Monday, February 9, 2009

A Gardening Technique

I have an extreme amount of backlogged posts I thought I should get out before the next gardening season truly gets started. As such, this week will be dedicated to some garden design techniques I use in my garden. The summer photos showcase it so much better than winter photos, hope you don't mind. Next week I'll post some plant posts left over from last fall and summer. I may even try to fit in some pictures of the severe damage Kentucky and southern Indiana suffered in the Ice Storm too. So stay tuned.

As much as gardeners love to garden, all gardeners have a favorite part of gardening. It might be veggies, flowers, trees, vines, shrubs, spring gardens, fall gardens, rock gardens, or whatever type or aspect of gardening a gardener fancies, we all have one favorite and really special part of gardening that is our 'thing'. My 'thing' is shrubs and small trees. I do love large trees, but large trees are kind of a thing you either have or you don't. Not many gardeners can plant a tree, or a bunch of trees, and truly reap the benefits of that tree down the road. My large trees were already planted and are very mature and very big, so for me all I can do is add an understory of small trees and shrubs to my landscape. Shrubs and small trees are my thing!

Shrubs and small trees are something we can plan, research, plant, prune, enjoy, and garden around. They are the true backbone of a garden, while I consider the large trees to be the framework. I always place shrubs and small trees before I do anything in a new garden. This is mainly because they take so much longer to grow to maturity than the perennials, but also because I use trees as a focal point in my gardens too. All of my gardens have a tree or shrub in them. Even the vegetable garden gets a tree-the banana tree!

Now that I have given you a bit of a background of my desires, I have noticed a little technique that has emerged with my gardening with shrubs and small trees. All of my shrubs or trees seem to grow out of flowers or foliage of some type. This is actually a good technique because the flowers/foliage serve as a living mulch for the tree and the tree is usually enhanced by the flowers/foliage. This may sound like a no brainer when it comes to gardening, but I can show you many a tree that stands all alone in the middle of a lawn. If the tree is lucky it will have some mulch around it (not on the trunk mind you) and maybe even an edger to protect it from errant lawnmowers, but many times it does not. Not at my house though, all my trees are in gardens as my thing is to plant shrubs and trees in flowers-or do I plant the flowers in shrubs? Not sure, what do you think?

in the garden....

I think this will qualify as a design tip in accordance with Blossom Blooms request for garden tips so I am adding a link in here to her blog. Plant a garden filled with foliage and flowers around your trees. That is my tip.


  1. I have the same setting in the backyard with existing large trees and then I am able to under plant with shrubs. Asides from the shade limiting my plant selections it is very nice to have.

    I am a big fan of shrubs in the garden. They really give the perennial borer definition. In our tiny yard those shrubs need lots of pruning to keep them in order though.

  2. Gee, Tina. Thank you for the tip. It's a good one, too. Yup, I love that. I have a palm tree in my garden. I'd like to redesign around it. Yes, foliage and flowers sound good.

  3. Good tip, especially when you have a hurried teenager mowing the lawn.

  4. Proper mulching is essential! We have too many place that have mulch volcanoes and it drives me crazy! Incorporating small trees and shrubs into the garden provides the 'bones' for your garden. Using the flowers as a living mulch is great.

  5. Good Morning Tina,

    I have l trees, lots of trees and putting in understory trees and shrubs has been a goal. A very timely post as I add these bones to my back garden and the wayback backyard. A good point to place the small trees and shrubs first... but those flashy flowers get our attention first! Enjoy the day!


  6. I love beds around trees, but I have a big problem in back. I have a nice size bed around the Bradford pear--but the tree takes all the water and the flowers, plants, etc really dry out. I have to continually water. I am working on some kind of plan for this next year to help me out.

  7. Great read, Tina. And I so agree with your tip about planting foliage/flowers around trees. My palm trees have a combination of variegated foliage around them and I quite like the look. Very nice picture there. Loved it!

  8. So right about planting flowers and foliage around trees - both for aesthetic reasons and mulching! I always love to see such trees instead of being isolated in the middle of a lawn.

  9. I really wish we had more mature trees. Those we have are on the outskirts of the yard and are of little to no use as design elements. I've planted several maples which should grow quick enough for us to see some benefit in a couple years.

  10. Besides propagating, my THING, is to criticize. Creative criticizing regarding plant selection, design,
    mutilation/destruction of trees and
    so on, within my Caribbean isle
    context and others..
    There are not many
    Horticultural Creative Critics.

    Until next.

    Your blog is excellent.

  11. Tina, as you know I have several crepe myrtles that need something below to keep them company. I am going to work on this when ever we get out of this drought. Already 4 inhces of rain behind for this year. So we are working on year 4 of the drought. Grrrrr....

  12. That method usually works well for me too. I have had to change the beds as the trees mature. I had daylilies, peonies, and other sun loving perennials around my crabapple. As it matured they had to be replaced with hosta, sweet woodruff, ginger and lamium.

