Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bye, Bye Arborvitae

Up until a few weeks ago, this was my view every time I left the house. From the first day we moved in, I have wanted to remove the Arborvitae that was at the front of our house. I sort of wanted to tear it out as my first act of gardening...sort of asserting my dominance to the yard. For some reason, however, my partner was fond of the shrub, and since her practically never expresses any sort of interest in the garden, I decided to let him keep it. A few years have gone by, during which time I thought I'd grow to love and accept the shrub. I didn't. I grew to resent it more and more. It took up space, blocked light and was generally, well, boring. Yes it was evergreen...but I decided a better term would be "ever-boring". It didn't do anything but sit there...taking up precious real-estate (and during winter, getting me wet everytime I tried to squeeze past it.)

arborvitae before 1
Luckily, my partner has come to agree with me that it's just out of scale...and really feels separate from the rest of the garden. Last month, we finally decided to cut it down! It went pretty fast, but wasn't the most pleasant of operations (it didn't help that we decided to do it on a blazing hot day). We cut off the branches one by one, then finally attacked the stump. I have to admit, we will probably have to get someone else to remove the stump at some point...it's a little beyond us to get it out at this time!

arborvitae  589
Voila! Here's the same view as the above, sans Arborvitae! I have to admit, I was a little worried I'd feel exposed when walking up and down the path, the shrub provided quite a bit of a barrier. I needn't have worried, apart from feeling exposed, the path to the house feels far less crowded and claustrophobic. It helps that the same day we cut down this shrub, we pruned back all the others as well.

orange cat inspects birdbath  458
We've moved the birdbath to the new open spot temporarily...until we can have the stump removed and plant something in its spot. It's become quite popular, if not with birds, at least with the neighborhood cats, who find it irresistible.

before arborvitae removal  455
Another before and after...this shot shows the view of the house with the Arborvitae.

september garden  502
And now without. I'm excited to finally be able to integrate this part of the garden, as before, the shrubs proved to be a bit of a visual (and physical) barrier.

arborvitae  585
The day after removing the Arborvitae, I finally bucked up and admitted the Rodgersias that had been just to the right of the shrub were not happy. They were fine during our cool, wet springs, but very, VERY unhappy during our warm, windy summers. In spite of the fact that we had (for the most part) a very mild summer, and even though I watered them like a crazy person, their leaves were still scorching badly. I moved them all into the shade (this shot shows the area they vacated). and decided to replace them with plants that would appreciate the sun.

north border slant
I replaced the Rodgersias with several Panicum, a new variety I found at Portland Nursery this summer, 'Blood Brothers'. I was totally smitten with their coloring (blue-ish foliage that develops red tints). I also popped in a few Persicaria 'Firetail' I got on sale. I can't wait to see them bulk up next year, I think they'll be a great counterpoint to the billowing blue mounds of Geranium 'Rozanne' in front of them.

With Fall approaching, I always get the itch to re-think the garden and move things around...our mild winters make it the best time to transplant things...are any of you making changes this fall?


  1. Poor arborvitae :( He didn't do anything to you. He just sat there, looking happy -- although he was all dead inside.

  2. Long over due. Good call on its removal. Sounds like you need a pickup and heavy chain and heave it out.

  3. That bush looks a bit like a pudding! From every angle your garden looks better without it, Scott.

  4. I think the bush itself was OK, but it certainly looked too bulky for that place.
    Love that Panicum!

  5. The garden just makes so much more sense without it. Even the house looks more in scale with everything now.

  6. It wasn't until I saw the first image of the front of your house without it that I really could appreciate what you were saying. But oh my, I wouldn't have lasted as long as you did! And you're absolutely correct about everything you said - it was totally out of scale. The look of the hill with it gone is totally different, much more welcoming. I am anxious to see what you do with it now that you have opened it up and can have a little fun. I have to tell you, I am in love with the steps and entryway. It has amazing potential! Have lots of fun!

