Boxwoods to the Rescue

IMG_0318

This one’s just for fun, above — it’s one of the more original examples of boxwood topiary I’ve seen in East Hampton

IT’S PLANTING TIME AGAIN, and sale time, too, in the nurseries here on Long Island. Forty percent off trees and shrubs…and I just happened to need a few.

For a long time, it’s bugged me that the first thing I see when I open my front door (which is actually on the side of my cottage) is my neighbor’s mint green propane tank, below, and, when they’re home, a black Volvo station wagon in their driveway. These are about 25 feet from my door, inadequately screened by the most pathetic privet hedge you ever did see. (The picture below was taken in April 2010, year 1 of my perennial garden.)

4555844705_303fdac0c2

Now I like my neighbors very much, and we’ve had several discussions about how to get that privet to regenerate. They are reluctant to do a radical pruning, which I advised, because then we’ll have nothing at all for two years; anyway, there’s not enough light for healthy privet. (Well, he is reluctant; she said, “Go ahead, chop it down, I don’t care!” and I do believe she meant it — but I couldn’t. After all, it’s not my privet.)

I also considered a fence and a trellis, with or without something on it. I tried a few nandina (heavenly bamboo) from Costco, which were supposed to grow to 4 feet but have remained for the past two years at 12 inches.

IMG_1413

Anyway, I’ve gone and invested this fall in six boxwoods, above — shade tolerant, deer-resistant, evergreen boxwoods, the little black dress of gardening. The three I bought last fall and put near the road are doing very well, so that’s encouraging.

I’ve got three new 48″ tall ones from Chas. Whitmore in East Hampton and three 36″ from Marder’s in Bridgehampton. I figure they’ll provide screening and also be a nice backdrop for my perennials (astilbes mainly, in that area). I had the larger three delivered, and picked up the smaller ones in my car, not realizing how massively heavy the little balled and burlapped mothers are (they were loaded in for me). But I managed to rassle them out of my car and onto a handtruck without calling a guy neighbor for help.

I’ve been tugging them around to work out the best arrangement. I don’t want to simply line them up in a row — that’s boring. I want a more naturalistic look (as if boxwoods could ever be naturalistic). I’ve been consulting books and magazines and even took The Boxwood Handbook from the library, but there ain’t much info out there on boxwood placement — only on cultivars, and pests and diseases, which I don’t want to think about.

IMG_1403

The folks above, also in East Hampton, have nothing but boxwoods in various sizes. They’ve clearly decided it’s the only practical solution in a deer-ridden neighborhood.

Tomorrow I’m expecting Dong, who helps me with landscaping, and they go in (it was supposed to be today, but…)  I spent yesterday moving stuff out of the way, transplanting ferns and ligularia to give the boxes some breathing room. I’ve settled on a 2 short-3 tall-1 short configuration, left to right, and overlapping each other a bit. I wish they could be as tall, once planted, as they are in their root balls and containers, but they’ll shrink a bit, just like me.

The Boxwood Rebellion

the-topiary-garden-and

I wasn’t really planning something like this…

IT HAPPENED SO FAST, my head is spinning. At 3 o’clock, I was at Spielberg’s Nursery in East Hampton, now that fall sales have begun, looking to see what they might have in the way of shrubs to screen my front yard from the road. For months, I have been incubating the notion that it should be a “tapestry hedge” made up of native shrubs with varying textures and colors. A hedge that would always have something interesting going on with fruit or flowers, and attract birds and butterflies, like the books say.

American Boxwood 032

or this…

I was armed with a list. Actually, a sheaf of lists. Among the suggestions: blackthorn, hawthorn, field maple, hazel, crabapple, honeysuckle, spicebush, highbush blueberry, pagoda dogwood, viburnum.

Spielberg’s didn’t have any of those. And when I factored in my two challenges — shade and deer — my options were further reduced. In fact, they were reduced to one thing: boxwood.

boxwood-garden

…something like this, perhaps?

Now I love boxwood. It’s tidy and green and reliable, and deer don’t touch the stuff. As one of my favorite garden designers, Dean Riddle, says, you can never have too many boxwoods. They’re the little black dress of gardening. But I wasn’t planning a uniform hedge, and I’ve yet to see boxwoods used as part of a mixed hedge. Not so’s I can remember, anyway.

By 3:15, I had bought three plump, 4′ tall Buxus sempervirens: Common or American Boxwood. By 4PM, they were delivered to my house. By 4:30, Dong, who has been helping me with weeding and mowing, was there with a shovel.

I hadn’t had time to plan, and Dong made it clear that once he dug the holes, that’s where the plants were going. So I did the best I could on the fly. I had him remove two mountain laurels that weren’t doing well on the roadside — not enough sun, probably — and replace them with two of the boxwoods (and move the mountain laurels to a more auspicious spot). I put a third boxwood closer to the house, where it forms a sort of triangle with the other two, for no particular reason except I thought three in a row would look stupid.

Azaleas_and_Boxwood_display

Actually, I find this one very inspiring, if ever I get a deer fence.

Among my papers is an article about mixed country hedges that calls them a “revolt against all that boxwood.” Well, now I’m in unintended revolt against mixed country hedges, I guess. I’m still planning to put some more free-flowing plants around my buttoned-up boxwoods. That is, if I can find anything shade-tolerant and deer-resistant besides box.