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Leafy green plants make great window coverings

Do you have windows that face outward toward a view that you would rather not see?  Perhaps it is the view of the house next door or a bare wall, or maybe you need some protection from the sun. To solve this problem, have you ever considered using plants in place of curtains?

In my garden, I have east-facing windows, which heat the house early in the day. When our home was being built, I designed the landscape so that there were plants placed in front of those windows. 

Why would I put plants in front of these windows you may wonder? Well, I needed some sort of shelter from the sun, but I didn’t want curtains that would block my view of the garden, so I chose to add Mexican bird-of-paradiseThis yellow-flowering shrub can be pruned into a small tree, which is what I have done, which still allows me to view the garden beyond while providing some protection from the sun’s rays.

A few years ago, I was working with a client who was an interior designer who had employed this same strategy for adding beauty while shielding her windows from the sun. She had decided that instead of curtains for her windows, she wanted ‘natural, green’ window coverings.

This is the view from her living room where the lush green foliage from the ‘Orange Jubilee’ create interesting shadows inside and she can enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by beautiful plants, even while indoors.

To achieve this, she planted a row of ‘Orange Jubilee’ (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’) shrubs in front of her windows.
Here is another example of using plants in place of curtains. A single hop bush shrub creates a lovely green screen that protects this west-facing window from the blistering afternoon sun.
Have you ever tried using plants instead of curtains?

Earlier this week, I was stopped at an intersection when I noticed the sad plants on the corner.

I apologize for the poor-quality photo, but I only had a few seconds to take a picture with my phone through the window.

What was so sad about these plants was that they were mere shadows of themselves.

Many people would be hard pressed to recognize the over-pruned specimens above to what they look like when allowed to grow into their more natural shapes.

Here are photos of the same type of tree, taller shrub and cupcake shape shrub growing in happier  circumstances…


The small mushroom-topped tree is actually a Palo Brea tree (Parkinsonia praecox), which has a beautiful shape.  The trunk is beautiful as it twists upward.

Unfortunately, the flowering shrubs underneath it have fallen victim to over-pruning.


The taller shrub from the ‘sad’ plant photo is a Yellow (Mexican) Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana).  

It can be grown as a small tree or tall shrub.  


Yellow flowers appear off and on throughout the year.  However, I doubt that the over-pruned Yellow Bird-of-Paradise is ever able to produce a single flower before it is pruned off.


Can you believe that the cupcake-shaped shrub in the first photo is actually the same kind as this gorgeous flowering shrub?

Perhaps more then any other type of desert shrub, those that belong to the family Leucophyllum (often referred to as Texas Ranger or Sage) are pruned into balls, squares, cupcakes and even disks.

Unfortunately, due to a badly designed landscape, the lower shrubs don’t have enough room to grow. A single tree would have plenty of room to be able to grow, but not two.

A better plan would have been for there to be a single Palo Brea tree with 3 Texas Sage shrubs along the wall.  The groundcover, Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum) works okay in this area.

**You know what is interesting about this small piece of landscape and countless others?  It would cost so much less if people would allow enough room for plants to grow to their full size, not to mention much more attractive.

There would be FEWER PLANTS to purchase, LESS WATER needed and far LESS MAINTENANCE required.

It makes you think about why people over-plant and over-prune, doesn’t it?

For more information on how to properly prune shrubs, check out my previous post, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

If you would like to see more badly pruned trees along with a link to how to properly prune trees, check out “Scary Pruning Practices and the Unfortunate Results.”


The other day, I was driving home from a landscape consult and as usual – I was on the lookout for examples of good and bad landscaping.

This particular day, I saw some great examples that  I would love to share with you.  

First the good…

 Isn’t this landscape grouping, attractive?

There is great texture and color.

The Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) is one of my favorite flowering shrubs, which can be trained as small trees – I have 3 at home.

The spiky foliage of the Red Yucca help to provide contrast with the softer edges of the tree and Lantana.

Speaking of which, you cannot beat Lantana for summer color.

Here is another good example of landscaping…


Although, the Texas Sage, above, is planted a bit too close together, the homeowner has solved the problem by pruning them back severely to approximately 1 ft. using loppers.  Notice that they did NOT use hedge shears or trimmers, which is a good thing!

What this does is to keep the shrubs within bounds, but since they weren’t sheared, the flowers and natural shape of the shrubs can be enjoyed.

You can really tell the difference when you see the photo below from the house next door – which is a bad example by the way…

The same shrubs, planted too close together.  But, the homeowner elected to shear them back with hedge-trimmers.  
The flowers and absence of the shrubs natural shape make these look like green ‘cones’.
Finally, I saw this really bad example of landscaping… 

Isn’t this terrible?
Believe it or not, this is a Mesquite tree that has been ‘poodled’ – meaning sheared into a round shape.
Pruning trees this way is very unhealthy for them for many reasons:
– Shearing trees actually stimulates excess growth meaning that you will need to prune them more often then a properly pruned tree.
– Sunlight has difficulty penetrating the interior, which can lead to the eventual death of interior branches.
– New branches will grow at a ‘weak’ angle, which makes them more susceptible to breakage.
These are but a few of the reason of why not to ‘shear’ or ‘top’ trees.
**How about you?  What examples of good and bad landscaping have you seen this summer?
You can learn more about why it’s wrong to ‘top’ trees in this article from the International Society of Arboriculture.

It may seem odd to refer to colorful flowers as friends, but that is what I think of the blooms of my red bird-of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) shrubs.

They are located beneath my kitchen window and this time of year, the blooms have just begun to reach up to the window.  What is even better is that the first blooms of the season are just beginning to open.

 
The bright yellow, orange and red flowers brighten up my day as I work in the kitchen.
 
Many visitors and new residents ask me about this beautiful shrub.  It really is stunning in the summer landscape.
Native to tropical America, Red Bird-of-Paradise is grown throughout southern areas of the United States, the Caribbean and has been brought to India and the Philippines.  It thrives in areas with heat and sun.
 
Depending on where you live, this is one shrub that has a multitude of common names….
 
Pride of Barbados
Dwarf Poinciana
Red Bird-of-Paradise
Mexican Bird-of-Paradise
Peacock Flower
 
In areas with warm winters, this shrub is evergreen.  However, during the winter in my zone 8b garden, my shrubs go dormant and are cut back to 1ft. from the ground.  This may seem somewhat like severe pruning when it is done each year, but it ensures beautiful shrubs in late spring.  Cold hardy to zone 8a, they can be killed to the ground when temperatures fall into the teens.
 The foliage is also quite beautiful and grows back very quickly in the spring after pruning.
 
Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to the beautiful flowers.  I have seen some shrubs absolutely covered with butterflies in September.
 
 
 Plant in full sun or filtered shade.  Shrubs planted in the shade will have reduced flowering and sparser foliage and so I recommend planting in full sun.
 
Their size varies from 3 ft. by 3 ft. all the way to 10 ft. to 10 ft., so make sure you have room for it to grow.  In desert gardens, they do require regular irrigation.  
 
I have planted many of these shrubs in both commercial and residential landscapes with great results.  They are not fussy in the least.  My shrubs are now 11 years old and have never been fertilized or the soil amended.
 
There is another variety is called ‘Phoenix Bird’, which has distinct yellow flowers (not to be confused with Caesalpinia mexicana).  I used this variety when I designed the landscape for my in-laws.
 
 
 Whatever you decide to call this beautiful shrub, it is just perfect for me…..it is beautiful and does not require a lot of work to make it look that way.
 
 
 I am so happy that my summer friends have returned 🙂