of the year. Parrotia persica is the only species in the genus Parrotia. The tree matures at about 25′ tall, and as wide. My group of four trees has been in the ground for close to 20 years, and might be 18 feet tall.  Suffice it to say they grow very slowly. It is irregular growing, and branches out quite close to the ground.  Parrotia persica is one of only two only species in the genus Parrotia. The loosely oblong leaves are quite reminiscent of hamamelis, or witch hazel.  This is not surprising, as they are in the same family. Those leaves have a purple/copper colored  tinge when they emerge in the spring, which matures to a deep  rich green in summer.

persian ironwoodPersian ironwood is reputed to have some of the best fall color of any deciduous tree. A single tree may have red, yellow, orange and maroon colored leaves at the same time. Only once in a while do I get fall color like this.  In most years, the leaves turn yellow and peach, long after many other trees have already dropped their leaves. By the time they begin turning color, all of the hostas and ferns that grow in proximity to them have gone dormant.

persian ironwoodThe branch structure and exfoliating bark endows this tree with considerable winter interest.  The old bark sheds in a patchy way, revealing the new bark underneath. It is not uncommon for the bark on my trees to have green, yellow, peach, gray and brown coloration all at the same time. The bark does not shed in huge sheets like the London Plane.  I rarely notice the flaking bark on the ground. The literature says that parrotias bloom in very early spring, much like witch hazel.  Clusters of red stamens are surrounded by brownish bracts; the flowers do not have much in the way of petals.  The bloom is subtle.  That said, I have never seen my parrotias bloom.

parrotia persicaAt the end of December, the trees still had most of their leaves.  The yellow fall color had matured to a rich coppery color. Though the landscape and garden has gone dormant, this spot is still beautiful in color and texture. These leaves will hold most of the winter, no matter how tough that winter might be.  Some leaves will last long enough to be pushed off by the new leaves emerge in the spring. Should you have a winter season, a parrotia is at its most beautiful at that time of year. The picea abies “mucronata”, or dwarf Norway spruces, and the parrotias completely screen this part of my garden from the street.

The old pot has a sheltered place to be.

persian ironwoodAs a result of the horrifically cold winter we had three years ago, I did have twig die back in the midsection of this tree. That damage is easy to see in the picture above. I would have thought the damage from the cold and wind would have been most prominent at the top of the tree. I cannot explain what happened, but the trees have begun to recover. I have never seen any damage from insects or disease, and I do nothing to look after it besides watering the hostas around them during dry spells. Parrotias are remarkably healthy and just about maintenance free.

 

persian ironwoodI may have snow and cold for the next few months, but I will also have this parrotia, and three others, all decked out for winter.

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