April 1, 2011

It Doesn't Add Up

I want to show you a Garden Oops that has been bothering me for five years.  It's a planting and design mistake I made, but I don't have a ready solution for replacement.  If you want to see more gardening mistakes, visit Joene's blog on the first of every month, where she highlights Gardening Oops.  We all make them.  I make a lot.

Here is the issue: Dwarf Forsythia 'Golden Peep'.  They held such promise when planted in 2006.  Low growing and full, an ideal cover-up for the gas meters and the long blank foundation (complete with ugly black waterproofing line) on the side of the house we never see, never visit.

The individual attributes were each an appealing reason to plant a row of these:
  • Bright yellow flowers in Spring  
  • Mahogany foliage color in Fall
  • Not too big
  • Easy, easy, easy to grow and propagate more
  • Good bulk, massed together
 But honestly, the parts don't add up.  In total, this is just so wrong:

First of all, this lumpy line of shaggy green does nothing to break up the horizontal plainness of the east wall of our house.  The yellow blooms are okay for a brief time in early spring.

But this dwarf form remembered it is still a forsythia, and managed to grow small and compact and still become rangy and unkempt.  The good individual attributes just don't add up to an attractive hedge overall.

On top of that, the woody centers keep dying out.  I'm not sure, but it might be voles nesting in the dense shrubs, girdling the multiple low stems.  Dead centers and browning branches add a forlorn touch to this lumpen line.

So, they are all coming out.  Jim says he'll help me chop them away and pull the roots with a come-along or with a rope and his lawn tractor.  He has volunteered for this task, so he must think these are hideous.

What was I thinking with that long low line of shrubs?  I need something taller, perhaps more varied, and yet full at the base to cover the foundation and gas lines.  It's the east side of the house, so there's afternoon shade.  We never really see that side, as our walk and patios and gardens are on the other side of the house.

A full-on garden space with paths and designed elements might be overkill.  My lovely Stewartia, just beginning to shape up into a decent tree form, anchors the beginning of the row of forsythias.

Whatever goes in there needs to be more than individual parts --  a pretty bloom and nice leaves aren't enough to tame this unappealing horizontal wall.  My Oops.

Any thoughts?  No dwarf Alberta Spruces. 


  1. Are you planning on transplanting them to another location. It is a pretty flower.

  2. For some reason, I kept seeing a row of columnar trees between each window. Or you could use tall obelisks with either a perennial or annual vine. With just morning sun, you might be able to do hydrangea, Annabelles are nice. Sorry, I am not more helpful, just living with all these tropicals for the last 4 months, and everything is flying out of my head.

  3. With all those horizonal lines, maybe some tall grasses here and there that will move in the wind.

  4. Laurrie, thank goodness for Oops. Trial and error are my best friend. Sometimes we make a mistake but sometimes the mistakes turn into wonderful things we wouldn't have otherwise thought of. Glad you gave this a shot even though it didn't work out. When I looked at your photo I thought the house looked a little large for those plants. Perhaps bigger plants would be more in proportion. I like the previous posters thoughts on tall grass.

  5. Thanks for posting on yet another GOOPs Day. How about blueberries? You could mix low bush and high bush, and incorporate some low growing ornamental grasses to hide the unsightly features along the foundation. Like Deborah, I also saw columnar shapes between the windows and hydrangea ... she beat me to this suggestion.

  6. Plant more stuff! :) For variety. More stuff is always good.

  7. All commenters: thank you! yes, you are all are close to a solution: vertical interest, some height, more variety, some columnar shapes, bigger plants to balance the size of the house. I will post what I do to solve this eyesore. Your suggestions are great.

    Meemsnyc, yes, I am moving the healthy ones, and I have many cuttings that thrived... this little forsythia will live in my gardens, but not along this wall as a lumpen line!

  8. Lucky you, to have all that space! Maybe do what you've done where the Stewartia is, bump out that rigid line a little in some undulating curves - nothing major, just lay a garden hose out to see how it looks...

    Flowering small shrubs/trees for every season (and repeat or mass a shrub here and there for continuity)? You could even keep a few of your peeps :-)

    Witch hazel, winter hazel, amelanchier, fothergilla, Rhododendron austrinum, blueberry (unless it's not acid enough),Old English-type repeating rose (do you plenty of sun, here?), hydrangea/s, indigofera, Franklinia, camellia (sasanqua)...

  9. Marie, yes, the narrow border along the house wall has to extend out, and I have a load of soil+compost on order to build it out a couple feet. I lust after almost every one of the plants you list, so will have to make some choices!

  10. Laurrie, How about trying leucothoe, itea, clethra or otto luyken cherry laurel. They are all somewhat low-growing and will bloom in the semi-shade of an east facing garden.

  11. Debbie, great suggestions! I am wary of the evergreens like leucothoe or laurel as I got terrible winter burn on the mahonias I planted along this east side (they're gone now). Itea and clethra are wonderful choices. Thinking, thinking.

  12. I'd pull up a bunch of turf and make a full garden bed out of it, using shrubs as a foundation. You could use koreanspice viburnum for fragrance, itea 'Little Henry' to attract bees, dwarf abelia 'Confetti' or 'Mardi Gras' for variegated foliage in an easy low shrub. Or you could put in Ilex 'Winterberry' (common name, not the cultivar)or red/yellow twig dogwood shrubs. 'Silver and Gold' yellow twig is beautiful. So much opportunity!! You could mix in some roses or Blue Fortune agastache, coneflowers, and milkweed. Or maybe grow blueberries. I could go on and on and on...! :o)

  13. More vertical, columnar plantings and a greater variety of textures would be my suggestion. :)

    ps. LOVE the lynx in the last post. What a beautiful creature.

  14. TS, What a great plant list. The options are endless, and I just have to settle on some!

    Garden Ms. S, I definitely need more vertical shapes there. What was I thinking trying to tame a horizontal wall with low horizontal plants!

  15. Just found your blog and really enjoy. I'm down in DC, so our weather is different. Lots of good suggestions above: do viburnums and weigela survive up your way? I love those big, old-fashioned shrubs and flowers.

    Also, something is actually killing a forsythia? I didn't know that was possible!

  16. Potato Queen & Mulch Boy, Welcome. I did just decide to add a viburnum to this strip and have ordered one to plant this spring. I was surprised too, that a forsythia was getting eaten or zapped by something!


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