  13. Tina,
    I, too, love small trees and shrubs mixed in with flowers. If I had to pick a "thing," I guess mine would be conifers. I am somewhat obsessed with them. Large, small, dwarf, blue, green... I just love mixing them in with grasses, perennials, and bulbs.

  14. Good morning all! On my way out but wanted to say hey!

    Dan, You gotta love those shrubs!

    Blossom, I am glad to see you about! Hope you are doing great!!

    Dawn, Yup!

    Janet, Yup, that is something for the soapbox-the way trees are treated-just awful-mostly due to ignorance though:(

    Gail, You will have so much fun picking those trees and shrubs! Looking forward to seeing the results. I am also looking for a serviceberry-any suggestions if you run across one while you are shopping would be appreciated.

    Linda, Yes, some trees are notorious for sucking the ground dry-Bradford pears a big one. I would probably plant liriope spicata or some other kind of groudcover so you don't have to water so much. This is what I did with my silver maple, but good luck with your plan!

    Kanak, I love variegated foliage-I bet your palms look great. I would love to grow a palm here. Glad you liked the pic. It is from a funny angle but works with the spruce and clematis in the foreground (I like it too:)

    Chandramouli, Yes those lonely trees look very-well-lonely. They need friends:)

    Dave, So great you planted the big trees. It takes so long for them to grow but they do grow!

    Antigonum, I would hesitate to say there are definitely not many Horticultural Creative Critic at all-so you can surely fill a niche. Thanks for dropping by!

    Skeeter, I thought your crepes were wonderful they way they are-but if you can add more flowers and spots to garden-go for it! All the better, but it surely makes more work:(

    Marnie, Yes, this is a fear for me. So far I have limbed up trees and planted shade tolerant things, but I can see moving things:( It is a never ending cycle. I like your choices too!

    Liisa, Conifers are a super thing! Paul James the gardener guy likes them and always features them. I love them on his show. Unfortunately they don't do so well here for me. Combining them with grasses and perennials would be so fun!

  15. Loved this post; I agree whole heartedly. I am a shrub/ornamental tree lover, too. I like the variety, and especially the height and texture they lend to the garden. I can't imagine a garden without my crepe/crape myrtles and a few bird of paradise to bring the eyes upward!

  16. I agree completely with this technique. Trees look pretty lonely floating out in the middle of nowhere. Great tip!

  17. Great tip, it makes for great intrest, color and beauty. Too bad I had not done something like it in past years.

  18. all this flowers and plants, I love them !!Kathrin

  19. Tina, this is a very good post. When I started gardening I went backwards. Perennials then trees and shrubs. I notice a lot of my trees also come up from small shrubs and perennials. I never thought about that being a living mulch though. I think I've learned to start with the bones of the garden first finally.

  20. Tina, This is something I lack in my garden. I started flowerbeds with perennials, but I didn't think about shrubs. Of course, two of the beds already had shrubs in the back, and another one is planted close to a large spruce tree. But I'm adding more this year, and I'm thinking of adding a viburnum at the back of it. I like the idea of planting the flowers around it--great tips!

  21. Great tips Tina. Both sides of my front yard has shrubs. On the East is Azaleas. On the West are Ligustrum {I think}. It has tiny white flowers on it. My lot is small so I'm limited as to what I plant. I have the persimmon tree {which is small} on the West side & am planning on planting 4 different types of dwarf citrus. My rose garden is also there. That about fills up that area for sun lovers.
    My back yard is a whoooole different story.

  22. Hi Tina,
    I think I've pretty much done what you're talking about here. There were lots of huge trees when we moved here, but I've added azaleas, and crepe myrtles and then lots of perennials in and around them. All of my crepe myrtles are all 'in' the perennial garden...but I planted the trees there first, then we cut a border along the driveway and filled it in with shrubs and perennials. I haven't thought about those as 'living mulch', but it's an interesting concept!

  23. I started to get a little green with envy when I read that you had plenty of mature trees (and obviously some sunny spots still left) - oh, wait - that's just my green thumb :-) I picked my yard because it was a blank slate (really, we bought the house for the yard, but shhh, hubby doesn't know). I wish we had some mature trees, but my medium-small yard wouldn't have any sunny spots left for english roses if we had giant old oaks or maples. Last fall we planted 14 mid-sized trees - crabapple, flowering cherry, honey locust. Now we can never move so we can enjoy some of their benefits 'down the road'.
    Anyway, it's great to be reminded to think about those large elements before getting too carried away with seductive perennial pictures in all the catalogs! - VW

  24. I don't mind a bit if you use your summer photos Tina (to illustrate your garden techniques). They're beautiful to look at and will help get us thru the last month or so of winter. I think my thing is the flowers but I am slowly coming around to understanding the importance of shrubs & small trees. I like what you said about them too ~ that we'll actually see results from planting them unlike the years it takes for a large tree to reach maturity. I love my banana tree too. I just brought it up from the basement so I'm hoping to give it a head start...

  25. Great tip, Tina. I have lots of trees in my backyard and have been thinking about how to create a "woodland" garden and put some flowering shrubs among them. I worry that it might be too shady, though.

