Save Jennifer from Green Meatballs!

March 26, 2009 | By | Comments (23)

Attention, talented and creative Grumpians! Jennifer in Wilmington, North Carolina hates the bushes in front of her house and desperately needs your suggestions. She writes:

Dear Grumpy Gardener,
We have too much green in the beds in front of our house. Boxwoods (not doing well in this location), with Indian hawthorns in front of the boxwoods (previously “rounded” to look like green meatballs), and monkey grass in front of the hawthornes. Can you give us some suggestions for adding color and a solution to the hawthorns shaping or placement? Thanks!

Here is what she’s dealing with:


The other side:


How about it, faithful readers? How would you redesign this planting to be more interesting, less green, and less meatballish? Let Jennifer and the Grump hear from you.


  1. Grumpy Gardener (aka His Excellency)

    This is a mystery. Your conditions seem to be OK. The sad thing is, some trees just bloom better than others and you seem to have gotten the short end of the stick. I don’t think fertilizing is going to make a difference. One weird thing you might try is root pruning the tree. Take a sharp spade and sink the blade fully into the ground in a circle 3 feet out from the trunk. This sometimes shocks a plant into blooming. If it doesn’t work, no harm done.

    October 30, 2009 at 10:15 am
  2. Ginger

    I live in Massachusetts and have a Chinese Fringe tree in my front garden. It is well drained soil and has southern exposure. It has been more then 10 years, but has never bloomed. The bark is wonderful and leaves green, but sadly no beautiful cascading white flowers.
    Is there something I can do to help it bloom?

    October 29, 2009 at 11:42 am
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    We have a number of Chinese fringe trees at our SL building. They were beautiful this week.

    April 11, 2009 at 9:12 am
  4. Vikki

    My vote for a smallish flowering tree for your front bed is a Chinese Fringe Tree. I would make room for this beauty in the bed to the left of your walkway. You won’t be disappointed in this tree. Years ago I saw an article on Chinese Fringe tree in Southern Living (my favorite magazine). As a matter of fact I think Steve was the author of the piece. Anyway, I fell in love with the tree and three years ago I finally bought one. The link is to a small picture album that contains a picture of my Chinese Fringe in full bloom. This was last year and the tree was two years in my yard at this time. The tree is shown in pictures 6 and 9.

    April 11, 2009 at 8:40 am
  5. Deborah

    Unless you have a large budget, I would not remove all your existing shrubs. I think you need some height as well as color. I would add one crepe myrtle on one side and two on the side with large window (a vibrant hot pink or white), tucked amongst the shrubs. In front of the existing shrubs, I’d plant dwarf yellow Lantana–it comes back every year, very low maintenance, spreads quickly, and is beautifully vibrant from Spring until December.

    April 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener

    And just think, Jennifer — all this great advice only cost you $100! I will search my mailbox for the check every morning.
    Oh yeah, that’s right…..I told you it was free. Nuts!

    April 2, 2009 at 6:55 am
  7. Jennifer

    Great suggestions all. You’ve definitely given me lots to think about and I appreciate the time you all took to respond and offer suggestions, advice and food for thought. I’ll be sure to send pictures as we make changes. Many thanks again!

    April 1, 2009 at 10:47 pm
  8. Rebecca

    Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll be happy to send you a sketch. All wonderful input from the Grumpsters – a talented gardening group. My one word of warning – Don’t try to fit everything you love across the front of your home. Create outdoor rooms with all of these wonderful plants, grouping those with like cultural conditions. In my 20 years of design, I have done it everyway you can think of and I still think its best to keep your foundation a little low key, playing up the views from the house or patio and around the perimeter of the property. Money saving tip: Place the special stuff where it can be appreciated.
    Foundations can be tedious to change. I prefer a neutral backdrop so you can go as wild or mild as you like with other plants elsewhere in the yard. But that’s just my opinion. Happy digging!

    April 1, 2009 at 9:01 pm
  9. Peggy Anne

    I’m with Mr. Long. I’d use Endless Summer Blushing Bride. The big white mophead blossoms would stand out beautifully against the brick. I plant spring flowering perennials in front like, ajuga, dicentra, and alchemilla, to start the show early. Blushing bride has a great fall color too.

