Amy Dixon Special Correspondent
We all probably have a bit of a hangover today, after indulging in bowls full of turkey, casserole, and pie over yesterday’s Thanksgiving holiday.
So, if you’re feeling a little guilt-ridden and bloated, I can think of no better remedy than getting outside, doing some garden chores, and brainstorming projects for seasons to come.
I often spend my Thanksgiving holidays with family in the mountains of western North Carolina, which gives me a different perspective on both other people’s gardens and the landscape as a whole. Visiting different public parks during the holidays is also an inspiration, as ideas flow freely.
Whether I’m looking down the valley at neighboring homes or strolling through the arboretum grounds, taking moments to slow down and absorb the outside surroundings always seems to disturb my senses, giving me the opportunity to envision my own garden in a new light.
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I often come home from my trips out of town feeling inspired and energized about new garden projects. Some of the things I’ve been inspired lately are evergreen mixed borders, bringing planters outdoors and creating texture in the conservatory.
During my visits to the mountains over the years, I’ve noticed more and more creative, natural privacy screens, which homeowners and businesses plant as a barrier between neighbors. Of course, you’ve seen this all over the Trinity as well, with houses being built everywhere at lightning speed. What I love about some of the ones I’ve seen is the creative mix of plants, rather than a straight row of the same type.
Choosing a mix of evergreen trees and shrubs for privacy screens can be more effective, healthy, and visually appealing than planting a row of the same tree or shrub. In a way, we’ve been trained to think of privacy borders as a row of Burford Holly or a strategically spaced line of Leyland cypress. But using a mix of greenery (plus deciduous plants and grasses, gasp!) can make a home and neighborhood look more natural and inviting—not like we’re simply trying to block out our next-door neighbors’ unsightly backyard.
One important difference to make is the difference between a hedge and a screen. We often use the two terms interchangeably, but they are very different. A hedge is a continuous row of the same plant, often intended to grow together to create a defined border. A hedge is not necessarily planted with privacy purposes in mind, but it certainly can be. A good example of this is boxwood, which has traditionally been used to create hedges.
On the other hand, screens are more dynamic, especially when they are designed with variety. You can pair conifers with camellias, osmanthus, juniper, or alyssum. It determines how much space you have to work with which plants you can use and how you can use them. Arborvitae ‘Green Giant’ is a very attractive and effective plant–but it also grows up to 50 feet tall. It probably isn’t a good idea to blend in at the Green Giant unless you have a lot of space to fill.
The medium-sized arboreal variant of ‘Green Giant’ is ‘Emerald Green’. It is 15 feet high and only 3 to 4 feet wide. This cultivar lends height in a mixed display with ease and pairs well with the glossy evergreen foliage of camellias, camellias, or holly. When choosing plants, be sure to choose varieties with varying heights and leaf shapes to keep them interesting.
So don’t feel obligated to use only evergreen plants in your mixed display. Adding deciduous and semi-evergreen viburnums such as loropetalum or ornamental grasses will add color and contextual interest to your display.
I have a close family friend who is an inspiring gardener to me. They create little worlds of color and texture in their large patio containers, which I love every spring and summer. Over the past two years, I’ve started bringing these patio pots inside her house on holidays and during the winter months.
They remove the plant matter and leave the soil. Then she fills planters with bare cut branches from her garden, often using curly willow wood and red twig. They decorate the branches with small, delicate strings of battery-operated lights, creating a pretty holiday display. These planters are always stunning and are a smart way to bring the garden indoors during the winter months.
I saw another great example of this on a recent visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where large glass planters were brought inside the conservatory and filled with poinsettias, orchids, ferns, and hearty philodendrons. There, they even added painted willow stems to add holiday texture and color.
Seeing how these planters have been used indoors simply made me excited to do the same in my own home. The hardest part is going to be heavy in the big pot, but well worth the effort it will add to the dark corner of my kitchen.
And my pre-Thanksgiving trip to the Atlanta Botanical Garden also got my mind spinning on how to create more texture in my own garden. Of course, there was interest in layered textures everywhere in this stunning public garden, but what really stuck out to me was what I found in the Conservation Garden adjacent to the grand conservatory.
In this specialist garden there is an abundance of bog plants, including milkweed, sundews, and flowering flycatchers – but most spectacular in November are the white pitcher plants. I was blown away by the contrast between these pink and white pitchers dancing in the wind along with the ‘white cloud’ Muhlenbergia. With the bare branches of mature oak trees in the background, it made for an installation dream. While I’m not sure there is a suitable space in my garden for pitcher plants, this offering definitely gave me inspiration to play with the softness and depth that both plants can provide.
When I get home to Winston-Salem after this Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be full of ideas and excited about new garden projects, even if I don’t get to work on them right away. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by beautiful gardens and creative minds, because it makes me a better gardener. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!
Amy Dixon is a gardening assistant at Reynolda Gardens at Wake Forest University. Gardening questions or story ideas can be submitted to her at www.facebook.com/WSJAmyDixon or [email protected], with “gardening” in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon at Care Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101.