My visit to a home on King George Drive in Guilford College recently illuminated a design concept for me – that of giving “specimen” plants proper space. The homeowner’s layout includes several unusual conifers, each with their own dramatic scene.

Were you to drive down King George past the home, you’d first take notice of the large Southern Magnolia that she has limbed up in order to reclaim the space beneath it and reveal the multi-trunk loveliness that supports this tree. This pruning technique has also allowed for a surprisingly strong stand of lawn surrounding the magnolia. Large trees can usurp the moisture needed for grass, but these two coexist peacefully.


This Cedrus atlantica Glauca Pendula, or Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, has been staked to highlight its gracefully weeping charm.





As I was escorted into the back yard, the first of her container compositions came into view. Her designs decorate and soften hardscapes and provide focal points around the patio and walkways. Her use of solar lights also illustrates how to creatively light the garden – not just on the ground.

The positioning of this Weeping Norway Spruce allows for its eventual mature size and habit. You can also see here how judicious she is with her placement of other shrubs and perennials – decidedly uncrowded.



Just past the Norway Spruce is a weeping Japanese Maple – perhaps a Crimson Queen or Tamukeyama. Here the garden shed comes into view.






Speaking of focal points, the path to the shed in the distance meanders to include it as the destination, with garden delights to be appreciated along the way. The pine in the left foreground offers a strong anchor to the other plants that line the path, and on this sunny afternoon the upright Japanese Maple shows off its fall foliage against the blue sky.


Crape Myrtle proper form

Backing up to take in the path view from the patio, you can also appreciate this mature Crape Myrtle, showing off its cinnamon bark and demonstrating how lovely these small trees are when not butchered by topping.

Weeping Larch




It took me a moment to ID this “Cousin It” lookalike, but the important clue was that it’s a deciduous conifer – there aren’t a lot of those – Larix decidua ‘Pendula’. She has placed 4 different weeping specimens in a row – admittedly a long row, but to allow them all to shine and satisfy they each have just enough negative space between them. 

How and why to stake weeping trees – One quick note about weeping trees – they need to be staked up to the point at which you want them to weep. If you plant a 4′ tall specimen and don’t stake it further, it will weep from 4′, which can be a problem if the branches are 6′ long, for example. When to stake is now – in the fall, before this year’s growth becomes hardened. Take the most supple and most central leader, and stake it up to the next level. Repeat as needed until you’re satisfied that you’ll end up with the form you expect. Multiple stakes can be used at multiple points around the plant as well. 


Looking across the back yard to another structure – a shed/greenhouse combo – a Colorado Blue Spruce announces itself, with a drift of Pink Muhly Grass in full fall display. But what’s inside that greenhouse, I wondered?




The next 6 photos reveal its contents – fantastic ferns, succulents, and cacti, all moved indoors just the day before my visit as cold overnight temps threatened:


Having satisfied that curiosity, we headed back up to the house and the uniquely-designed patio. Her hardscapes have evolved over time, adding structures and accents to her outdoor space. 

Fall colors in the distance offer a satisfying contrast to the stone and charcoal-colored foreground elements.





A collection of sun faces adorns the fence.




More of her container designs, demonstrating how to use grasses, herbs and shrubs in multi-colored planters:


One more intriguing specimen – a Dimorphotheca ecklonis, also known as Cape Marguerite Daisy or Osteospermum – native to South Africa, enjoying the microclimate of this protected backyard, and denying its usual classification as an annual for us here in Zone 7.

This year’s forays into some of 27410’s best gardens has reinforced how gardeners love to show off their gardens to others who appreciate the specifics of plants and how they’re arranged to create the special feeling each gardener is after.

Now accepting applications for the winter batch of candidates – will it be your yard, or maybe a friend or neighbor? The application is here on the Classes & Events section of our website. I can’t wait to visit!