    March 30, 2009 at 10:31 am
  10. Grumpy Gardener

    Muchas gracias, Grumpians, for coming to Jennifer’s rescue with so many good ideas! And she gets it free. See what happens when you email Grumpy your photos?

    March 29, 2009 at 10:12 am
  11. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    Jennifer, you a very brave to ask “gardeners” to re-do your front entrance! In the re-do of your mind, are you looking for a “garden” or a new varied “landscape”? As a garden coach, I work with many clients who think they want a garden in the front, but what they really want is a more varied “landscape.” As such, build bones on your grounds to include a mixture of medias such as a small tree, perhaps an evergreen vine, evergreen shrubs – flowering would be an added bonus. As soon as you add annuals and perennials, you are creating a garden – not a landscape, With this comes an increased maintenance. Not to discourage you; just being realistic.
    Work in triangles not rows.
    To fill the need for your flower fix (on the left) consider adding a large, wrought iron hay basket window box (on the double window.) Then add a line from your irrigation system to water it, aiding in lowering this maintenance need.
    Left side
    1) A nice corner anchor would be Magnolia ‘Kay Parris’. Pull the bed out a little for to give the bed a better curve.
    2)Add a Clematis armandii on the downspout.
    3)English Laurel would add some punch to the site with their glossy leaves and perhaps some white flowering Pieris japonica to give a varied texture and flowers in the late winter.
    Right side
    1) A speciman plant such as weeping Youpon holly or Jap Maple. Off to the side, not snacked dabbed in the middle.
    2) OR Perhaps 3 sky pencil holly to wrap the corner or a Confederate Jasmine up the downspout. This would also look nice trellised over the garage – as least from what I can tell from the photo.
    3) Rohdea japonica could be fun here too – several to form a swath to act as a ground cover.
    3) Repeat the pieris or laurels here to, but in smaller numbers.
    I agree with Rebecca. Leave some of what is there – like the two shrubs that are on both sides of the stairs…baby steps buys time to adjust.

    March 28, 2009 at 7:36 pm
  12. Jim Long

    I agree with the person who suggested ripping it all out and starting over. Japanese maple would work, no hedges, but add some softness, some ferns, ground cover, bulbs and try the new Endless Summer hydrangeas which will take sun, bloom all summer and are virtually maintenance free.

    March 28, 2009 at 2:40 pm
  13. Molly

    In my humble opinion… a crape myrtle to left of front walk and cascading Japanese maple to the right of the front steps. Preferably one with a weeping habit that doesn’t get too tall. What about Spiraea japonica ‘Gold Mound’ for a bright accent or maybe even Euphorbia wulfenii for that lime-green punch.

    March 28, 2009 at 1:49 pm
  14. Grumpy Gardener

    Cameron has a beautiful garden (just look at her blog), so I’d listen to her suggestions too. Wow, being the Grump is so easy!

    March 28, 2009 at 10:51 am
  15. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    I like Rebecca’s ideas. From my view point, everything is the same color of green.
    For blooms, I’d try to add white (David phlox, calamintha, echinacea white swan) silver (dusty miller or artemesia, lambs ear) and purple (verbena, salvia, tradescantia, nepeta) to go with the brick and trim. Mixing a few clematis (purple and white) together to climb a vertical element at that garage corner might be nice. Crepe myrtle ‘white chocolate’ shrub has burgundy foliage and white blooms. A buddleia in purple or white is another shrub idea.
    Hawthorns are good shrubs for salt water areas. Mine are shaped like meatballs and I’ve never taken a trimmer to them. These just need to get out of the row!

    March 27, 2009 at 10:14 pm
  16. Jennifer

    What great suggestions! Thank you so much. Rebecca, would you suggest replacing the boxwoods shrub for shrub along the same lines along the house? I’d also love to see a visual of your ideas–is there any way you could give me a rudimentary drawing? Again, many thanks!!

