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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

by Carolyn Singer
November 15, 2008

Almost every homeowner has something in the landscape that needs to be screened: a propane tank, a storage shed, an air conditioner, and even a utility pole. There is a perfect shrub for each situation.

Ornamental shrubs are the "bones" of the garden. Without them, a landscape has little definition. They may be used to create separate spaces within a larger area, to enhance intimacy and privacy, and to screen undesirable views or objects.

Elaeagnus pungensOf course I have favorites. At the top of the list is the tough evergreen Elaeagnus pungens (silverberry). This amazing ornamental shrub grows quite quickly by the third year after planting.

Mine is unpruned and has reached a 12-foot height and spread, perfect for the barrier and wildlife habitat I wanted to create. Silvery green leaves contrast beautifully with the copper stems. In October and November tiny white flowers open for a month with an incredible fragrance. Silverberry needs no irrigation once established, especially if it has some afternoon shade. Deer may browse on young plants, so protect it for the first two years. Once it starts growing vigorously, the deer move on to other more desirable plants in the garden.

A more refined evergreen for partial shade is fragrant sweet olive, Osmanthus fragrans. This upright shrub is compact and dense, with a 6-foot spread and eight to 10-foot height. The deer have not touched it in my garden. Dark green leaves almost obscure the tiny white flowers that open in early spring with a sweet fragrance. Once established, the irrigation requirements are minimal, though this ornamental shrub will be more vigorous with a deep soaking once a month during the summer.

Spiraea vanhouttei The spireas are all deciduous, but still make attractive screens. They certainly add definition to the garden. Spiraea vanhouttei is a focal point in early spring with cascading branches of white flowers, but the deer seem to favor this species. In my own garden I have used Spiraea cantoniensis, S. thunbergii, and S. nipponica 'Snowmound' to give definition to garden spaces.

Choisya 'Sundance' In the semi-shade garden, Choisya ternata (Mexican orange) and Choisya ternata 'Sundance' are very attractive evergreens for a five to 6 foot-high screen. Deer do not seem interested in even young plants. Bloom is very welcome in late winter, and never damaged by snow or hail. Gardeners at higher elevations, above 2500 feet, may find the leaves of this plant drooping during the cold of winter, but it will perk up by spring.

Sambucus laciniataElderberries are fast-growing deciduous shrubs that add volume and grace to a landscape. They may even be used to hide buildings. In one Cedar Ridge garden, the owners wanted a storage barn to disappear (without, of course, eliminating it altogether!). The lacy-leafed elderberry (Sambucus laciniata) did this in just a few years.

For every landscape challenge, there is the perfect ornamental shrub. Take time to tour gardens and browse in local nurseries for great ideas.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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