When I moved to Michigan 13 years ago, I was excited by the endless plant possibilities afforded by my new Zone 6 location. Compared to the secluded 5-acre garden I had left behind in southern Minnesota, however, my newly purchased corner lot surrounded by houses and neighbors felt like a fishbowl.
Age of the garden:
Size: 1/4 acre
Conditions: Full sun
To make the property feel more private, I encircled the house with sizable foundation plantings and laid out deep beds around the property’s perimeter, leaving a wide grass path in between. Filled with a carefully chosen mix of plants displaying a striking variety of heights and textures, these borders enclose the house without making it seem cut off from the rest of the neighborhood. Trees and shrubs are spaced to allow some views from the street into the garden, which feels much friendlier than a fence or hedge.
Deep beds screen views from the street, striking a balance between openness and privacy
In the border separating the garden from the street, weeping Alaskan cedars (Xanthocyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ and ‘Green Arrow’, Zones 4–7) are planted close enough together to mature into a colony that has become a neighborhood landmark (p. 68, top). Nearby, a staggered row of ‘Degroot’s Spire’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’, Zones 3–8) is planted with openings between the trees that serve as subtle windows from the street into the interior of the garden (p. 64). Flowing around these evergreens are a host of smaller and more fastigiate conifers and a wide assortment of shrubs, perennials, and small trees. Together these dense plantings create a layered effect, with waves of color emerging throughout the growing season.
Many of the plants from the outer beds are incorporated into the foundation plantings, and this continuity helps to draw the eye through the overall design, tying it all together. I have also created a few rock gardens set apart from the perimeter beds where smaller, slower-growing perennials that would be quickly overtaken by more aggressive plants are grouped to showcase their best effects.
| THE PLAN |
Striking a balance
Plants fill this corner lot, where swathes of turf have been replaced with bountiful mixed beds.
A. Streetside screening bed
B. Foundation plantings
C. Rock garden
D. Dwarf conifer bed
E. Partially shaded south border
Color is a unifying element that lends cohesiveness to borders
Keeping the color palette narrow in specific locations makes the overall design feel focused and intentional. For example, the south border that extends the length of the property is the only part of the garden where I use pink flowers, toning their cheery tints down with lush greens and a profusion of deep burgundy foliage.
I like to play hues from opposite sides of the color wheel against each other, and color schemes often vary by season. Spring bulbs bring the first wave of color, followed by yellow peonies (Paeonia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8) and iris (Iris spp. and cvs., Zones 3–10) in shades of blue to near black.
After the midspring color wave finishes, orienpet lilies planted in clusters among the conifers offer some fresh hues. Because of their vertical aspect they take little room, but they add so much color, impact, and fragrance. I grow many cultivars, and ‘Conca d’Or’ and ‘Pizzazz’ are my favorites.
When the lilies finish in mid-July, the baton is handed off to the agapanthus (Agapanthus spp. and cvs., Zones 6–11) and red-hot pokers (Kniphofia spp. and cvs., Zones 6–9). The contrast of the blue and orange is stunning, and the performance goes on for many weeks.
By early autumn the interest once again turns to foliage, with flushes of burgundy and brilliant gold. That’s when the Japanese maples (Acer palmatum cvs., Zones 5–8) that have anchored the plantings come alive with vibrant fall colors that bring the season to a close in a blaze of glory.
Layers of texture look good in every season
As this garden has matured, I have found myself becoming more of an editor than a designer. Because the lot is small, I enjoy each plant more; however, I also have a lower tolerance for plants that underperform and am more likely to change them out.
Layering allows me to explore the diversity of plants I love in the limited space that I have.
Layering allows me to explore the diversity of plants I love in the limited space that I have. Bulbs come and go through the seasons, popping up and through the tapestry of ground covers and perennials. Because the plant material is dense and there is very little open ground, few weeds germinate. As a result, I do not spend much time weeding.
I like the exuberant appearance of plants such as eucalyptus wild indigo, catmint (Nepeta spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8), and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis, Zones 3–9) arching out of the beds, which softens the edges of the concrete driveway and sidewalk.
The conifers provide continuity and cohesiveness with their similarities in color, habit, and texture, and they are invaluable for screening and winter interest. I keep them discreetly trimmed so that they remain in scale and do not take too much space from the landscape. I encourage vines to sprawl through large perennials and shrubs, creating a naturalistic look rather than a contrived, artificial effect on trellises.
Every day is a learning experience, and I enjoy the lessons my garden has taught me.
| PLANT PICKS |
Five midsummer favorites
It would be nearly impossible for any plant lover to choose just one favorite. Here are a few of the standouts that look good at the peak of the growing season.
1. ‘Brother Stefan’ hosta (Hosta ‘Brother Stefan’)
Size: 20 inches tall and 36 inches wide
Donditions: Partial to full shade; average to moist, well-drained soil
Native range: Hybrid
I know a thing or two about hostas, having introduced approximately 100 varieties. This introduction from fellow hybridizer Olga Petryszyn is one of my favorites. Heavily corrugated leaves are edged in cool blue with flashy gold centers. It is a standout that looks especially good when combined with blue-leaved hostas.
2. ‘Green Arrow’ Alaskan weeping cedar
(Xanthocyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’)
Size: 18 to 30 feet tall and 2 to 5 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist to average, well-drained soil
Native range: Coastal regions of northwestern North America
‘Green Arrow’ Alaskan weeping cedar has a distinctly linear, upright form and reliable, grass-green winter color—characteristics that set it apart from ‘Pendula’ Alaskan weeping cedar. Although impressive when planted as a single specimen, it is even more spectacular in groups.
3. ‘Conca d’Or’ orienpet lily (Lilium ‘Conca d’Or’)
Size: 4 to 7 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil
Native range: Hybrid
This fragrant beauty may produce up to a dozen flowers on each strong, upright stem. In windy areas, it may need staking. It is very hardy and reliable, with cheerful blooms that glow against a column of deep green foliage over a long period in midsummer.
4. ‘Galaxy Blue’ agapanthus
(Agapanthus ‘Galaxy Blue’)
Size: 36 to 40 inches tall and 28 to 30 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun; moist to average, well-drained soil
Native range: Hybrid of species from southern Africa
I have been hybridizing agapanthus for 10 years, and this one is a standout. It is extremely floriferous, bringing a hard-to-find shade of blue to the garden from midsummer through early autumn. Reliably hardy to Zone 6, ‘Galaxy Blue’ does particularly well in regions with consistently heavy snowfall.
5. Eucalyptus wild indigo
Size: 3 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; moist to dry, well-drained soil
Native range: Southeastern United States
This unique-looking species of wild indigo has rounded leaves punctured by wiry stems. Its small yellow flowers appear at leaf axils starting in mid to late summer and continue for several weeks. The distinctive texture of
eucalyptus wild indigo combines beautifully with other perennials.
Hans Hansen is the director of new plant development at Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan.