need (lots of) help with entryway shrubs

diggerdee zone 6 CTMay 27, 2011

I think I posted about this last year, but can't seem to find the old thread, except for a specific one on ilex Castle Wall.

A friend of mine has a newly-planted (last year) foundation bed on either side of her front door. It has spirea, hostas, heucherella, boxwood, and hakone grass, all of which are doing amazingly well.

The missing piece is that she wants a tall shrub on either side of the door. I know, I know... the person at a (very reputable) local nursery practically sputtered in indignation when we asked her about this, telling us to put the tall shrub at the end of the bed, not next to the door.

However, this is what my friend wants, so.... She is not a gardener, and I am not a designer, so we need help. We need evergreen, eight to ten feet tall, 3 feet wide, preferably pyramidal, half-sun/half shade (morning sun, but hot sun), quite good soil. It would most likely have good wind protection, as it is against the house and additionally her front yard slopes upward and she has two large cherry trees on either side of the centered front walk. She currently has some wide fat hollies there, in large pots, which she doesn't like.

I've come across what seemed like good choices at first, only to be done in by wildly conflicting descriptions, depending on what site you visit, especially when it comes to height. So I am hesitant to make a decision (so what else is new?)

Additionally, it seems like many things that might fit here are very slow growers, so they cost big bucks. I'm looking for something I can get at a reasonable price.

Since this is for someone else and not myself, and since she is not a gardener and doesn't understand the differing results one can have with plants, I am trying to find something as foolproof as possible, in terms of fitting her needs.

Any suggestions would be most gratefully appreciated!

Thank you,


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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Dee, I added Ilex 'Sky Pencil' three years ago that I am happy with. I added two more last year. They even did well after the winter we had last year, despite having forgotten to tie them up. They would have done better with a spiral of string to keep them together over the winter, but nothing that can't be straightened out. They had a small amount of brown tips that were easily pruned off and they have nice new growth on them right now. I saw some full grown gorgeous specimens over at Stonegate Gardens in Lincoln last year and I was impressed at how nice looking they are when mature.

I also saw some 'Green Tower' Hollies over at Russell's in Wayland this spring. I had been looking for those for awhile before I got the 'Sky Pencil' and couldn't find them.

The other way to go might be with a Taxus 'Hicksii' or similar.

As for cost, you are in a predicament because really what you want in that position is something that is slow growing, unless she wants to be pruning it all the time. So, either she has to go small or expensive. I waited for Fall Sales to get mine. Three years ago, I got a size that was good for me for $40. which was 50% off. It will be a couple more years before it is the size that I will be happy with. Last year, I bought two small sizes for $20 each at the 50% off sale in the Fall. I think I really prefer starting small and watching them grow in.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 1:43AM
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While I don't have any specific suggestions, I do have a couple of things to add to the considerations in making your final decisions on plant choice and exact siting.

IME both yews (Taxus) and arborvitae (Thuja) are pretty popular with deer and will end up nibbled into odd shapes if there are any deer around. Especially yews get nibbled to bare twigs, and are one of only two types of plants that has been severely damaged in my garden, which doesn't have any real deer feeding due to lots of alternative wild foods.

If your friend ever gets heavy enough snow to need to rake the roof or has a metal roof that causes slides, be careful siting the plant so that it isn't in the drop zone from the roof. Even the rain falling from a roof without gutters can leave a weird line down a plant, so if these are a consideration, place plants to avoid these spots.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 8:49AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

PM2, I'm not sure if I can convince her about holly. As I said, she has some there now that she dislikes. Actually, thanks to your responses on my thread last year regarding ilex Castle Wall, I did try to get her to take a look at them. I even went so far as to buy a couple for myself from Bluestone last fall to check them out. They were of course very small, so I didn't even bother showing them to her. I figured the image she would get with these two little 8-inch-tall hollies on either side of the door would doom me, lol. And sadly they did not survive the winter so I wonder about hardiness...

Again, thanks to you, I am thinking about the Sky Pencil, and will check out Green Tower. Might be a hard sell on the hollies, though.

nhbabs, thanks for those further considerations. That is certainly something to keep in mind.

Personally I love yews, and my friend doesn't seem to have a deer problem that we've noticed... yet. Again, the thing with the yews and arborvitae is the variance in height descriptions. I live in fear of planting a 30 tree by her door, lol! We had been looking at thuja Emerald Green, but found descriptions of anywhere from 7 to 15 feet. Can these be pruned for height?

