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Secrets to an Almost Instant Secret Garden

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                   GardenGuides Newsletter 
                       August 22, 2006

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Apply Fertilizer Properly

* It is best to apply fertilizer when the soil is moist and 
then water lightly. This will help the fertilizer move into 
the root zone where it is available to the plants, rather 
than stay on top of the soil where it can be blown or washed 
away. 

* Watch the weather. Avoid applying it immediately before a 
heavy rain system is predicted to arrive. Too much rain (or 
sprinkler water) will take the nutrients away from the lawn's 
root zone. 

* Use the minimal amount of fertilizer necessary and apply 
it in small, frequent applications. An application of 2 
pounds of fertilizer five times per year is better than 5 
pounds of fertilizer twice a year. 

* Calibrate your fertilizer spreader to be sure you know 
exactly how much material is being discharged in a given 
space. Follow instructions accompanying your spreader. 

* When spreading fertilizer, cover ends of the lawn first, 
ten go back and forth across the rest of the lawn, using 
half of the recommended amount. Shut the spreader off before 
reaching the ends to avoik over-application. Apply the other 
half of the fertilizer going back and forth perpendicular to 
the first pattern. 

* Dispose of fertilizer bags or containers in a safe and 
state-approved manner. 
 
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Secrets to an Almost Instant Secret Garden
by Carol Wallace

The rich have it easy here. When they decide they want a 
private, even secret area in their yard, they hire someone 
to build walls, or fancy fences. Or they go out and buy 
enough tall, mature trees and shrubs to do the trick. An 
instant secret garden. 

But the rest of us have to cultivate a bit of patience. We 
will have our secret garden - but we will have to create it 
in stages.  

Design Considerations

Whether you want your entire garden to be secret or simply a 
portion of it, the recipe is the same. You need to plant or 
build something that will shield you from public view. In a 
large garden that may simply mean creating a small garden 
room somewhere off the main track for garden visitors. In a 
small garden it may simply mean erecting a screen or plant-
ing a shrub that acts as a divider between the public and 
more private parts of the garden. 

You may be shocked at the very idea of dividing up what may 
already be a pretty small space, but trust me - your garden 
will actually seem larger if you create separate "rooms" in 
it. Let's say you have a deck out back with a clear view 
straight to the back fence. The yard will appear to be what 
it is. Small. There is no mystery involved in a straight 
shot clear view. 
 
But plant a small garden area around the desk and then, some 
distance away create a "wall" of either lattice, fencing or 
shrubs with a "door" leading to the rest of the garden, it's 
impossible for most people to tell how much more garden may 
be out of sight. It could be huge. Infinite! Especially if 
you plan the break in the wall to take advantage of borrowed 
scenery - a view of a distant mountain or even a stand of 
birches in the yard behind you. You've added mystery, created 
a private space beyond the natural gathering spot that a 
patio tends to be - and you have made the garden seem larger. 

Temporary "Walls"

But what do you use for walls if you haven't got millions, 
or half a century to wait while your clipped box grows large? 

I was faced with this very problem last year when we removed 
an informal hedge of buddleias surrounding our main garden, 
replacing it with a more formal hedge of Canadian hemlock. 
While the buddleia worked well enough, it was only a some-
times hedge. Every spring we cut it down to the ground to 
keep it full and leafy. So for nearly half the summer it 
didn't provide much privacy at all. 

The largest hemlocks that we could afford were not quite 3 
feet high. Our formerly secret garden felt pretty exposed. 

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Fast Growing Shrub Walls

As spring turned to summer, however, I noticed that a few of 
my back of the border plants were tall enough to provide us 
with some privacy. They didn't extend the full length of the 
border, though -so I sought out other fast-growing tall 
plants to create a temporary privacy wall. 

Already in place were two 6' tall David Austin roses. As a 
screen, 6 feet works for most of us. When gardening we tend 
to sit or kneel. When resting, we sit. Either way, we are 
not terribly visible to those on the outside. 

