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GHI members and visitors will remember this main entrance to the office on Hamilton Place, where old, overgrown Junipers encroached on the doorway and were then sheared back with electric tools.

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This is the view leaving the building’s other entrance, with lots of needle-browning and branch die-off caused by shearing – the type of pruning that’s fast but unfortunately, ultimately unsightly in its result.

So, four of us members of GHI’s Task Force on Yard Solutions for a 21st Century Garden City volunteered to help re-do the landscape in this highly visible but problematic area, with Junipers not just scratching passersby but also making the entrances too hidden and unsafe-feeling for female staffers leaving the building at night. A true garden dilemma.

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Here we are meeting with general manager Eldon Ralph – a very knowledgeable gardener himself – to discuss possible remedies and redesign. From left, Nancy Newton, Rachel Channon, and Annie Shaw.
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Existing Junipers

The solution we came up with started with removing altogether (with the help of an excavating backhoe) the Junipers closest to the sidewalk. But that left another problem – the Junipers next to the ones removed had LOTS of dead parts, caused by their having been shaded by the removed Junipers.
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Ugh!

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So all the dead parts had to be removed, resulting in a more sculptural-looking shrub. Next spring there may be some new growth along those bare trunks, now that they’ll be getting plenty of light. (I asked a bunch of experts and the answer was  –  maybe.)  But not to worry – new shrubs will largely hide the bare Juniper trunks.

(Here’s an update – four years later the Junipers look like bonsai and they’re beautiful!)

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Stepping back, here’s one of the garden beds with a couple of Junipers removed and plenty of room for new plants, mostly ones that will flower! Here are the new plants we installed this month.

New Flowering (Leaf-Dropping) Shrubs

Ninebark


Two ‘Ginger Wine’ Ninebarks,
 which are native to this region. They have purple leaves and in the spring, pinkish flowers. They grow fast, and we like how the purple leaves will contrast with the green Junipers.

‘Ogon’ Spirea


Five ‘Ogon’ Spireas
. They have chartreuse, willow-like leaves and white flowers in the spring. Another contrasting leaf color.

New Evergreen Shrubs

Two Golden Mop’ Threadleaf False Cypress we chose for the yellow leaf color to contrast with the deep green of the Junipers. (Shown with the perennial Coreopsis.)

New Perennials

From left: Butterfly Weed, Catmint, Black-Eyed Susans, Phlox, White Coneflower

Except for the Butterfly Weed, all the perennials were either divisions from elsewhere around the building, or donated by members and even a nonmember (News Review editor Mary Lou Williamson) at great savings to GHI! They’re also very low-maintenance, needing no fertilizers or pesticides and virtually no supplemental watering after their roots are established (which takes roughly one season). They are:

Black-Eyed Susans, a native and the Maryland State Flower.  This cheerful long-bloomer is so popular in Old Greenbelt, it’s almost our signature plant.

Purple Coneflower, another native, has very long-lasting blooms that we’ll leave up in the fall for the goldfinches that love their seedheads.

Garden Phlox. also native, blooms in a variety of colors – and we won’t know until next season which colors we have.

Low Catmint has dark lavender-blue flowers.

Butterfly Weed (Aesclepias tuberosa) is a great native perennial for pollinators, and fast-growing too! (In just its second year in this garden it reached full size.)

Coreopsis is a drought-tolerant native perennial for sun, also loved by pollinators. (Seen above with False Cypress.)

Liriope is an evergreen groundcover we’ve taken divisions of from other places around the building to line the edge of the planted area. It’ll fill in fast.

New Bulbs

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We chose spring-blooming bulbs that are long-lasting and generally critter-proof – daffodils (Dutch Master, February Gold and others) and Grape Hyacinth.

December 2018 View

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All the new phase-one plants are in the ground, which we’ve then covered with GHI’s own free wood chips as mulch. (They’re available for pick up behind the office building during office hours. More free wood chips are available near the mulch pile on Northway.)

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The new shrubs don’t look like much yet, so please scroll back up to see what they’ll look like after a season or two of growth. Fortunately for us, the donated perennials are already full size and ready to look their best next year.

April 2018 View

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July 2022 View

From foreground: Nepeta, Butterfly Weed, ‘Ogon’ Spirea, Ninebark, and existing Junipers.

Sustainability of the Garden

It’s important to all of us these days (finally!) but what does sustainability mean for a commercial landscape like this?

Is it self-sustaining? The garden is very nearly self-sustaining because it’s designed to need very little maintenance. It achieves that with plants that need NO supplemental watering after they’ve become established and no inputs of any kind (no fertilizer or pesticides). The primary maintenance needed is for the contracted landscaping crew (not employees of GHI) to continue to edge around the borders with their string trimmers. Even after all the groundcover fills in completely, there will always be a few weeds to remove. And some of the perennials will spread where they’re not wanted – too close to the sidewalk or lawn, for instance – and need to be kept in bounds by digging up some of the new ones.

Does it do no harm? No pesticides are used here. Weeding is by hand (and trowel).

Does it use what’s already there? One great feature of the garden is its pruned-up Junipers that look like bonsai, something that’s often commented on. What looks like there was careful pruning-up, though, was actually just the removal of all dead parts.Experts had warned (in comments to this story) that all the old Junipers should be moved because they not only looked bad but harbored trash, rodents and thieves. I guess that might have been the case but with the old dead parts removed and the inner structure revealed, there’s nothing hidden to fear.

The present garden also uses all of the existing Rudbeckias (Black-eyed Susans).

Increasingly, free wood chips (from GHI’s back lot) are used here as mulch instead of bagged products.

Does it provide for wildlife? You bet! Native perennials in the garden include not just Rudbeckias (Maryland’s State Flower) but also Coneflower, Garden Phlox, Butterfly Weed, Coreopsis and, at the building’s far end, dozens of Milkweed. The two nonnative perennials – Nepeta and Sedum – are also beloved by bees.

Shrubs providing spring flowers for pollinators plus structure for year-round habitat include the native Ninebark and the nonnative ‘Ogon’ Spirea. That’s in addition to the Junipers.

Does it provide other eco-services? All the plants here, to varying degrees, filter air pollutants, sequester carbon, retain and filter stormwater and prevent erosion. Shrubs also provide habitat and structure for birds. Another benefit often considered an eco-services is “improving occupants’ mental, physical, and well-being,” and this garden certainly does that for people who work in and visit this building.

Now it’s a Pocket Garden!

In 2019 the Woodlands Committee of GHI created a program for encouraging volunteers to adopt (volunteer to be caretakers for) public lands within the community, calling the Caretaker Program for Woodlands and Pocket Gardens.  Signs like the one above were installed wherever member-volunteers have officially volunteered to care for the garden.

Thanks for the Donations!

We thank these members for the many plants they’ve donated for this garden: Luisa Robles, Suzette Agans, Laura Moore, Beth Leamond, Annie Shaw, and Nancy Newton. Nonmember Mary Lou Williamson also purchased some Sedums to donate to the cause.

We can also thank John Scheepers Bulb Co. for the large box of bulbs they sent me in hopes that I’ll write about them, which I will.