Is there anything similar to a dwarf alberta spruce, but which grows another 3 feet taller or so? This is what she seems to be drawn to and the look she is going for, but it seems that they only get about 6 feet in height, and very slowly at that.

Thank you!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 9:42AM
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You also might ask on the conifer forum to see what suggestions they have.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:11AM
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Setting aside all deer considerations - since I've NEVER had to deal with
that! - here are two possibilities:

Juniperus chinensis 'Blue Point' - the various reference sites are all over
the map on this one, but 3'-4' wide by 8'-10' tall seems to sum it up.
There was a very narrow 2' gap between my neighbors' and my driveway
and I wanted a little evergreen to soften the picture. . .'Blue Point' was the
perfect choice: going on 10 years, it is exactly 8' tall and roughly 3'(+) at
the base - lovely shape, great blue-green color, and according to my
research it CAN take partial shade.

One of your CT nurseries introduced me to a Taxus that I had never even
heard of: Taxus cuspidata 'Sentinalis'. . .and as the name suggests, it grows
tall like a sentinal (10'-12'), but only two foot wide! This might be too
sharp a vertical line for your situation, but it can handle your light situation,
will never need pruning, and you SAID you liked Taxus! Look it up on
the Variegated Foliage Nursery website (below); it's listed under Shrubs. . .
and while you're there, you yew-lover you, check out
Taxus x media 'Margarita'. . wowser!! Oh, by the way, both of these Taxus
specimans reside in my shade gardens and I've been very happy with them.


Here is a link that might be useful: Variegated Foliage Nursey

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 11:35AM
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This may be hard to find (but I'm sure you're up to the challenge), Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Soft Serve' may fit the bill. Not sure about price and size issues, but probably nothing extreme about it on either. I got one last fall so its too early to tell how fast/slow it grows.

There's another upright Taxus I can't think of the name of but I think Taxus is probably a good direction to go. And it can easily be pruned in years to come to keep its height.

junipers will want more sun. Even the false cypress may want a bit more than that too.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 12:43PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Statuary, or something else non-living may be the way to go here. The idea of putting something tall and spiky underneath a roof overhang just sounds like a disaster waiting to happen to me. My neighbors have a pair of those common tall, thin junipers that get whacked badly every year we get a lot of snow. So far they've managed to straighten out reasonably well during the summer, but I do know that one of these years they are just going to snap, or be permanently bent over.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 1:36PM
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I remembered the name... Taxus 'H.M.Eddie' 3ft wide by 10' tall.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 4:54PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

People much more knowledgable than me have made excellent suggestions for the shrubs. I have one comment which is somewhat related to mad_gallica's suggestion about statuary.

You say your friend is not a gardener - is she the sort of person that would expect the two very prominent shrubs to match - both when planted, and year after year, storm after storm? It's unlikely that any two shrubs would grow at the very same rate, side by side, not to mention accidents of nature. Maybe committed pruning would keep them similar, but it's a hard act to carry off when they're so close together.

On the other hand, if she's a relaxed informal person who doesn't mind imperfections, it might work.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 5:26PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Well, guys, thank you! You've given me a lot to think about and introduced me to some new things. Did a bit of research - which can be frustrating, as I mentioned before, when the descriptions of the same plant vary so much.

So, I think the hollies and the taxus mentioned above, while technically fitting the size bill, are just not quite the shape we are looking for. They are more columnar, with narrow bases and wider tops. I have taken notes, however, for my own yard in the future...:)

If there's one thing I like more than taxus, it's chamaecyparis. Well, I actually have a kind of love/hate relationship with them. Absolutely adore the laciness of them, but sometimes the loose and floppy/sloppy nature bugs me. It's for this reason that I do not own one yet, although I can't pass one by either in person or in a catalog without stopping to look.

So I was happy to see your recommendation, Wendy! I really like the Soft Serve! My one concern is that with all the chartreuse in the beds, will this not be enough contrast? I know my friend loves the color and is really enjoying the spireas and hakone against her blue house; I wonder if the chamy will be too much of the same....?

My other possibility is the juniper Blue Point. This has the shape we are looking for, fits the size requirement fairly well (again the info differs). It looks like it can be pruned for size/maintenance. While I am terrified of pruning, at least I know it can be done without killing the poor thing. My one concern here - and I'm relying on you for this one, Carl! - is the sun requirements. Most sites say it needs full sun... when you say it can take part shade, Carl, are you speaking from personal experience?