  7. I think it looks great without it. I'm not very patient when it comes to getting rid of a plant I don't like. Love the new plantings so far!

  8. I always have trouble making these decisions too. Breaking up is hard to do, but now you can move on to better things! It looks good, like the bird bath and 'Blood Brothers'.
    What is the tall grass across the walk from the shrub? In front of a Joe Pye, it looks like.
    You've really sold me on giving persicaria a try. I notice that my favorite nursery carries a selection of them, including 'Firetail'. Next year. I'm done for this year, but making notes on what to move where next spring.
    I do have a persicaria polymorpha that reached 5 feet in this its second year, and about the same around. I expect big things from it next summer.

  9. Seeing the long shot of before and after of the Arborvitae, I can understand removing it. It really did crowd the stairs. Looks great!

  10. I would have never had the courage, but it looks so much better. Not missed at all - it was not in keeping with the style of the rest of your garden. Now it looks a bit more cohesive. And the cats like the easier access to the birdbath, too! :) I need to learn to be a bit more ruthless!

  11. Looks so much better! Good job. Love the birdbath in its spot, too!!!

  12. Your front gardens look so idyllic. Good choice!

  13. Your garden looks much better without that bush (is it some sort of conifer?) a very inviting garden, would love to wander thru it.

  14. "Bye, Bye Arborvitae"...is now by favorite blog post title ever!

    Good job on yanking that thing the hell out of there...sorry Norm but it just didn't look good!

  15. You certainly made the right decision. The garden looks better from all directions now.

    I live to change my garden. :)

  16. Hi Scott,

    Being no fan of conifers or most other evergreens I would've had to rip it out a long time ago... The first thing to go when I moved here was the Laurel, then another Laurel followed it - thins one wasn't too bad though but it was in a strange place.

    I've been attempting to get some work done in the garden, although the weather hasn't been all that great - today is looking good though and I hope to get the rest of the bulbs planted and some plants in.

  17. Good call on removing that shrub!
    I always wait too long for changes, it seems. I probably would have waited another few years-LOL!

  18. Well done, Scott! That panicum is perfect in its new place. It will contrast the euonymus alatus and whatever golden you have there (maybe another euonymus?) viewed from the side and it will oppose nicely the calamagrostis on the other side to form a kind of 'gate'. I like some evergreen features amongst grasses but they easily become ever-boring as you said!
    I'm making some moves in the garden as soon as the weather cools down a little: looking forward for it!

  19. I think your garden looks SO amazing, and agree that the evergreen shrub did NOT help it one bit. I personally don't care for those shrubs, nothing personal, they just seem like big blobs. My mom likes them, though she tends to cut the heck out of them and turn them into bonsai-looking trees!

    Your garden is so beautiful... I love the colors, textures and the way that you grouped swathes of plants together. I need to think more like a painter when I plant, I think. The result is just so much prettier! You guys did a great job!

  20. Dear Scott, I love moving plants around and changing the 'look' of my garden. I have trouble getting rid of plants though, and would probably have found another spot for the shrub, if it was possible to remove it intact. Your garden looks amazing. P.

  21. Great photos, super planting. I enjoyed seeing the house and the (what looks like) giant cat stretched up (looking for birds?). Kelli

  22. Good morning and thanks for the comment! I am just now getting around to checking out the blogs and commenting. Been nuts over here! I like the after photos- I liked it before but I think it opens it up there and it looks really nice - I like it. I also like the birdbath there as well (and apparently so do the cats hahaha). You have beautiful colors right now blooming in the garden. I have not heard of the 'Blood Brothers" they add a nice little pop of color I think.

  23. I love conifers but have to admit that it did keep things out of balance. I actually really like the birdbath there. Looks really nice and fits well. Of course the cat photo of it is adorable.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  24. like most of the prior comments, I find the removal to be well done. I do love evergreens, but with your small space, it was a real estate hog. The bird bath actually looks quite nice, a cozy touch. We're moving back into the metro PDX area next year, so my plans for the fall and winter months is to plan out the new place and figure how much I've got growing here that I can take!

