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The Shrubbery

February 8, 2018

Shrubbery siteNow that we are closer to the spring equinox than to the winter solstice, and as the days grow dramatically longer, my thoughts are turning toward the garden. This is the time of year for reading garden books and for making garden plans and lists of plants.

Mostly, I’m thinking about the coming year’s work on my new front garden. Last year, I finished planting the fragrant garden and then prepared and seeded the clover path and created a small rain garden at the front west corner of the house. One part of the garden that was originally in my plans for year three (last year) got deferred to year four (this year), the Shrubbery.


The Shrubbery sits at the front west corner of my property. The site is a woodland edge area that nestles at the wide curve in the clover path and is bordered by woods, by the dirt road along the front of my property, and by the front and side perennial borders. Its size and its location in the lower garden are intended to balance the patio on the opposite side of the house in the upper part of the front garden.

When I signed up last year for an October course at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on “Selecting Native Woody Plants for the Maine Garden,” I delayed designing and planting this part of the garden, realizing that it made no sense to do so  before I took the course. And I was right; I came away from that course smitten by a whole set of beautiful native shrubs and with a list of possible candidates for the soil and light conditions in this part of my garden.

imageRecently, I sat down with my plant list and nursery catalogs and put together a tentative plan.  The biggest challenge in choosing plants was to meet both the light conditions (from partly sunny to mostly shady) and the soil conditions (low-nutrient, acid, sandy soil). My various reference books, nursery catalogs, and the materials from my course didn’t always agree on whether a particular plant will grow in full shade or needs several hours a day of sunlight, whether a plant needs high moisture or will tolerate those conditions but also grow in drier soil.

I had some difficulty approximating the shape of this planting area with my basic Microsoft Word drawing tools; but the size is approximately correct, and that is the critical factor for figuring out how many plants will fit in the space. I have then distributed those plants according to their light needs, with the shadier areas in among the trees and the lighter areas closer to the edges with the road, perennial borders, and clover path. Since my two-dimensional graphics are never more than approximations of the three-dimensional garden space, I expect to adjust the placement of plants when they go in the ground.

I included six different plants in this design, all shrubs native to the eastern United States, if not to Maine. The largest of the group is a pink-shell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi); at 10’ x 10’, it will anchor the back corner. Also in mostly shady locations are three plants of maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), which should provide vibrant fall color. Like the azalea and the viburnum, Pieris floribunda, Forthergilla gardenii and Leucothoe fontanesiana all bloom in spring. In this planting, Diervilla lonicera (bush honeysuckle) is the exception, blooming in summer. I haven’t grown any of these plants before, so this is very much an experimental design. In addition, I couldn’t resist privileging flowering plants, and I probably didn’t pay enough attention to foliage size, texture and color.

Native plants can sometimes be a bit tricky to find (especially if you want the straight species, rather than a cloned variety). Several patches of volunteer bush honeysuckle are growing along the side of my driveway, and I plan to dig some of these up and transplant them. Most of the other plants are available from a local nursery. I’ll need to go a bit further afield, to the New England Wildflower Society in Massachusetts, to buy maple-leafed viburnum. The one plant that is not easily available is the American native Pieris floribunda, but I may have found a source for it in Connecticut.

I had hoped to prepare the soil for the Shrubbery last fall and be ready to plant in spring, but I got behind in garden chores and this planting area fell by the wayside. I did have some trees limbed last summer to let in more light. This spring, I will need to remove unwanted pine (Pinus strobus) and hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seedlings and saplings, along with some unwanted sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) and lilac (Syringa vulgaris) plants. Then I will amend the soil with compost to add organic matter, raise pH, and improve moisture retention. I hope to get plants in the ground no later than June.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Joanna @ Gingham Gardens permalink
    February 8, 2018 4:20 pm

    Jean, it’s always fun to plan out a new garden bed and winter is the perfect time to do it. I’m excited to follow along and watch your progress.

    • February 22, 2018 4:54 pm

      Joanna, I agree that this is a great winter “garden fix.” Now I’m eager for spring so that I can get started on this planting.

  2. February 8, 2018 4:58 pm

    An ambitious project, Jean. And as always, I’m impressed by the care you put into the choice of plants in relation to what you want to achieve.

    • February 22, 2018 4:55 pm

      Pat, Since I lack the intuitive artistic eye that many gardeners rely on, I substitute careful planning. 😉

  3. February 8, 2018 9:53 pm

    I admire your decision to limit your plant palette. I wish I were as disciplined.

    • February 22, 2018 4:56 pm

      Kris, This is something I am trying to learn and practice. I definitely started out in the “one of this and one of that” hodge-podge school of garden design.

  4. February 9, 2018 4:00 am

    The shrubbery sounds like an exciting project. I also have plans to make our wee garden more leafy this year.

    • February 22, 2018 4:57 pm

      Hi Alistair, Leafiness wasn’t really a goal; since I live in the woods, I have all the leaves I need. But I am trying to include more lower-maintenance shrubs in my planting designs.

  5. February 15, 2018 4:20 pm

    Hello Jean, I look forward to seeing this develop. Will you be layering the planting with perhaps bulbs and low, ground cover and/or shade plants, or will it be be purely shrubs?

    • February 22, 2018 5:00 pm

      Sunil, I hadn’t thought about putting bulbs in here. I try to put bulbs close to the house where I can see them when they bloom. I am definitely planning to include ground cover plants (but will add them later), and most of these shrubs are at least part-shade plants.


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