In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Ideally, a hedge should be wider at the base than at the top to allow sunlight to reach the bottom portion of the plants.

Hedge Your Bets

I visited the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto a few days ago. I could not have timed my visit any better for viewing the glory of spring. Too bad I didn't buy a lottery ticket that day because luck was certainly on my side.

Rectangular beds of lavender fox glove (Digitalis) were standing at attention and providing the hummingbirds with plenty of nectar. The nearby stand of sapphire blue delphinium was spectacular. I don't know how they are able to coax those fussy plants to be so uniform in size and shape. Mine are either floppy, or stunted, or blooming at different times. There was a spectacular pink weigela that stole the show. The dogwoods (Cornus kousa) and azaleas were in full bloom and provided a feeling of airy brightness to the shade gardens.

It was just a trifle early for the peonies, but they were festooned with hundreds of tight ball-shaped buds just waiting for a warm day to burst into full bloom. I adore peonies.

The Backbone
Gamble Garden is a formal-style garden with rectangular beds for growing showy annuals, vegetables, and colorful perennials. There are sculpted walkways that meander through the various "rooms" of the garden. Cool brick patios are furnished with sturdy teak benches that invite visitors to linger. There are beds dedicated to shade loving perennials such as cranesbill (Erodium), heuchera, hellebore, and hosta. If you are searching for something to grow under an oak tree, for example, Gamble Garden is the perfect place to get some great ideas.

The Hedges
Although the garden was in riotous full bloom, I was most impressed with the perfectly trimmed boxwood (Buxus) hedges that surrounded many of the formal beds. Traditionally, hedges were used to punctuate small areas such as herb or kitchen gardens and were surrounded by gravel paths. Sometimes a hedge would surround a statue or ornament for emphasis.

Maintaining a hedge is not for everybody. It takes a steady hand and constant vigilance to keep a hedge looking tidy. I know a fellow in Mountain View who loves trimming his hedges and shapes them into fanciful designs such as hearts and waves. He says clipping the hedge is his "therapy."

How-To Hedge
A well trimmed hedge is wider at the base than at the top. This allows sunlight to reach the bottom portion of the plants. The height should be uniform, which can be accomplished by setting up string guides to follow. Clippers and shears should be sharp to avoid damaging the branches and foliage, and clean to prevent the spread of disease. Trimmed material should not be allowed to remain on the plant but should be gently removed from the surface with a spring rake and then composted.

Boxwood, one of the most commonly used plants for hedges, is relatively slow growing and requires ample water. It will thrive in either sun or shade. Special care should be taken to fertilize regularly with an organic product such as cotton seed meal or liquid fish. Never use a fertilizer high in nitrogen on hedges. High nitrogen products will promote a burst of tender growth and weaken the plants. Keeping the hedge clean underneath will eliminate hiding places for insect pests.

If you would like to see the art of hedging for yourself, I heartily recommend a visit to Gamble Gardens located at 1431 Waverly Street, Palo Alto, 94301 or visit their excellent web site at

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