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IMPATIENT PEOPLE (like myself) should not try to landscape on a budget. Last Friday, hoping to create a hedge in an afternoon, I drove an hour west to Stables, a garden center in East Moriches, L.I., where I bought eight ilex crenata ‘Steeds,’ a type of holly, for $15 apiece. I was hoping to use these shrubs to block the view of cars in my beautiful new parking court.


The shrubs looked much bigger in the garden center. But they were in containers, not balled and burlapped, so I could fit them all in the back of my Honda, lying on their sides, and plant them myself. As soon as I got them home and placed them where I wanted them, top, I could see this wasn’t going to work out quite the way I planned.


Nor was the planting as easy as I naively hoped (when will I ever learn?) It took me many¬† hours over two days to dig the requisite trenches on either side of the gravel walkway from parking court to house — one about 7 feet long and the other 11 feet. Most of that area had been part of a driveway for 50 years, so the dirt was compacted, hard as concrete, and I had to go at it with a pickax. My neighbor from across the street came over to sympathize.


I dug generous sized holes, did what I could to improve the “soil” with bagged compost, and placed the eight 4′ tall plants where I wanted them. I had bought two more than the garden center recommended for the available linear footage; they said to space them 3′ apart to allow for growth, but no way was I going to see that much air in between. Then I filled in the holes, built up little watering ‘moats’ around each one, and topped it all off with wood chips to give it a finished look.

I was going by what Julie Moir Messervy, a garden writer, said in her book The Magic Land about how it’s done in Japan: “We planted shrubs so that their branches would just touch, allowing them to grow together as a mass, while pruning them at least once a year to keep them in check.”

A good weekend’s work. But oh dear, I can still see the car, above. These ilex (I’m becoming something of an ilex specialist, since they’re evergreen, deer-resistant, and cheap — I now have several varieties) will grow to 6 feet in height and widen, but will I still be around? That’s no way to think, I keep telling myself. Meanwhile, every little bit of green helps.

THERE’S BEEN A SHIFT IN MY THINKING on deer, as on so many things lately.

Just the other day, I was yelling and rattling screens at them, worried they would devour my newly planted white pine, holly, and arborvitae, and whipping up big batches of peppery homemade deer repellent.

But yesterday, I saw three or four of them walking, gracefully as always, but more slowly it seemed, through the snow of my backyard. They tend to show up in the late afternoon. I imagined they looked thinner. They didn’t seem desperate (how would I know?), but I know there isn’t much for them to eat around here. And it’s been so cold.

I briefly thought of feeding them my table scraps, the bucket full that’s meant for the compost heap. But I read up a little, on a State of Michigan website, and realized that’s probably not a good idea. Deer aren’t pigs. They’re particular, and eat different kinds of foods according to the season. I don’t think they could do anything with my orange peels and coffee grinds anyway.

But I feel sorry for them, and I don’t want them to starve. One thing they do eat is dried oak leaves, and I’ve got plenty of those on the ground. I could expose more of them with a rake or shovel. And I’ve decided to relax about the shrubs. I can’t maintain a constant vigil. And they probably won’t kill them, just defoliate them a bit. Come spring, they’ll find more to eat in the woods.

But there’s still a lot of winter ahead.


“Gotta get through January, gotta get through February…” – Van Morrison, Fire in the Belly

SO I HAD THREE EVERGREENS planted in the front yard to screen the view of the road. Of course, they don’t screen the whole view of the road, just a bit of it. But as the guy from Whitmore’s, the tree farm, said, “It’s a start.”

I’m glad it’s warm and raining now. Two 8-foot trees (a thuja ‘Green Giant’ and a white pine) and a 4-foot-round holly bush that looks like a boxwood (ilex crennata) — in the photo below, it’s the three in the middle ground — went in December 10. Very late, I thought, but there hadn’t been a freeze. That night it went down to 22 degrees.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the way they put them in. I didn’t get the positioning advice I hoped for from the nursery (the boss showed up late), so I had to decide myself where to put them, while four guys with shovels waited. I’d been weighing the factors for two weeks (the need to obscure the commercial building across the street, relate to plants and trees already in place, get enough sun, have room to grow, etc.). It was a tad nerve-wracking, but I think it turned out OK. There seems to be some kind of balance there. And I feel less exposed already. $500 well spent.

I can’t imagine the roots, still in their burlap sacks (said to degrade) are very happy. The workers didn’t seem to dig holes as wide as “the books” say. It was cold, it was late, the guys were no doubt tired. They wouldn’t have watered at all if I hadn’t had several buckets (pots, wastebaskets) at the ready.

But when Brendan, the boss, showed up, he was all professional and confident about flying in the face of what the books say about planting season, depth of hole, width of hole, and need for water.

Oh, and the soil’s no good. I’ll do something about that in the spring.

Anyway, they’re guaranteed.

View from the road:

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