June 29, 2011

A tree of interest

Shrub Free Front

We had some trees removed from our backyard and while the big machinery was around, I had them pull out the old evergreen shrubs running along the front of our house. Taking out the bushes brought the look of the house from 1970s to a timeless classic. Next up is planting a butterfly garden in the front. As part of this new garden I really wanted to put a beautiful Japanese Maple in the front left corner of the yard. This would be the anchoring focal point, the show piece.

I’ve always wanted a Japanese Maple and marched off to the nursery to pick one out. Of course, when I got there I learned that they are a fussy tree, preferring afternoon shade rather than the full-on, unobstructed, southern exposure that I have. The experts at the nursery convinced me that if I planted one of these maples they’d look like burned-out shells all the time.

Now what? I would like a tree or shrub that never gets too large, that has “interesting” color, multi-trunk and an overall round shape. Working with the nursery we came up with four options:

Black Lace Elder – The “poor man’s japanese maple”, it has the dark lacy leaves and dainty flowers but is it too bushy
Smoke Bush – Beautiful leaf color and interesting flowers but is it too common
Contorted Filbert aka Corkscrew Hazel – Great winter interest but the summer greenery is less exciting
Weeping Pussy Willow – Fun, weeping shape but I’m not sure how well it will really do in my climate and how round it will be at full size

Right now I’m leaning towards the elder or the filbert, but I’m still looking for other options and other opinions. Maybe there is another shrub/tree out there that would be even better. All opinions or suggestions welcome!


  1. What about a redbud, serviceberry tree or pagoda dogwood? These can grow large but the first two are pretty slow growing; birds love them. They are not rounded but the redbud in the spring would be lovely and the color in the fall is great. They are not too large (or it takes a very long time for them to get large) and would provide some shade. If you are going to cultivate your yard for a butterfly garden in the rest of the yard, will provide enough height. It is wonderful fun planning a garden. Enjoy.

    Comment by Holly — July 1, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  2. Thanks Holly! I found a “weeping redbud” that looks awesome, all gnarly and weeping, but still flowering. I like the Serviceberry a lot too. It can have that nice multi-trunk shape. I wonder how a serviceberry pie would be? The overall shape of the Pagoda Dogwood is great, but it might be a little large. Thanks for the ideas. There are so many plants out there is it hard to choose!

    Comment by Avocados — July 3, 2011 @ 10:03 am

  3. The redbud, service berry, and pagoda dogwoods are great but they are under story trees – meaning they don’t like full-on sun and grow natively under the shade of taller trees. So I would be sure before going that route. (They are like japanese maples). There are japanese maples that like full sun but you’re talking large shade trees – not specimans.

    Magnolias love the sun and there are some that have upright shape and get 12-15′ high (small for a tree). I have a magnolia x butterflies that I bought small at a plant sale and it love the full sun in my front yard.

    Another option would be to go shrub – like viburnums, panicle hydrangeas – and prune them tree-like. They can get around 6′ tall at full height (maybe taller).

    When you come Wedneday – we can go to the Arboretum and ask them what they think.

    Comment by rosemarie — July 5, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  4. One more thing – do you get all day sun, mornng sun, or PM sun. Morning sun is less intense and an understory tree could probably handle that. Afternoon sun is too hot. All day … well, plant your tomatoes there ;)

    Comment by rosemarie — July 5, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  5. One more … sorry! Full sun all day is idea for an evergreen and there are some great ones. Then you’d get year round interest too and it would be a nice backdrop to what you’ll plant in front. There are some great dwarf specimans. I have a catalog from a place in our far suburbs that specialze in evergreens. Ill show it to you.
    Sorry for all the posts, my mind starts thinking when you say “plants”.

    Comment by rosemarie — July 5, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

  • Eating salted avocados with a spoon in Madison.
  • Blogging since 2003.