How to best welcome a “newcomer” to your outdoor landscape

Readers with a keen memory may recall a column from last spring on “garden ornamentation” – basically stuff like wind chimes, windsocks, whirling gigs, birdbaths, etc

These are the one-dimensional pieces of plywood cut to look like an overweight woman leaning forward.

I explained that in my opinion, outdoor artwork that you find attractive adds a strong visual “zing” to the landscape; whether with permanent foundation plantings or seasonal gardening – almost everywhere.

Today’s column takes up the theme, but with plants.

Bear with me for a second because this takes some explaining.

Let’s call the new addition the “newcomer”.

Adding visual freshness is as simple as introducing something different to your landscape that grabs attention because it differs from existing plants in shape, size, color, texture, etc. Here is an easy comparison. Growing up in Midland, many homes were landscaped with a combination of juniper and yew, two hardy conifers with a variety of shapes and colors of green. Our house was and although it looked good, it was boring.

Now add a newcomer and it’s a visual game-changer. Include a dwarf forsythia or a dwarf lilac or perhaps a red twig dogwood of any combination and the current planting gets a dramatic visual change. This is due to the foliage, shape, flowering and other characteristics of the newcomer. What is mixed should have the same light, soil and water requirements as the existing planting.

That’s the general idea but let’s move on to something more dramatic.

The selection of all kinds of plants – trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables, ornamental grasses – has led to a vast assortment of choices for use in our gardens and landscapes. While researching this, I learned that this practice began perhaps 9,000 years ago. The breeding I write about now is largely genetic breeding, or more deliberate plant crossings.

Please stay with me.

Nature does something similar and probably always has. And it’s different. It is called a genetic mutation when abnormal growth appears without explanation and without a specific reason. It just happens. This is called “sports”. And horticulturists frequently discover them and if it appears that the sport has commercial value, they will propagate it by cuttings.

And that brings me to another way to add vegetal punch to your landscape or garden – with a descendant of something that started out as a mutation and in this case, the weeping Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Pendulum’).

I have two in my landscape – outside my office window (see photo) and in a backyard berm. I love it because of its color, character and small size compared to a regular spruce which can easily grow to 60 feet in 20 years. The spruce tree in the photo was about four feet tall when it was planted 10 years ago and is now perhaps nine feet tall.

Two years ago, the top had two prongs going in opposite directions and looked a lot like the horns of a Viking helmet. Then the right horn decided it wanted to curve down and did so as the left horn continued skyward.

I asked many friends what they thought of it and I have to consider it ugly or too weird for their liking.

It’s not because you don’t like my sport spruce, know that sport brought us the Anjou red pear and nectarine (a sport peach) and many others.

And that’s what I mean by adding spice to your garden or landscape with a newcomer that brings a new look and freshness to the landscape.

Ed Hutchison writes a weekly column In the Garden with Ed for the Midland Daily News. He can be reached at

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