Lifestyles

Burnett: Easy to love plants that ‘weep’

I happen to like things that weep in the garden. Even as a young boy, I fell in love with a weeping false cypress that was planted among some other orphaned trees and shrubs in our nursery.

A few people who  saw the tree made comments like “is there something wrong with that tree?” or ‘it looks like it needs water!” but to me it was the one that stood out in the bunch and no surprise to me it eventually sold to a person who gave it a place of prominence in her yard.

Not all people feel the same about weeping things. I recall an occasion, years ago, when I landscaped a property while the client was away on vacation. Upon her return she called me to say just how much she liked what we had done in her yard and she was pleased with everything except for one tree planted on a berm in the front yard.

The tree in question was a dwarf cut-leaf Japanese maple, Acer palmatum Dissectum Atropurpureum and as I had used this species many times in similar situations with much success I immediately quizzed her on why she felt the way she did.

She said it sadly reminded her of a wounded pet.

I replaced it with a dwarf Alberta spruce, Picea glauca Conica and she was happy.

Her comment could not have been more powerful and it had a profound effect on my approach to plant choices with my clients ever after.

Perhaps if the maple had not been dormant my client wouldn’t have conjured up her analogy, because in full leaf it is a completely different looking plant. There is no question that in general a weeping plant must stand on its own.

Planting two weeping beech beside each other is not only superfluous it creates conflict and before you know it the whole design takes on a busy look.

Things that weep look their best when their surroundings are otherwise.

To some degree it is the same with other forms we use in our landscape, such as prostrate (level to the ground), fastigiate (columnar), decurrent (spherical or globose) and pyramidal, but there is some room for these forms to be grouped. I have seen some pleasing scenarios where several nest spruce Picea nidiformis have been grouped in threes or used as a border.

Mass plantings of flowering shrubs and roses is very eye catching but to see three weeping mulberry, Morus alba Pendula planted together just doesn’t cut it.

I have some favourite weeping plants but I don’t believe there are any I dislike.

There are several conifers that weep, including weeping the Norway spruce, Picea abies Pendula and the weeping hemlock, Tsuga canadensis Pendula which I really like, but my all-time first choice has got to be the weeping false cypress, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Pendula.

There are many deciduous trees that fall into the group and some of these, like the cutleaf weeping birch, Betula pendula Laciniata and the golden weeping willow, Salix babylonica aurea have the ability to grow very large.

Some, however, grow to lesser size. Some of my first choice small weeping trees are the weeping mulberry, Morus alba Pendula, the young’s weeping birch, Betula pendula Youngii, and the weeping katsura, Cercidiphyllum japonica ‘Pendula’.

Whichever weeping plant you choose it should be the right size for the bed and stand-alone among less significant shrubs as the focal point so it can be appreciated.

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