Filling Upright Narrow Areas

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts 

By Dan Songster, 2011 May

This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information  on many things related to gardening with natives. The question for this Issue: Which native do you find performs best up against walls and fences -basically in upright, narrow areas?

Beth Nelson – For me, Carpenteria californica is doing that job really well.  In April it will put any white rose to shame! Grows pretty fast too. Also good with some clipping is Myrica californica. And the leaves smell good when crushed.

Laura Camp – Two that I’ve used in my garden—Symphoricarpos mollis, Snowberry, makes a beautiful hedge that can be kept trimmed in a narrow space, about waist high.  If you want to go taller, then Philadelphus lewisii, Mock-Orange, can get about 8 feet high and stays in place with pruning.  Both plants are winter deciduous.

Bob Allen – I’m going to go with a vine, Anacapa Pink morning glory, Calystegia macrostegia. It trains well up a trellis, is a prolific bloomer, and is easy to maintain.

Dick Newell – Some of our native bryophytes would be nice, particularly if the wall or walkway was shaded and had a little moisture available.

Dori Ito – Don’t have any personal successes to relate, but was impressed with the Galvezia trained on a trellis in someone else’s west facing wall and hope to replicate that in my own.

Rob Moore – My choice for a good performer for narrow beds in proximity to walls and fences would be Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red’. Short list of attributes: adaptable, great autumn color, fast growing, good habitat plant, cool flaky cinnamon color bark, and  you can make jelly and juice from the fruit. You gotta love it!

Celia Kutcher – I’ve trained a toyon into an upright multi-trunk small tree in the 5-ft-wide space between the driveway & fence. It was chosen for upright form in 1-gallon, then very selectively trained & shaped while young. Now, around a decade old & about 15 feet tall, it gets minor thinning & shaping—so it won’t hang over the driveway too much—and removal of basal sprouts 2-3 times a year. It would be interesting to espalier Galvesia speciosa &/or Keckiella cordifolia—too bad I don’t have good places to try it….

Greg Rubin – Without question, Cercocarpos betuloides blancheae (C. alnifolius). Island Mountain Mahogany – large (up to 4″) leaves, 4′ wide, 8-12′ tall. Use it all the time for these situations. Can also use Forestiere neomexicana (New Mexico Olive).  Narrow, upright habit. Beautiful white bark. Easily held to under 4′ wide.

Brad Jenkins – Vitis californica: This one requires a strong trellis and regular pruning to stay in  a narrow spot. On the plus side, it grows quickly, takes minor sun to full sun, provides dense coverage, and can be manipulated to fill in all sorts of different heights and shapes. Birds love the fruit, the feelers and fruit and leaves are edible, and winter pruning is easy since the plant is deciduous.

Thea Gavin – A chain-link fence runs fifty feet across the back of our yard; against it grows three floppy and silvery California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and two coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), which are a little more soldier-like in their uprightness. All of these shrubs have grown taller than the six-foot fence; all have responded well (so far) to some fairly severe pruning to keep them going up and sideways, instead on onto the perimeter path. The birds seem to love the tangles of branches . . . and I love watching the birds.

Dan Songster – Holly-leafed Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) can be sheared or pruned into a pretty narrow hedge from 4 to 8 feet high (or taller). Surprisingly, Jojoba (Simmondsia chinense) also takes well to pruning and can fit into tight spots.


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