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Garden Design: Columnar Plants

Native punctuation points!

native columnar plant eastern red cedar
Eastern red cedar 'Taylor' in author Ken Druse's garden (photo by Ken Druse)

Whether you call them verticals or punctuation points, garden designers say tall narrow plants can greatly enhance the visual interest of your garden. This past fall, I had the chance to listen to gardener and prolific author Ken Druse speak about gardening as part of a "virtual garden club." I was pretty excited about it because Ken was, coincidentally, the author of the first gardening book I ever read - the Natural Shade Garden. I had just begun to garden and received the book as a gift. I soaked up every word. That book is now out of print and Ken has written many books since including a newer book on the same subject, the "New Shade Garden," and his most recent "The Scentual Garden."

During the virtual garden club, Ken gave this intriguing pitch for punctuation points in the garden. From the photos he shared, we learned he has an awe inspiring zone 6 garden in New Jersey with many ornamental plants and natives too. Check out his instagram posts here and here to get a feel for the glory of his garden and his use of plants as punctuation points in his garden design.

Now is the perfect time to view your "winter garden" with fresh eyes as perennials have mostly died back and leaves on deciduous plants are almost all fallen. I don't know about you but for me, by the time January rolls around, I am pretty used to our winter garden as it is and it is harder to identify where more structure is needed. Now though, the bare look is newly revealed. If we were to look at a current photo of Ken's eastern red cedar above in winter, it might well be the only plant with presence in that spot. Evergreen structure can really define your garden in winter months not to mention providing needed shelter for birds.

Two cultivars of the eastern red cedar (Juniperis virginiana) provide that very narrow structure Ken Druse recommends. The Eastern red cedar 'Blue Arrow' (Juniperus virginiana 'Blue Arrow') grows to 15 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The Taylor red cedar (Juniperis virginiana 'Taylor') grows to 20 feet tall and 4 feet wide. This post from a couple of weeks ago has much more detail on eastern red cedars and where to find cultivars.

Our garden is more of a run on sentence -- no punctuation points yet but I'm going to get something tall, like a stake or broom, and place it in different locations to envision where a columnar plant or two might work.

Thanks to Ken for his expertise, photo and inspiration. Ken is helping us all to garden for the Chesapeake!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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