  25. Good call! We're contemplating removing the ever-expanding smoke tree 'Grace.' Gulp...

  26. That was a good call Scott. It looks much better with out the evergreen. Or maybe it is that I am not a fan of them anyway. LOL!Your plantings on the banking look so nice. Great job of combining your plantings. I have been moving plants too. It happens every Fall. LOL!

  27. Norm: And collecting peanuts, apparently ;-)

    Patrick's Garden: Totally...I just have to find someone with a pickup and chain now :-)

    Janet: Hahahaha...agreed!

    Tatyana: Definitely...it was just too bulky for that spot.

    Tom: Agreed...it had gotten too big...it should probably not have been planted there to begin with.

    Cathy & Steve: Glad I convinced you ;-) Yes...it just made that front entryway too claustrophobic...it feels amazing now to be able to survey the garden from that vantage point!

    Catherine: Usually I 'm not very patient either...but I could never decide whether it was the shrub or me...it was the shrub ;-)

    Sheri: Definitely...I always feel guilty about killing a plant...especially one that's been there for (probably) longer than I've been alive! The tall grass you're asking about is probably Miscanthus 'Malepartus'...isn't it amazing! You can't go wrong with Persicaria...I hope you do get some next year!

    Janet, the Queen of Seaford: Thanks!!!

    HolleyGarden: It was definitely not an easy decision...I sort of went back and forth for (obviously) quite a while! Ultimately, we realized it just didn't work.

    Toni - Signature Gardnes: Thanks! Glad you agree :-)

    GirlSprout: Ahhh...thanks :-)

    Becc: Thanks...yes, it was an Arborvitae...evergreen...but not very pretty!

    DangerGarden: Hahahahaha...I think I just wanted that one episode of Mad Men the week we did this...so it sort of popped in my head ;-)

    Zoey: Thanks...me too! I seem to constantly be in a state of revision ;-)

    gwirrel: I have a rather large Laurel along the other corner of the house that I'm rapidly loosing patience with, as well ;-)

    Sue: Hahahahahaha...I'm usually the same way...other times, I just see something wrong and do it!

    Darla: Thanks!

    altroverde: Thanks! I'm really embracing my love of grasses again, after a few years, I'm beginning to remember why I love them so much!

    Shari: Thanks so much! I feel much the same way about them...they may be evergreen, but they really don't offer real "interest" for me. If I had a larger garden, I'm sure I would find them valuable for structure...but in my small garden, I want DRAMA!

    Pam's English Garden: I'm with you there...it is SO HARD for me to toss something, even if I'm tired of it...I have a really guilty conscience!

    Why I Garden: Thanks...yeah, that cat is our little adopted friend :-)

    Kacky: Glad to see you...and glad you're getting things under control :-) Yeah, it'd be nice if the birds also used the bird bath once in a while...then again, with all the cats, it's a bit too much like an African watering hole, luring the poor things to the slaughter!

    Sunray Gardens: Agreed...in the right place, they are great, but it probably should never have been planted there (especially right next to a path).

    Jenni@RainyDayGardener: So glad to hear you're moving to PDX! I can't wait to see what you decided to do!

    Denise: Yikes...I'll wish you good luck with that one! When I see them in the fall, with their blazing foliage, I'm always so tempted to get one...then I remember how big they really get! Have you tried coppicing yours?

    Lona: I think you're like me and it's a little of both ;-)

  28. I've found that if you can get a 4 wheel drive truck with a long strap ( 30' ) tie it to the top of the plant and get leverage, you can pop them out. sometimes. lol. Looks mo betta.

  29. It looks much better without the arborvitae, gives the feeling of something beyond. Kim's Knee High has all of a sudden been difficult to find at local nurseries. I did just receive six of them, big pots from Great Garden Plants in Michigan but I had to get the Kim's Knee High Red instead of pink because it was sold out. Good luck!