  26. Today only greetings, because I'm very tired ;) - have a nice day tomorrow, your Kessi :)

  27. Nola, Your garden sounds fun!

    Racquel, Cut my Limelight today-on your advice:)

    Mom, It's not too late! That J. maple out front needs some flowers I am sure:)

    Kathrin, Danke!

    Catherine, It is never too late to get the bones in. And you know gardening is a long slow process, it will all come together.

    Rose, Viburnums are some of the best shrubs for the garden-and most are native. I have several here and love them. Looking forward to seeing what you put in.

    Lola, You have pretty much filled up your garden-and it all fits together very nicely. I think you have privet too (sounds like it).

    Jan, You sound like me-gotta cut that border in later-but hey-better late than never:)

    VW, I remember you saying your husband took back 15 gal pots after you planted the trees-now I know what kind. I bet it is awesome and being that big you may see some results. And my lips are sealed on why you bought the house-too funny.

    Kathleen, Great on the photos! I do have one post on the ice storm damage so be prepared. Aren't the bananas the best?

    JGH, Shade is definitely challenging. Since you are further north of me here, the shade is a much different thing up there or I would recommend some shrubs for you. There are some that would work but it will take some fiddling-like all plants in the shade. Now woodland gardens, those are fun! And best when you are challenged with mature trees. Mature trees can cause this gardener to have a love/hate relationship with them but in the long run I find it best to keep them.

  28. Kessi, Greeting to you too-get some rest! You don't need to come by each day-it is okay:)

  29. Dear Tina,
    Over the last 30 years I have lost many large trees to ice storms and lightning strikes. I do underplant too. I love the understorey in the woods and in my yard.
    I am a herb lover. Each bed has a herb of some sort!
    Great post.

  30. Tina --
    wonderful tips! I love shrubs and trees, too.

    Sorry that I'm late today, but we've been having sunny, WARM weather and I've been out in the garden.

    We also went out to a local nature museum today -- more on that later in the week. It's great to be outside.


  31. We are lucky not have ice storms on this side of the pond. One regret that I have is not having thought enough about planting shrubs and trees, when I started our garden from scratch. I was in too much of a hurry for flowers and regret this now !

  32. I also love shrubs--I have many more in my current garden than in any previous garden. And speaking of a backlog of posts, um, do you think now is a good time to post about a green roof I helped plant last May?! (Seriously.)

  33. Some good thoughts here Tina, thanks for sharing them. We have no large trees, as we bought the home new 5 years ago. So it's pretty slow going!

  34. Sorry Tina, I forgot to answer some questions you asked me. Lunarias are famous for reseeding, but I didn't live there long enough to know if it was a problem. Who knows, the current owner could be still pulling them out and cursing me! Don't tell my DH that the birds will leave a mess. I'm trying to ignore that part, because he keeps bringing it up! I them remind him that he is married to a "bird" and that I have to be kind to my relatives.

  35. Sherry, So herbs is your 'thing'. Good thing!

    Cameron, I never want you to worry and feel you have to come visit-please. We all get so busy and it is no problem. I promise! I will be looking forward to your post on the nature museum. Thanks for being so kind.

    Anna, Hello and welcome! I enjoyed your blog. You've been blogging a very long time. It is never too late to plant trees and shrubs:)

    Monica, No it is never too late! Go ahead and post it as I know I'd love to hear about a green roof. A hot topic in the industry right now.

    Msrobin, New gardens are always a hard thing-it is that time thing as always. We gardeners never have enough and then the trees-oh my-they take so long to grow. But grow they do, a good thing. The pictured crepe myrtle has been there about two years, see how small it is? Slowly but surely it will grow, as will your garden.

  36. Msrobin, Don't worry about the birds and the leftovers, they quickly disappear into the garden and we bird lovers tend to overlook it. I did decide to grow lunaria this year, so I'll let you know on the reseeding-it might actually be a good thing if I pick the right spot. Yours was so pretty.

  37. I know you didn't purposely forget to mention the space small trees and shrubs need. And I think it's very important that we all do as you do - plant small trees and shrubs first and then arrange your perennials around that base. (I'd love to do a presentation with you sometime! Or at least attend one of yours.)

  38. Great tip, so long as your chosen Big plant isn't a shrub that suckers like mad. I planted close up around a pink spirea that does this: utter nightmare! The spirea is so fast-growing that everything near it really doesn't stand a chance, but it's in a corner of a square of bedding (ie around a square, lawn in the middle) so now the structure I've spent 5 yeard developign depends on both it being there, and it having planting up round it. One to avoid!

  39. Hi TC, Are you surviving the long winter up there? Won't be long now and spring will be here. For small trees and shrubs it depends on their type how much space they take up. I am diligent in limbing mine up too so that helps. It would be great fun doing a presentation with you!

    EB, Yes sometimes those suckering shurbs and very very happy shrubs get too big. What to do? I guess adjust, but I am betting that spirea is worth every bit of when in full bloom.