Planting the Pines

November 6, 2015 162My last post about the 34 limber pines had to do with getting them off a truck, and transported some 450 feet up hill to the place where they would be planted. The first set of 14 Vanderwolfs would be planted around this generator. Building codes in this community specifies that a generator must be completely screened.  These old existing yews were several feet too short, and too thin. It is a very large and tall generator. I ordinarily would not think to screen with trees, but in this case, I felt that Vanderwolf’s pines would do more than provide a screen. They would be a feature of the landscape.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)It is essential to preserve access to the generator for service. A flexibly stemmed soft needled pine is perfect for this function.  A yearly pinching of the spring candles will keep these pines dense. Though shearing long needled pines is common in the landscape and Christmas tree industries, we will not shear these.  We will take a branch or the new growth (called a candle) back to the main stem. We were easily able to co-mingle the branches from one tree to the next, as those branches are indeed very flexible. We set these columnar pines 4 feet apart.  In the spring I will pinch out those wild hairs at the top, and lower the overall height about 18″.  We will keep those trees below the overhang.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)That giant generator is no longer part of the landscape. Landscape designers regularly have to take the placement of outdoor structures in to account. Telephone poles, electrical lines, drain and manhole covers, generators, fire hydrants and transformers are all part of the urban landscape.

KP 015The landscape on this side of the circular driveway was a random mix of spruce, viburnum, and yews, backed up by the neighbor’s old junipers and spruce. It would not be long before the spruce would engulf the yews, and hang over the driveway. In the center island we had planted four circles of spreading cap yews.  The outside ring is 36″ tall.  The inside ring is 24″ tall.  The mass will be kept loose, but in heights descending to the center.  Perhaps some day they will add a sculpture there. Between the yews and the existing landscape is a group of Green Gem boxwood sitting on the driveway, which will be planted in front of the Joe Burke limber pines. And yes, there is a transformer there.

planting the Joe Burke's (8)Once the spruce and most of the viburnum were moved, it is easier to see the issues that would need addressing.  The tall trunks are on the neighbor’s property.  My clients driveway comes within 6 feet of the property line.  I did consult with the neighbor and her landscape designer, and got permission to plant several of the dwarf pines a little over the property lines.  I did explain that these trees would not impact her old trees like the spruce would have. Once we had her permission, there was still the issue of the transformer and cable box. The pines would be added on either side of the box.  We would pick specific trees that seemed like they would handle that placement.

planting the Joe Burke's (19)We were able to determine that a tree could be planted behind the box. We dug this hole very cautiously, and a number of lines, sprinkler and otherwise, traverse this area. Since we could not plant a tree in front of the transformer, behind would be the next best way  to add that foliage and texture to that spot.

planting the Joe Burke's (18)Dan did the initial dig, and transplanted the viburnum.  His was a fishing expedition. He did find sprinkler lines, which were rerouted out of the way of the root ball.

planting the Joe Burke's (6)The curb of the new drive was protected by 4″ by 4″ timbers set on each side, and plywood over all.  We needed our front end loader to set the trees, as the trees were much too heavy to lift. Once each tree was set in the trench that had been dug, they could be rotated in the hole for the best fit with the tree before. This area, where some of the juniper branches were low, each tree had to be carefully fit in to what was existing.

planting the Joe Burke's (21)Planting the tree behind the box came last.

planting the Joe Burke's (22)This tree had a slight crook in the trunk.  When the ball was pitched forward, the branches came very close to the box. There is that perfect tree for every spot. That proximity was not a problem. The service would always be done on the front side.

planting the Joe Burke's (1)These irregular growing pinus flexilis “Joe Burke” fit right in with the background landscape. As they grow, albeit slowly, they will meld in a friendly way to what is there.

planting the Joe Burke's (11)Once the trees were in, the wood, plywood, tarps and soil could be removed.

planting the Joe Burke's (10)The last task was to back fill the trench with soil, and make sure the trees are straight.  They will be getting a thorough soaking, which will help with the insult of being dug, moved, and replanted.

the transformer garden 2The trees will be faced down with Green Gem boxwood that is 15″ tall. Green Gem is very slow growing, and can be kept short.  As the ground is rising here, the boxwood will have a slight bank.

screening the transformerTaller Green Mountain boxwood were used to screen the front of the generator. Once the flexible pines grow, there will be some melding going on here as well. Those big boxwood are not an especially graceful gesture , but they are a better look than that green box.



  1. Deborah, I echo Linda’s sentiments in that I too am always impressed by your thoughtfulness of care taken before, during and after each project. Tom.

  2. I have Green Mountain boxes here in VA and the ones in this photo show them overplanted…as they grow larger than the plant tag suggests. This will make for pruning issues, when given room, they manage themselves. Perhaps the client has a huge maintenance budget. I allow room between plants and enjoy the somewhat pudgy habit.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Diane, I would guess how plants grow in Virginia is much different than how they grow in Michigan. And luckily boxwood is very tolerant of a variety of placements. best, Deborah

  3. Your sense of filling space to the right degree and what plants will best do the job is always inpirational to watch. And what a crew you have. We are all fans of their skills.

  4. Nancy Moses, Master Gardener & Gardening Coach says:

    I love all your designs. You always meet a client’s challenges. Please let us know if the plant materials survive their proximity to the generators and the heat they give off. I have seen a few homes where shrubs and ground cover die from he heat!

    Nancy from Potomac, MD

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Nancy, the trees are 3 feet away from the generator. Shrubs can be damaged by exhaust from dryers. A generator does not produce heat like that. Even in a test mode, they run for a limited number of minutes, on a once in a while schedule. Deborah

  5. deb reilly says:

    Gorgeous, who wouldn’t love looking at this landscape everyday all year round. Love the colors and the textures. Kudos to you and your crew……deb

  6. I had a beautifully shaped limber pine. Unfortunately a tornado took it out. It was a beautiful specimen like yours. The new replacement, planted about 6 years ago, isn’t as full as I’d like it to be. Your design is beautiful. Your crew is very cautious about the surrounding area. You are very fortunate to have a crew with such high standards!

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