  30. I just wish someone was able to get the arborvitae to be planted elsewhere, like in a botanical garden or some park which has wider space. It could have been balled and replanted somewher. I am so sorry for it. But your area really looked more airy and more accommodating.

  31. Good call on the garden editing. Consider hiring someone with a stump grinder to get rid of the stump. I like the new grasses.

  32. Must be your artist/photographer's eye that gives you such good editing chops...good call!

  33. Though it is sometimes difficult to say goodbye (or not), you have made the right choice. I have only a few remnants of what the previous owner of our house had planted, but mostly it succeeds or fails due to me.

  34. I applaud the removal! It's a definite improvement.

    Even if you wanted a shrub in that spot, there is such a wealth of alternatives with much more interest, I'm sure you could find the perfect species. As it is, you'll have fun re-working the space. I second the suggestion to get the stump ground out, but be aware: the process is messy and threatening to your desirable plants, so be sure the grinder understands what you want to protect in the garden.

  35. Another rainy day today. That makes it four in a row and this is to go on for four more days. Glad there is an internet so I can garden “on line” on days like this. The benefit is that I get to look over past postings of those like you that I follow. You were right to remove the bush. Looks much more "inviting", welcoming, for visitors to your home. Around here Arborvitae is often called "deer candy" they eat them all the time. Not a good plant for here on Lake Michigan. NIce to visit today. Jack

  36. Scott, what are the two Miscanthus varieties left of the sidewalk; one is tall and upright and the other on its left, low and swaying.

  37. Hey All…Sometimes I forget to check for comments to older posts!

    Greggo: That's what we were thinking…now to find someone with a truck ;-)

    Gatsby Gardens: Good to know! I was wondering if it was just me…they were all over this spring, then when I went back later…poof…nothing but all the new, odd colored Echinacaeas…maybe next year :-)

    Andrea: I admit, even though I didn't care for it, I felt a bit guilty at just chopping it down…trust me, if it's something I can wrestle out of the ground myself, I usually try to gift it to someone with more space :-)

    Bluestem: I think we'll definitely have the stump ground out at some point…I still have a fear that I'll walk out this spring at one point and it will have re-sprouted!

    Ricki Grady: Thanks!

    Les: Definitely! I have been editing out the plants that were here when we moved in to a degree. I have mixed feelings of guilt at killing something that is probably older than I am…but when it just isn't working, it has to go.

    MulchMaid: Thanks…that's pretty much my fear about having someone grind it out…and probably why I'm postponing it! I'm such a mother hen about my plants, I would drive the poor workers crazy.

    Gardeners at Waters East: I know how you feel about the rain! We've had constant rain since I returned from Nebraska…and I have so much to do yet before winter! I agree about the house feeling more open and inviting now…the Arborvitae was like a big, ominous sentinel, blocking the sidewalk!

    Tom: Hmmmm….you've stumped me. On the left, there is only one Miscanthus (the tall grass) which is 'Malepartus', a beautiful, bold grass that I love, in spite of it's tendency to flop in my garden. The smaller grass you are referring to (I think) is actually Calamagrostis 'Overdam'. Very similar to the oft-planted 'Karl Foerster', but smaller and with cream/green variegated foliage. I do have a smaller Miscanthus just to the right of the steps, Miscanthus purparescens, which is MUCH smaller than 'Malepartus'. It's main claim to fame is it's amazing fall color.

  38. Good riddance! I feel your pain--I removed 11 arborvitae from my hell strip shortly after I bought my house. We did it with nothing but an axe, some saws, and a large prybar (and a whole lot of muscle). The other plantings might make things tricky, but it's definitely doable.

    If I were rich, I would buy every arborvitae for sale in stores and burn them all. :) Nothing makes me sadder than a yard with nothing but a lawn and a straight row of arborvitae.

    Your garden is so lovely!

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