Pruning The Boxwood

June 23b 2013 (1)The day the evergreens get pruned at the shop is one of my favorite days in the gardening year.  Mindy from M and M  Flowers comes with a crew; they make a day of it.  The first order of business is the discussion.  Are we pruning as usual?  Is there perhaps a new shape or different direction in mind?

pruning-boxwood.jpgMaking changes to the shape of a boxwood hedge- even an established hedge- is not difficult or impossible.  It just takes time. The spheres at the corners of the parterres have not grown in evenly all around. The west side spheres get more water, as the land drains in that direction.  The east side spheres are planted in what was once asphalt, and they are shaded by the lindens.

pruned-boxwood.jpgThe spheres to the east also suffered a considerable fungal infection that has been very difficult to cure.  Simply put, the conditions for the 4 spheres are not at all equal.  One pair is much larger and more robust than the other.  So there was discussion about a moving towards a different shape at all 4 corners.

boxwood.jpgThe corner spheres could be trimmed as follows.  The bottom of the shrub could be brought into line with the existing rectangular hedge.  The top of the shrub could be pruned as a top-knot, or a smaller sphere that would appear to sit on top of the hedge.  This pruning would take a few years to accomplish, as it means pruning down to old wood.  There would be bare spots that would need to grow in.

green-velvet-boxwoodWe have some time to think this over.  Though I like to wait until the spring growth is fully flushed out before any pruning is done, pruning back to bare wood as the heat of the summer season is imminent is a recipe for burn. Boxwood grows out of winter burn fairly readily, but summer burn is an unsightly state of affairs that persists.

formally-pruned-boxwood.jpgI am not so sure that it bothers me that the spheres do not match.  Perfection is a state that does not really apply to living things.  We may just stay the course. But there is always the option to change course in a landscape.  That just takes planning, and patience.

pruning-evergreen-shrubs.jpgThis hedge has been grown from the species buxus koreana microphylla.  It is a big growing boxwood.  The hedge has been maintained at a height of 32″ and a width of 48″ for a number of years.  Grown in full sun, it readily handles the winter wind and cold weather.  The only danger posed by the winter is when we have heavy snow, the weight of which can crack the woody branches.  Those cracks make the shrub more susceptible to fungal infections.  It’s not always easy to decide whether to remove the snow, or let it be.  Disturbing branches when they are frozen can produce more damage than the snow itself.

pruning-a-boxwood-hedgeKorean boxwood does have a pronounced orangy cast in the winter, a characteristic that is not to everyone’s taste.  Our most important issue is tending a hedge that is in good proportion to the size of the building.  If that large overall size were not so important, “Green Velvet” boxwood maintains its green color all winter, and matures at 3′ by 3′.  “Green Mountain” boxwood is  virtually indistinguishable from Green Velevet, but matures at 4′ tall, and 3′ wide.  “Green Gem” is a good choice, if a more refined leaf and smaller mature size is what your garden needs.

 

pruning-the-boxwood.jpgWe lost 2 boxwood in the hedge over this past winter.  We did have one replacement available. In this spot, we went another direction.  We stitched the hedge back together, with a pair of potted boxwoods.

pruning-the-boxwood.jpgThe pruning makes a world of difference in the appearance of this garden.  I am enjoying that change thoroughly.  If you have a boxwood hedge or specimen boxwood plants that ask for a precision pruning, I highly recommend M and M Flowers.  Their work is superb.  248  340  0796.

 

What Ages Well

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As much as my age can be irritating and inconvenient to me,  the age of my landscape is suiting me  just fine.  I do think it is as good looking as it has ever been.  Even better, no one could possibly be enjoying it as much as I do.  We have had a cool summer; even my lawn looks like a lawn, and not field grass.  Buck obligingly hauled the ladder out into the middle of the road, so I could take this picture; I am sure my neighbors were amused.

aug-17-042For the better part of six years I did nothing to this yard except bark the existing perennial beds, and mow the grass.  It took all my energy to handle my work-or so it seemed.  I am embarrassed to say that somewhere along the line I got an anonymous postcard in the mail:  “It is hard to believe that a person whose career is landscape would have weeds six feet tall in her front yard”.   No matter the delivery, the person had a point.

aug-17-026But perhaps even more importantly, I was ignoring the fact that whatever I did at home would need time to come of age-and that perhaps I would want to still be around to see that.  Planning my own landscape was agonizingly slow. I had no problem designing for others; I was a wreck designing for myself.  Slow turned out to be fine; who can do everything at once anyway?  Getting started-that was the key.

