Monday, March 30, 2009

Garden Diary: the Salix and the hedge

The Salix
Willows being water lovers, I'm trying to put them to good use. My three Salix alba 'Britzensis' have been growing for several years, to little effect. If you don't know this willow, you should get acquainted. It's new growth is a brilliant golden orange that can be striking, particularly against a dark background. In direct sunlight, it's a real fireworks plant.

The Hedge
My salix have been making a small show beside a drainage channel. In my crusade to add more structure and winter interest to the garden, I decided to back them with something green, something green throughout the year. Here is the willow without a background. (These photos were taken on cloudy days so the color isn't nearly as brilliant as it can be, but you get the idea.)

And here it is with a background 'starter' hedge of Thuya occidentalis (arborvitae), the only evergreen I can even hope will survive my wet clay.

I intend to coppice these willows (I've already done one, though you can't see it) and to make many more from the cuttings, which root easily. A colony of Salix a. 'Britzensis' will spring up here in a relatively short time. Cutting them will force new growth, which has the best color.

Arborvitae is such an overused shrub in suburbia, one I've learned to dislike rather intensely, that I'm having a hard time seeing this objectively. Now, at this bare time of year, this little set piece is definitely a major feature, too self-conscious, precious, contrived. This will take some getting used to, and time to integrate with the rest of the garden. I know to wait until high summer, when the herbaceous perennials, which are now all dormant underground, will make most of this invisible.

Taking a longer view, I can see the thuya and salix grouping makes an interesting triad with the pond and the new raised stone planting bed. Lots of structural potential here.

A long view from a position more to the right (below) shows even more. I probably need a longer hedge to get better balance with the other parts of the 'triad', and I need something at the far end, where I've been thinking about a separate area of the garden, partially blocked from view, and cutting across laterally, making a kind of 'conceptual' box frame around the central garden. The jury is still out. I remind myself I'm practicing slow gardening; this isn't an instant makeover. Have patience, have patience, I say to myself.

The thuya are in a straight line, but the path behind them and the stone wall are curved. Should I replant the thuya in a matching curve, or leave them as is? The straight line emphasizes the gentle curve of the stone wall behind, an interesting effect that adds a subtle complexity. Still, I have to consider the effect on a stroller on the path. A curved hedge will make it more difficult to see around the curve, making the experience of the garden, from the path, more compelling.

I should return to this post near the end of July, at the height of the season, and consider the options from that perspective.


  1. I vote for curves. But then, I always like curves in a natural garden...

    Can't wait top see what it looks like in July.

  2. It's so very interesting trying to conceptualize your eventual garden, because, yes, this grouping feels like the odd man out. In a big way at the moment. But after reading your explanation, I can better begin to see things, the paths, the curves, the central structures, those compelling blocked views. Yes, I think, yes. I was just looking at pics of my garden a year ago after everything got cut back--a moonscape. So when I add shrubs, it's hard to imagine their tying in to the dormant perennials. I have only one Thuja occ., but it's bright winter green has won me over.

  3. Susan,
    I'm leaning toward the curve too, but a friend whose opinion I respect urges keeping them in a straight line. Time will tell, I hope.

  4. BV,
    I find it very difficult to envision how my "spot of suburbia" will work out when the perennials come up. And I'm sure I'll have other ideas about how to make it work in my situation. I do find it hard to just sit and wait for the spirit to come. I'd better turn my attention to cleaning out the pond, pruning, and replanting all the shrubs and perennials I moved out of the way of the raised bed.



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