Lights! Camera! Action! Am I a movie director or a gardener ?

By Web Editor

Editor's note: This entry was not written by me. It was submitted anonymously by a director who specializes in conifer gardens. The author has primarily worked on indie productions, often working with a low budget and local talent, creating scenes that rival professional films in beauty, color and grandeur. We can't wait to see the sequels!

Pinus bungeana (lacebark pine) is a character actor, ready to grab the leading role in summer

There are many parallels between a movie director and a gardener. Think of your garden as a movie set which has 365 different scenes to be viewed each year. Each daily scene must be planned, staged and completed, to ensure a year of viewing pleasure. Just as with a movie, you don't want every scene to be a high intensity “action sequence”. How about some quiet or romantic interludes? You certainly want to have something worth admiring each day of the year, especially your garden's most select vistas. There are days requiring a special view to celebrate an important occasion. Treat those dates as critical scenes, which require research, advance planning and special attention to put you in the running for your garden Oscar!

Tsuga canadensis var. pendula works well with a supporting cast of extras, including hostas, ferns and Brunnera

We'll jump into this garden movie mid-year, as summer is fully upon us. The new growth flush has finished, the conifers are now sharing the spotlight with others, yet still command attention. Their wide range of colors, textures, shapes and sizes make them an indispensable part of scene composition. If you, as director, are careful to provide the drainage (sometimes mounds or raised bed are a necessary part of the set) and the sunlight they require, they are generally reliable performers in summer and work well with other companion plants with similar cultural requirements. The weeping hemlock featured above underplays its role as the dominant character in the scene, allowing the supporting cast to shine in a shady location.

Larix kaemferi 'Pendula' and Picea pungens 'St. Mary's Broom' claim center stage in summer, assisted by supporting cast

You will need some character actors, stars, supporting cast, bit players and likely some “movie props” in your garden drama. Some of your potential actors might be high maintenance divas and you will have to decide if the effort is worth their contribution. Shapes, sizes, textures, and growth rate are important elements in the cast selection process. Just as actors must have “good chemistry” to successfully perform together, you must similarly pay attention to cultural requirements to achieve good outcomes as you mix your conifers with companion plants. Finally as part of your ongoing maintenance, you may find the need to retire some actors and bring in some promising new talent.

As the film rolls through the summer scenes, the conifers continue to add value and texture. Go out and view your own garden 'movie' and hone your directorial talents. Not all the at-home drama is playing on Netflix these days!

Pinus parvifloras ‘Tanima no yuki’ and ‘Kinpo’, Hylotelephium cauticola ‘Lidakense’ and Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Kokuryu'

In the late-summer shot above, the conifers provide a cooling influence to the more dramatic black mondo grass and pink-flowering sedum. All of these actors come to us from Japan, and the staging has been designed accordingly.

Coming to a blog near you in September: Autumn!

Pinus bungeana


Ron Elardo

This is a lovely garden with a very nice variety of plants. I have seen this garden. My guess is that the Director is Dennis Groh.

Steven Courtney

I thought it was Dennis and Carole Groh's Garden as well!!!

Kathleen Smith

Hello, I used to be a member but couldn’t participate. Currently, I am asking for help. I have 16 sick boxwoods that need to be replaced. They are in the south east full sun, and edge a bed of vinca and 3 rather large (over 6’) Chamaecyparis mops in zone 6. What evergreen can I plant to replace the boxwood? Thank you for your help.