Reasons for removing established plants

But the tree was here first: reasons for removing established plants.

I just realised that, to date, “working with” our established mixed border has resulted in tearing just about everything out and starting over. And that’s okay. It took me a while to feel confident about removing perfectly healthy plants, but it’s about the big picture.

(Mind, the big picture is currently nothing impressive, what with all the puny new plants you can barely see. That’ll change. Gardens are pretty great like that.)

Full mixed border
Juniper removal

The latest casualty is this juniper, which survived several mixed border updates.

Reasons against keeping it:

  • Badly pruned (hi, hello, my fault)
  • Awkwardly positioned front and centre
  • Hated its environment — half its needles were always brown and prickly
  • Shaded out plants around it
  • Sucked up water and nutrients from plants around it
  • Not a good style fit / didn’t add much visually

Reasons for keeping it:

  • Minor amount of screening
  • Established
  • Felt disrespectful to previous owners to get rid of it

I wanted it gone, but those three reasons held me back. Until last week, that is.

Mixed border, September 2015

The juniper has joined the other garden ghosts: rhododendron, roses, arborvitae, aucuba, scale-infested African daisy bush, rotting lilac, near-dead fuchsia, numerous stumps and every other unknown over the past seventy years.

Mixed border!

Thinking more broadly here, this is what I’m doing with the space out here, what my motivations are.

1. Reshaping the structure. Taller plants can go in the back and shorter ones can sit forward. I’ve planted several hedging plants along the fence: ‘Starry Night’ tea-tree, purple hop bush, gossamer wattle and a transplanted silver banksia. You can hardly see them right now, but in the years to come I’m hoping they’ll create a nice screen. (I’m also going to get rid of the weedy ivy and pittosporum when these guys begin to take off!) I’m also slowly adding flowering shrubs, grasses and groundcovers to fill in the space that was previously carpeted in ivy.

Hebe 'Santa Monica'

2. Bridging my tastes with what came before and its current foundations. The previous owners favoured a lush English garden, while I don’t mind using Australian natives in all their straggly, bug-resistant glory. Hebes have been useful for bridging that gap; they’re compact and have showy flowers, but they also have interesting foliage, few pest problems and there’s a ton of cultivars to choose from. These New Zealand cousins really like it here.

I planted a variegated Waireka hebe to match a yellow-leaved aucuba that I’d never liked in the first place, but last summer, I gave away the Waireka and replaced it with this purple-tipped Santa Monica. It’s so pretty! On top of its striking foliage, it has magenta blooms in summer. Out front I’m trying out a pimelea, a native that looks like a small-leaved hebe.

Pieris, Valley Valentine

3. Giving myself room to play around with plants. Even when something should work, it might not survive in this environment for whatever reason. I also like trying out pretty plants which have a 50/50 shot of survival. (Grevilleas, man. This bed is a grevillea graveyard.) I was suckered in by this ‘Valley Valentine’ pieris a few weeks ago. This corner didn’t have any dense, showy, shade-loving plants, save for my finicky waratah, and I thought it could use another. I could have planted a third camellia, but, well, more on that in a bit.

Euphorbia flowers
Camellia bud

4. Letting specimens shine. There’s some lovely established plants! The gum tree, hebe, banksia, camellias and euphorbia. (Okay, the euphorbia is a bit obnoxious to deal with, but I dig its foliage and chartreuse flowerheads.) The two camellias are impressive, even if they’re giving me endless heartache.

Mixed border
Camellia cat
Failed camellias

Oh, camellias. Like I said last year: I want to love you, but you make it so hard! My shelf of plant medicines has never been more full. This hot pink one gets full sun and exposure to spring winds, which it hates… so its prolific blooms fall off and turn to brown mush as soon as they appear. Is it the conditions, is it lacking in nutrients, is it being devoured by hidden bugs and fungi? GOD ONLY KNOWS. I’ve been giving it treatments for all of the above. This plant should be strong enough to tow a car by now and it still looks terrible. Sigh. Once it’s done flowering I’ll keep trimming more bare stems and yellow leaves.

Mixed border, Aug 2013
Mixed border, July 2014
Mixed border, Sep 2015

Here’s some progress pics to end this post, because they’re fun. 2013, 2014, 2015, gum tree’s still busted but it’s recovering. Onward!

6 thoughts on “Reasons for removing established plants

  1. Steph, has someone been messing with your photos? Strange video included. Hope not. Aside from that, your garden looks rather lovely with the current blooms and it is surprising how removing a tree can improve an area so much. Kind of like recent interiors advice I heard… along the lines of set it all up and then take some of it away. Editing, I guess.

  2. I just love that coral gum you have, such striking flowers! Well, I assume it’s a coral gum. Such a shame about the damage, but it does give it character! I hear you on the camelias – we had some before the old house got demolished and I found the same thing with the browning. Occasionally I would manage to save some blossoms but it was hard. We tried to save one from demolition and attempted transplanting it into a big pot, but it died. I’m also finding myself nodding emphatically at the euphorbia – such stunning flowers and leaf structure, but they can become pests.

    1. I love that gum tree, it puts on a great show in late summer! The wattlebirds love it too. I think it’s a flowering gum (Corymbia ficifolia) since it has gigantic gumnuts. I’m also glad to hear I’m not the only one who’s had trouble with a camellia, maybe they just need to be planted in a sheltered spot. The euphorbia sets seed around the garden!! This year I’ll have to cut off the flowerheads once they go to seed. Gah, my natives don’t require this much fussing! 😉

  3. Camellias are strange, they turn to mush when they get wet, but that is so much a part of the Spring, the flowering strategy just doesn’t work. I think the only way to manage them, is as you just said, they have to be sheltered. Right up against the house under an overhang. On the other hand they have nice shiny dark leaves the rest of the year, if you can like them for that, you can still get something out of them.

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