    March 27, 2009 at 8:59 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener

    See why it’s fun being the Grumpy Gardener? When someone asks you a tough question, you can just pass it off to someone like Rebecca, who always knows just what to do. It’s kinda like President Bush and Dick Cheney —

    March 27, 2009 at 4:39 pm
  18. Rebecca

    Hi Grumpsters,
    The big G has asked me to weigh in. I must forewarn however that said garden editor keeps three gnomes roaming about her own garden at any given time and one perched on the corner of her desk. That said, here’s what I would do:
    A row of shrubs that skirts the base of your home like a tutu is out-o-style. Let’s give this foundation a little breathing room. Loved Jean’s comment about adding a small flowering tree on the corner. Let’s place either a vitex or ‘Acoma’ crepe myrtle on the far left end of the house. She should remove all of the shrubs in front of that far window, leaving the triagle of of hawthorns and holly on corner. As we approach the steps – for now – let’s leave the three hawthornes. In these economic times, I tend to ask folks to phase things in. As for the gap between this space, I’d plant ‘Cleopatra’ liriope. I used it on a job for a redo we featured last April and it was a real winner. (You can check it out: 5 Ideas for the Front Yard) Plant either 2 4″ pots of Shockwave petunias or 2 6″ ‘New Gold’ lantana. Both cover massive areas in my own garden last year. Repeat on the other side of the steps too.
    Jumping over to the other side – keep the two indian hawthornes for now. Remove everything else except for the two hawthornes right next to the garage wall. Carpet the area with more ‘Cleopatra’ liriope and add a tree-form tea olive (nice fragrance) on the corner to hide the gutter.
    Now to pull your new look together, may I make another suggestion: How does your house look from the road? Perhaps a second or third vitex or ‘Acoma’ added out by the mailbox or drive with more liriope and annual color will add depth to your yard. Too often, folks bomb out by only landscaping around the base of their home. The rest of your yard needs love too.
    So let’s say you really hate those hawthornes and are ready to fork over the cash. For unity, I’d stick with one kind of shrub. I know you said your boxwoods aren’t thriving, but when was the last time you fertilized and what kind of box do you have? For your area,’Green Beauty’ is a good choice. ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ pittosporum is another tougher than nails shrub. Good luck and send photos – we love “baby pictures” – even the Grumpster. RR

    March 27, 2009 at 4:29 pm
  19. Grumpy Gardener

    Be careful about those gnomes. Someone keeps ringing our doorbell at night and leaving gnomes on the front porch. The perpetrator has never been identified. I think this may be part of a vast Communist conspiracy.

    March 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm
  20. Jennifer

    Hi all,
    We do get a fair amount of sun. Our house faces North so the left side of the house gets the brunt of the summer sun. I like reds like a Japanese Maple, and the pinks of azaleas and crepe myrtles and cherry blossoms. As for maintenance, we do have a zoned sprinkler system that waters this area but beyond that, I don’t want to have to love on these plants any more than that, so low maintenance is best! Critter problems… no deer or anything like that. Just the occasional fire ant bed. And absolutely yes to the garden gnome. Thanks for your help!

    March 27, 2009 at 11:54 am
  21. Brandy

    I am also curious about what Helen is asking. All that aside,for the left side of the house I would add an 3-4′ evergreen hedge under the front windows ,a tall grass varity under the back windows, a tall flowering shrub on the left end of the house, a smaller variegated variety shrub(diff form) in front of the evergreen shrub,and a grass varity.Then fill in with annuals and perrenials. I have to go to work, sorry I cant comment on the right side!

    March 27, 2009 at 9:25 am
  22. Jean

    Can we say shrubmurder? If it were mine I would pull them all out and start over. I would start with a small flowering tree at the corner and where the brick has another inset a taller something..maybe some barberry to give it more color. Plants are eating the railing on one side. Plant some colorful annuals in front of the shrubs..and maybe 2 large pots along the steps.She must have sun..she has grass.Also shrubs in back need to be taller.Early am off the top of my head and that opinion with 2 bucks can get you a cup of coffee.

    March 27, 2009 at 8:08 am
  23. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    I hate to be picky, but what sun does she have, what colors does she like, degree of maintenance she desires, what critter problems does she deal with, how moist is the spot, and is she tolerant of garden gnomes?

    March 26, 2009 at 7:48 pm

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