Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Landscaping Made Easy, Part 7: Pyramidal holly cultivars

This post is one in a series intended to provide some landscaping ideas for Centerpointe residents who may wish to improve their back yard privacy and resulting property values, but who may not know which plants would be best suited to our upper Texas near-coastal climate and our tiny back yards.

REVISION:  This post was revised a day after initial publication following receipt of additional information about the cultivar in question. 

The tag line for this entry should be "Other Peoples' Plants".  This is the first time I'm diverting from my own landscaping assemblage in order to describe another Centerpointe resident's yard - one that I really think represents a wonderful job - easy, dramatic impact, zero maintenance, not overdone, and effective for privacy. 

Just look at the impact as seen from the yard behind it:
Let's first look at the yard in which I was standing when I took this pic.  I bet you winced and said "Yuck!!" upon seeing this totally non-cozy yard in the foreground here.  Someone took the time and money to put in a nice pool - but only half-did the job, leaving that pool garnished with only two exposed utility boxes and one hell of an ugly fence.  Would you really want to swim with nothing but a hulking transformer staring at you?  Doesn't that conjure up images of water-borne electrocution?  I've seen Motel 6 pools that look more inviting than this.

And yes - arguably this property in the foreground went for a low price the last time it sold (I know these buyers so I know what they paid).  With a back yard that looks like that, what could those previous sellers have realistically expected in the way of a sale here??  They took a financial hit, by their own faults.  And that then translated into a comparable sale ("comp") that reinforced lower property values for the rest of us

Now look at the yard behind the one in which I'm standing.  Look at those trees!!  WOW!!!!  What a contrast!!
I was so impressed with those trees that I went to this adjacent owner, knocked on their front door, and said, "Hi!! I'm your nosy neighborhood blogger!  Can you please tell me what cultivar is in your back yard??"

Unfortunately for me, the current owners were not the original owners who had put in this landscaping, and they did not know what kind of tree that is. 

It seems almost certain that at least two of the three trees visible in the photo above are holly cultivars.
It's got the characteristic leaf shape and bright red berries.
I originally thought that these were Foster's holly (Ilex x attenuata 'fosteri'). 
Smaller examples of Foster's holly
screengrabbed from this Auburn University website
But judging by the photographs above, Daniel at Maas Nursery in Seabrook suggests that they are Savannah holly (Ilex x attenuata 'Savannah').  So apparently I was correct on the species but not the cultivar (according to USDA, there are 39 holly species grown in America, but their system doesn't immediately account for different cultivars). 
Savannah holly pic screengrabbed from the cache of an expired domain name.  I thought this was an interesting pic because the guy is holding a measuring stick to emphasize just how tall they are.  And yet they are not very wide or heavy, which makes them great options for Centerpointe.  Furthermore if you look at that example at photo right, it looks like they will display nice straight trunks should you decide to "raise their skirts" (prune them up). 
This Forest Service Fact Sheet says that Savannah holly can get 30 to 45 feet tall, but only 6 to 10 feet wide.  That makes them very suitable for a small yard.  For comparison, the average Centerpointe two-story home is probably between 25 and 35 feet high at the roof peak.  That means that Savannah holly would be on scale with the closely-spaced houses, without growing into huge dominating things that would not look right in our restricted yard areas. 

Other internet resources note that they can add about 3 feet per year in height.  This is something that residents may want to contemplate if they are inclined to conclude, "Oh, we've only lived here for two years, so we haven't gotten around to planting anything in our yard yet."  If this tree were your choice, with two years of inactivity, you'd be forfeiting about six feet of gain on a tree that you might install at six to ten feet of height to start with.  Two years of planting inactivity therefore means the difference between "privacy" and "no privacy" in your back yard. 

Back to this Centerpointe example property.  This previous owner knew what they were doing when they developed their backyard landscaping plan:
Note that there's a long shadow being cast by the deck canopy (white object) such that the back yard looks shallower than it actually is.  These trees only consume about 20% of the available space, leaving a very open feel even while establishing a privacy screen and adding considerable dimension and interest.

Note also that this previous owner did not spend a lot of money or create a big maintenance headache for themselves here.  These trees aren't even set in mulch beds.  Furthermore, they are evergreen, so no big leaf-raking burden. 

Screengrab from Googlemaps.
As for sourcing information for Savannah holly, Maas Nursery does report that they have them in stock, as well as similar cultivars such as East Palatka holly and Nellie R. Stevens holly.  I found a listing for the latter at Lowes hardware store, but remember that if you shop sales, you can often do considerably better than regular retail prices.  I will try to find additional sourcing information for these things in the near future. 
Same Centerpointe hollies as seen from a different angle.
Note that you don't totally have to create a solid imposing "wall" of trees in order to achieve the desired "living fence" effect of dimension, vertical impact, and privacy. 

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