So I will present these two choices to my friend and see what she thinks. Claire you brought up a good point - and one that I have already considered - when you mentioned how my friend would feel about "matching' shrubs. I already told her there may be some difference due to one side of the house getting a bit more sun than the other - we are already seeing this with the perennials. She is a bit of a formal personality, but I do think if the shrubs are relatively successful in this spot she won't mind if they are not exactly the same, as long as they both look good and healthy.

Thanks for all your help. I wish I could post a pic but she prefers not to do so. I'd love to show you all how it works out... unless of course it doesn't, lol. But I think it will.

Thank you again,

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 1:52PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Uh oh..... was just looking a bit more into the chamaecyparis and read that dieback can be a problem in these shrubs... anyone care to comment?


    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 2:16PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Dee, sorry, I don't have chamaecyparis experience, to advice. Sounds like you have a few good candidates to think about. Not sure who adviced about the Ilex Castle Wall, but I've never had one so I don't think it was me. Sorry you lost yours over the winter.

I find it fairly easy now to choose for myself and to live with the decision, having learned along the way how unpredictable it can be, I think I have more realistic expectations then I used to. I can only imagine it makes it harder to choose for a friend who is expecting you to be able to get it right. I think you are on the right track, to offer options and information and leave her the final responsibility for making the choice. It sounds like a fun project and I'm sure it will turn out great in the end.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 11:44PM
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Below is the thread about the Castle Spire/Wall. I see that I recommended Boxwood 'Green Mountain'. I really like that plant a lot. Mine is coming along... about 4' tall in 4-5 years.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 8:44AM
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ontheteam(5a-6 (S.Eastern, MA))

the Thulja are 25 bucks at Costco they are about 6 feet tall.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 9:51AM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

If there's one thing I like more than taxus, it's chamaecyparis. Well, I actually have a kind of love/hate relationship with them. Absolutely adore the laciness of them, but sometimes the loose and floppy/sloppy nature bugs me. It's for this reason that I do not own one yet, although I can't pass one by either in person or in a catalog without stopping to look

One of the best looking Chamaecyparis I ever saw was at a day lily farm and the owner had tip pruned it every year. I believe it was Chamaecyparis nana gracilis and it was a beautiful dense shrub.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pruning Arborvitae, Junipers, and Chamaecyparis

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 10:05AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Oops, I guess it was Wendy's comments about Castle Spire - sorry PM2! But your responses on that thread helped me too.

Wendy, I ended up getting some Green Mountain boxwoods for myself, but I think they are just too slow for this spot. Mine sure are looking good though!

Ontheteam, what kind of thuja? Some of them get to be 60 feet high!

Katy, thanks for that link. As you may or may not know, I am terrified of pruning, lol, but I will take a look and see what they say. If my friend decides to go with the chamy, I'll pass the link along to her. She's not afraid, lol. I loaned her my loppers once for her to cut back one shrub and she went to town on her trees and shrubs! She told me she didn't want to give the loppers back, lol. So maybe she'll have no problem with keeping the chamy in shape!

Thanks guys!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 1:28PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

BTW, Dee, if you bought the Ilex Castle at Bluestone, they are very good about giving you a credit or sending a replacement.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 4:58PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

I like Thuja "Emerald Green". I just bought nine for a screen at the back of the new garden. I got them at 9-10 feet for $90 each, which is a really good price, but you can get smaller ones for less too. !2-15 feet high by 3 feet wide. They may be pruned lower but I understand that they may then tend to lose the columnar shape.

I wouldn't want yews near the door. The berries can be quite messy underfoot or even if you brush up against them, and the birds would also leave "gifts" nearby!

The narrow hollies might be OK provided they aren't the kind with daggers for leaves!

Just my two cents.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 6:11PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT


Emerald Green thuja was one of my first choices, but again there are varying descriptions of height, anywhere from 8 to 15 feet. May not seem like a big difference, but that goes from one size to almost double! So which is it? It gets frustrating to me because how can I make a decision when no one can agree on the characteristics?

Do yews need male/female to berry? I have a yew in my foundation bed and I've never seen a berry in 15 years, lol!

Thank you - your two cents is worth way more than that, lol!

P.S. I did get the hollies at Bluestone, PM2... debating whether to contact them. It was such a terrible winter I feel a bit guilty asking them to replace them....

