Adding trees and shrubs to the garden

Published 12:18 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Column:  Carol Hegel Lang, Serendipity Gardens

As I was going through some of the recent garden photos that I have taken this year it occurred to me what an important part the trees and shrubs play in my gardens. When I was picking a photo to use with the article it was difficult to decide on just one as I have so many that I love. The decision to use the eastern white pine was an easy one as it graces the corner garden on my front yard and is something you can’t miss as you enter the gardens.

Carol Lang

Trees and shrubs not only add beauty and diversity to the gardens but they play a very important ecological role as well because they filter the air. They provide shade from the sun; can be used as a windbreak, shelter for birds and small animals, fruit, nuts and berries to eat and places for children to play. They can screen off areas that are not visually pleasing and of course provide lumber to build with.

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Every yard and garden should incorporate as many as they can fit without crowding them. When we bought the property to the south of us we put up a split-rail fence to go around the property to give us privacy but also to serve as a backdrop to the trees. And then we began planting trees.

The first trees added were the pines. With the eastern white pine being the largest of the three trees, we put it on the eastern end of the yard. The other two are Austrian and Scotch pines. The three of these give us privacy and although I have not seen any birds nest in them they are usually sitting in them waiting to be next in-line at the feeders.

Then I moved two weigelias that had been planted in whiskey barrels along the fence. They provide shelter for the birds at the feeders and have beautiful flowers in the spring that the hummingbirds love to gather nectar from. Also along this fence I planted a ‘tardiva’ hydrangea and dwarf Alberta spruce. This fence-line is full now and as everything has matured really looks very nice.

In June of 2004 we added along the west fence-line a broad border with three Colorado blue spruce which have matured nicely. In front of the three spruces we planted two dwarf Alberta spruce to fill in the gaps. I have a bird bath sitting in front of those and this year also added two planters with small sunflowers. This is an area where you will always find the birds as they sip water, bathe or find shelter against the elements or predators. This also provides privacy from rental property behind this line of trees and an alley.

Carol Hegel Lang took this photo of an eastern white pine in her yard.

When we took down the maple in the play area we added back in a red oak which is slow growing and a ‘diablo’ ninebark standard that will not get over about 10 feet high. This spring when I made the cutting garden, which sits in front of the Victorian garden, where the other two trees are planted, I added a weeping cherry to give a bit of privacy to this area. Also it has lovely flowers in the spring to add some visual interest to the area.

In the backyard we had to take down a magnificent old oak tree that provided shade to the yard from the hot sun as well as beauty in 1999. I had two understory trees planted under it; a pagoda dogwood and a Japanese maple that added so much beauty to the gardens as well as places to hang feeders for the birds. It was hard on these trees after the oak came down and they both suffered for many years adjusting to the bright sunlight but now they seem to be thriving. We also added two trees that we got from friends and we have never been able to identify either of them as they are quite nondescript trees but they provide shade, shelter and again places to hang birdfeeders. In the very northwest corner is an oak tree that came up from an acorn possibly from the oak tree that was in the yard before, it has really grown over the past five years and will become a large tree many years from now.

A pinky winky hydrangea and tiger eye sumac add beauty to the backyard and both of them give me a “wow factor” as you enter through the gate. I would love to add several more hydrangeas but just don’t have the room for them. All of these trees and shrubs add to the beauty of the gardens as well as shade, shelter and resting places for the birds.

I remember when we purchased our home back in 1968 and as we would drive down the tree-lined street with the trees forming a tunnel, it really added to the beauty of the street. Over the years the power company and city have trimmed the trees taking away some of the shade and nearly all of the beauty but they still are very important pieces in our landscape puzzle. If you haven’t invested in trees and shrubs for your landscape I urge you to do so in the future. Many dwarf varieties of trees are now on the market so they will fit into the smaller lot sizes we now have. Almost everyone can add some for visual interest as well as shade and shelter for birds.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum would be an excellent place for you to start your research as well as seeing the trees in person so you can better visualize it in your own yard or gardens. They have a wonderful variety of trees for our northern landscapes and hardiness zone. Why not make a trip up there this fall and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors.

“I hear the wind among the trees playing the celestial symphonies; I see branches downward bent, like keys of some great instrument.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Carol Hegel Lang is an Albert Lea resident and local green thumb. Her email is

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