aug-17-029The one hundred Hicks yews across the west and down the north side came first. Given the slope of my property from the south to the north, time would prove to be an essential element.  The hedge is 4 feet tall on the south side, and nine feet tall on the north side-but every one of them is level with the horizon.  This hedge took eight years to grow in.

aug-17-045The boxwood was even slower growing;  the 18″-24″ plants I put in the ground were already seven years old when I planted them.  The shaggy densiformis yews are the newest evergreen addition; they have only been in four years.  I like all this evergreen; I can successfully maintain it. I knew I could never devote the time needed to a big perennial garden-why come home and be frustrated about what isn’t done?  Two giant blocks of Limelight hydrangeas, and 6 pots of flowers give me perennial garden pleasure, in a manageable form.

aug-16a-023I planted this city-mini allee of Yellow Butterflies magnolias for Buck-he loves yellow.  The boxwood is a big evergreen groundcover.  The petals falling on this boxwood is one of my garden’s best spring moments. The mini-boxwood strips in the foreground-this year’s landscape project.  The slope of the ground here made it difficult to mow the grass.  The magnolias have grown considerably, and the shade they cast was not optimal for lawn.  Wall stone behind them retains the soil, and in a few years, will be invisible.

aug-17-050The magnolias were planted to frame the view to the side yard.  It is hard arrange a long view on a city lot, making visual use of the neighbor’s mature elm adds much to the illusion of distance.

aug-17-060The big Yew hedge divides my public landscape, from the house landscape.  The big pots are centered in front of big panels of windows; I have good views from inside.  The ground is carpeted with herniaria glabra-rupturewort.  This plant grows like thyme, but is much more water tolerant.

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The herniaria has no need for as much water as the flowers in my pots; the granite gravel handles that problem for me. This garden is in progress.  I haven’t a clue about how to finish it, I do have the patience to wait until something suggests itself.

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Fifteen years into this landscape project, I realize inertia is the most difficult problem I ever have with it.  Once I put a burst of energy to my doing nothing state, and get going, things happen.   Once  in motion, I tend to stay in motion. Though I once thought it would be forever to see what I had in my mind’s eye come alive, it  didn’t.  Best of all, it has been worth the wait.

Shear Bliss

trimmed1The ability to prune with true precision  is as much about a gift, as it is about the science.   The big science concept has to do with being able to establish a line level with the horizon, or perfectly horizontal-and its complementary-those lines exactly perpendicular to the horizon-or vertical. Mindy’s crew sets lots of vertical markers-the stakes in this pictures.  They use a level to set those stakes exactly vertical.

trimmed2The horizontal plane is determined with a set of lines, or strings.  There will be strings everywhere, side to side.  But there is plenty of gift involved here too.  I perfectly understand the math, but I cannot do this how they do it.   Every cut is made with giant, long handled shears-by hand.  The clip clip takes 7 people, an entire day; its a slow but sure process that I enjoy watching. Even the sound of the clip clip takes my blood pressure down at least 10 points.

trimmed3Shape, mass, and volume are very important design elements in landscape. This landscape is entirely geared to the shape, and level of the lawn plane.  Every other element has been established, based on that plane. The importance of the lawn plane is accentuated by the wide, overscaled  steel edger strip. Where beds and lawn are on the same plane, the edger is invisible; its function is to keep grass out of the planting beds.  In this case, the edging is a design element, clearly indicating a change of level. This very geometric change of level provides lots of interest in a very small space.  The boxwood pruned into long precise rectangles is a great foil to the sprawling shapes of the roses and perennials.

trimmed4Pruning level with the horizon requires attention to a form that may not exist in the space.  The land into which this landscape is planted falls from north to south, and it falls from east to west. To give you an idea of how much drop there is from the south to the north, I measured the height of my Hicks yews.  On the southern most end, they are four feet tall, give or take.  At the east end of the north side, they are nine feet tall; this is a lot of drop.  It was many years, growing those north end yews tall enough to prune. This boxwood is pruned level with the horizon. Pruning with the lay of the land produces an entirely different effect.  Level with the horizon gives a landscape a formal and serene aura.  As in, on even keel, or level-headed.  As my work life is as I have described a big fluid situation, I like the even keel feeling when I am in my garden.  This is a choice any gardener makes when designing.  What do you want from your space?

trimmed5This is my idea of a good place to be.

Green Structure

greenstructure1greenstructure2The numbers of articles addressing the need for, and the satisfaction of structure in a landscape must number in the thousands. My take is that the number one  function of evergreens in Michigan landscapes is to bridge, and celebrate the seasons.
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