Saturday, August 23, 2014

Looking for a few good shrubs

I need your help.

Over the past week or so, I've been putting together a list of perennials to fill in some of the holes in the garden but have realized that I'm deeply unsatisfied with the shrubs I have in most of it. They should help provide structure and definition but they've really an afterthought or just put in wherever I thought I had room. So I'm trying to remedy that with some strategic purchases.

Right now, the area that unsettles me the most is the allée for three reasons: upkeep, privacy, and blah (this is a technical term that will be explained shortly).


I bought three shrubs last year and they're all on one side of the allée. On the other side, the side that borders my neighbors' yard, are three other shrubs that were originally elsewhere in the yard and doing great. Once I moved them to the allée, however, everything turned to crap. Coincidence? Not sure. But the Hypericum frondosum (St. John's Wort) has root rot and two-thirds of it has already been removed. The Viburnum is making a slow recovery from its near death experience last year but still looks awful. And for unknown reasons, my bushy lilac partially died this year (one giant branch just turned brown).

St. John's Wort. It's a massive shrub but two-thirds of it has already been removed.

The writing seems to be on the wall and I'm kind of over the whole thing. I'm sick of babying these guys in the hopes that maybe in a few years they'll look good again. 


Earlier this year, I thought my neighbors on the allée side were going to put up a fence. I envisioned structure and some more privacy via a nice wooden one. Well, I went a little too far in my imagination. They will eventually be putting up a fence but it will be a smaller iron one. In the mean time, I'd like a little more screening from their new shed or privacy from their patio when I sit at my back table. 

Craptastic Viburnum in front of neighbors' new shed

Finicky lilac in front of neighbors' new shed


I took this picture below and was thinking that I'd have to put one hell of a caption to describe where the Viburnum and lilac are, and it hit me:

Too. Much. Green. Everything blends together. There is no definition, no structure. It's all so blah! I guess there was a reason I was looking online at plants like Cotinus 'Royal Purple' and thinking about evergreen shrubs or trees. 

So you can see my dilemma. I'm ready to make changes but I don't know what to buy. Do you have any suggestions, dear internet? I'm in zone 7a. The allée gets full sun (from about 10 am until sundown). These beds are narrow - only about 3 or 4 feet wide, so unfortunately something like a Cotinus is too big. An evergreen would be nice to look at it in the winter when there's nothing else there to look at. I'd love it to help on the privacy front and be low maintenance. I don't care if it flowers (or when, if it does). The area gets more winter wind and snow than other parts of the garden because it's open to all of the other, fence-less yards of my neighbors, so whatever I put there will need to be up for the pummeling it may get in difficult winters.

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. 


  1. Off the top of my head, here are a few ideas: for the privacy part consider a Prague viburnum. They get huge, are the only true evergreen viburnums, and are super tough. They also have white flowers in the spring that the bees love. Goshiki osmanthus is also something to consider since they are cast iron tough and variegated. If your St John's Wort had root rot, then that area must be really moist. Itea 'Little Henry' (sweetspire) would thrive there as would clethra. Both attract pollinators. Little Henry suckers but you can always prune those off. Your alle is so narrow, have you considered adding grasses such as miscanthus or pennisetum? They'll take the moisture, the sun and are maintenance free. Rose of Sharon would thrive there, too. I hope this helps!

    1. Wonderful ideas - thank you so much! The St. John's Wort is in its 3rd or 4th home and is currently at the bottom of a little slope on the allee, so I think the run off is what's done it in. I've definitely considered grasses - they're a new world to me but I'm excited about exploring.

  2. I don't know a ton about sunny spots, but I do have a Mock Orange that I just love. Mine sends up straight shoots that can be easily managed, and smells beautiful in the spring. Trees and grasses sound like great ideas, and a dogwood would be nice. The trunks don't get too big, they 'limb up well', and would be well suited for a path. Plus, they definitely grow well in 7a. Hope this helps!

  3. Oh the mock orange probably smells divine! I'd love to have a scented shrub. Good idea.

  4. You probably need some hard structure to define your allee. Because it is so narrow and not very long, shrubs by themselves can't do the job. How about some tall wooden pyramids, maybe three staggered in a line, with clematis on them? Clematis will fully clothe the pyramids and offer screening (and be eye catching) and in winter the towers will be eye catching uncovered. A Gold Cone juniper is an awesome upright very narrow punctuation of light evergreen density -- the perfect vertical for your space. Any small tree you can limb up to arch over the walk would be great, even a stewartia (beautiful flowering tree & gorgeous fall color) which grows narrow but would need to be limbed up to walk under.

    I can completely relate to the frustration of babying non-performing strugglers until the day you just can't stand them any more!

    1. I love the pyramids idea, mostly because I can actually envision it (so hard for me to usually do). I've planted my eastern redbud next to the path and it seems to be finally growing (after 3 years!). If it doesn't bud next year, though, it's out and I'll look into your other suggestions.