A red twigged variegated dogwood, Cornus alba 'Elegantissima'
also comes in at around 6' tall. I cut out one third of the 
canes each year to help it maintain its bright winter twig 
color, but the rest stay tall. Once it leafs out it is a 
wonderful privacy screen. 

Colored twig dogwoods are fast growing. A very young plant - 
little more than a rooted cutting- can reach 5-6 feet in its 
second year if planted in favorable conditions. So they are
idea as summer screening plants as well as for winter color. 
Most of the larger roses also grow quickly to a great height. 
My Rosa glauca reached 7 feet in three years. 

Evergreen shrubs, of course, provide year round privacy. 
Many dwarf conifers stay small enough to be part of a peren-
nial border. In light shade rhododendrons or azaleas work 
well. 

Deciduous shrubs won't provide much of a visual barrier 
until they leaf out - but before that we gardeners are too 
busy working to really sit back and enjoy the solitude. When 
things warm up and we're ready to take a break, so are they. 
Some others that work well are the smaller Japanese maples - 
especially dissectums with their weeping habit, the blue 
Arctic willow Salix purpurea - lovely color and a very 
delicate appearance, and purple-leafed Prunus cistena (Purple 
sand cherry) and the amazing new variegated willow, Salix 
integra 'Hakuro Nishiki.'

Walls of Grass

Tall ornamental grasses create a lovely screen once they 
recover from their spring haircuts. My Miscanthus sinensis 
'Gracillimus' at the back of the bed grow to about 7' tall.
They are graceful with slender blades centered with silver - 
a barrier yes, but one that manages to appear airy and light. 
There are many other tall ornamental grasses that would fill
the bill equally well, in colors ranging from the very tall 
deep green Miscanthus floridulus' to the nearly white varie-
gated miscanthus.  

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Vines and Trellises

I still had uncomfortably wide gaps but the bed simply would 
not accommodate more shrubbery. Vines on trellises could 
work. Fast growing vines like hops or scarlet runner beans 
do the job in record time. For many garden situations a vine 
and trellis combination is the perfect way to create privacy 
and mystery in your garden design. Because of those growing 
hemlocks, though, it didn't work for me. So I turned to 
perennials. 

Perennials

Lavatera is a great plant for screening! It grows quite tall 
and flowers continuously from late June through Fall in my 
garden. L. 'Barnesley' is reputed to be the hardiest, but I 
am growing a nameless white version that has overwintered in 
zone 6 without protection for two years now. If happy it 
reaches about 6' in height. Near the back of that same border 
I have some very tall delphiniums and Aconitum. They are 
probably no more than 4' high but striking and give at least 
a partial feeling of enclosure while I am waiting for my 
secret weapons to grow up. 

This year I planted a Rheum palmatum tanguticum (ornamental 
rhubarb) in a blank back of the border spot. This baby is 
HUGE - gets going fairly quickly in late spring and is 
extremely tropical looking. However, it's hardy to zone 5. 

Tropical Plants

My other secrets are true tropical and subtropical plants 
that grow tall and massive in a single season. Colocasia is 
great this way - both the regular and upright elephant ears 
get tall enough to do the job by late June. Even taller (and 
easier) is a planting of castor beans Ricinus communis. I 
grow a burgundy-leafed variety called 'Carmencita' that is 
quite striking along with the burgundy of the Prunus. 

A few burgundy leafed cannas - or the strikingly colorful 
ones like 'Striata', 'Bengal Tiger' or Tropicanna' are 
perfect. Some dahlias also get tall and bushy. I start them 
indoors in early March, moving them to the garden when the 
soil warms. By June they have attained respectable size. 

I especially like these "temp-perennials" because I won't 
feel like a snooty landlord tossing them out once they have 
paid their way through the summer and fall. When I no 
longer need them they will be gone of their own accord - or 
dug and stored and ready to move into a new home the follow-
ing year. 

A combination of plants like these will create an interest-
ing privacy screen in your garden - and one that will be 
both beautiful and enjoyable for you while you wait for your
slower growing evergreen hedge to attain the right height. 

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