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 7:21PM
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O.K. Let's start with the Juniperus chinensis 'Blue Point'. . .most
junipers PREFER full sun, but that usually only means that they will look
their very best in full sun, not that they will collapse and die. In my
own garden (and many others) I have successfully grown junipers (one of
my favorite conifers) in LESS than full sun - I have a 16-year old J. 'Old Gold'
that started out in full sun, but as the tree near it matured, the area became
mostly dappled shade, with just one hour of direct morning sun. . .it's still
going strong, but it's not as dense as before, and you definitely lose the
golden new growth in the Spring. I'm currently growing J. 'Sargentii' in partial
shade; it's simply not developing as quickly as another in the full sun.
A J. communis started in 3/4 sun, finally had to come down when that reversed to 3/4 shade. . .but not before it had grown 20' tall ! ( I limbed the tree a few weeks before Christmas, so our holiday Bazaar had HUGE arrangements of juniper boughs, weighted down with masses of their blue berries - the hall actually reeked, beautifully!) The remaining trunk was cut into three sections, the bottom third left rooted in the ground, while the other two were lashed to the original to form a "natural" tripod. . .which is currently buried in clematis, C. 'Jackmani' and 'Guernsey Cream'. . .

But I digress. . . The Juniperus 'Blue Point' in my side yard is growing in
3/4 sun, and doing well. . .how well it will do in your specific situation, I
simply couldn't promise. Since the location is very "in your face" - you
pass them every time you enter or exit the house - perhaps you should
lean toward a more site-specific plant. Sorry. . .can't lie to you. . . :-)

That brings us to another point that someone made about the "matching
pair" of shrubs not growing identically (horrors!). . .so I have to share this
story of how a very "anal" garden friend solved this exact problem. She
had decided on a "matching pair" of shrubs on either side of the front steps leading up to her porch, but being obsessive, she INSTANTLY realized that they would be getting unequal amounts of sun (due to the sun's angle and the porch corner casting a partial shadow). Her solution? The two shrubs each went into large, individulal pots - I seem to remember they were some kind of hollies - and once a week, the pots were given a half turn in place, and then once a MONTH, the pots changed position. It didn't hurt that the pots were fiberglass, which cut down on the muscle required, but trust me, I would NEVER go that far for perfection !!! Gotta tell you, though - they did develop into a perfectly matched pair. . .

Which makes me think: just as someone else suggested statuary, how
about a pair of those tall, elegant pots (easily 3'-4'), each planted with a
tall, stunning (4'-5') canna or other narrow perennial or annual, and mounding/cascading plants at the base of the central plant which would
easily give you your 3' width and a teardrop look. Martha Stewart would
love it. . .

Answer to question: yes, yews ARE male and female. . .if you have one of
the common Taxus cuspidatas (the kind available at Lowes and HD), all
you need to do is locate a Taxus cuspidata 'Aurescens' (see the link below) and plant it nearby in the sun.. T. 'Aurescens' is a quite lovely, golden-needled evergreen which stays low to the ground. . .he's a real stud muffin, and the Taxus ladies in my garden have been popping out berries ever since I brought him home. . .CAUTION: IF THERE ARE LITTLE ONES AROUND, KNOW THAT THOSE BERRIES ARE VERY TOXIC !!!

Finally, my personal experiences with Thuja 'Green Giant': terrific plant
(developed with yours and my tax dollars by our National Arboretum), IN
THE RIGHT LOCATION ! Because the sellers know they have a good product,
they'll tell you anything to get you to buy it, like it grows only 8'-12'. . .
that is total B.S. !!! Example: I planted a row of five of them along a friend's
back fence just three years ago - while only 4' tall when we put them in, they
are now OVER 12' tall !!! Following recommendations from many sources,
I planted them 7' apart. . .sometime this growing season, they will finally
meet and completely obliterate my friend's 6' fence. . .that's a pretty cool delivery on a promise of a fast screen! But even the National Arboretum
will tell you that they will be at least 30' tall in 30 years, and will continue
to grow over a lifetime into 60'-80' GIANTS. . .hence, their name. . .
They are one of those rare shrubs/tress whose growth rate is so spectacular
that you can easily afford to buy small (my 3'-4' specimens in 3 gallon pots
were just $15. apiece!) - some other fast-growers I've had great success
with are Leyland cypress and Betula nigra.

Wow! I think this long-winded response adds up to four cents, at least. . .


Here is a link that might be useful: Missouri Botanical Garden Plantfinder

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 11:44PM
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