Rethinking a Mature Garden: Tour with Laura Trowbridge 

Fine Gardening – Issue 210
Video: Fine Gardening and Laura Trowbridge

Author Laura Trowbridge got readers thinking about how to use annuals in Fine Gardening #177, then she showed us how to make changes as a garden matures in issue #210. After a photo shoot for her most recent article, she joined FG staff in her garden to talk about some of the big changes she made over the past year.  

‘Degroot’s Spire’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’, Zones 3–8), a tall, dramatic evergreen, had provided winter structure and textural contrast for Laura’s exuberant, tropical-inspired plant palette for years. But as it grew taller, it started to block views and made the garden feel hemmed in. Laura decided to remove it entirely and filled the space with sun-loving annuals. 

Another showy tree that Laura decided to cut back was Sunburst® honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Suncole’, Zones 4–9). It had looked good when it was young but was growing extremely quickly and starting to shade out other plants. It was cut down, but the stump was left a few feet tall to encourage new growth to emerge. By late summer a flush of bright new foliage had emerged, and Laura is planning to maintain this honeylocust as a cut-back shrub. 

Tiger Eyes® sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’, Zones 3–8) is a dwarf staghorn sumac cultivar that typically doesn’t get more than 6 feet tall and wide. Laura’s specimen was growing out over the edge of the border. A simple cutback encouraged fresh, upright new growth without the sprawl. 

Cutting down an established ‘Yellow Lantern’ magnolia (Magnolia ‘Yellow Lantern’, Zones 4–8) was a last-minute decision made just before a late-summer wedding that Laura and her husband hosted in the garden. As was the case with the Sunburst® honeylocust, the stump was left tall with the hope that the tree will push new growth from the base.  

In her article, Laura summed up her thoughts about editing a garden design over time: “Frankly, I like making changes and have found through experience that plants will rebound more quickly after a big change than you might imagine. Try not to get too attached to any particular plant or idea. At the end of each year, ask yourself if any of the basic building blocks of your garden could be changed. Would anything benefit from being cut back? Would it excite you to have a fresh start in one area of the garden?” 

To learn more about pruning, check out our Pruning Project Guide here.

 See more garden tours

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