Garden of only trees, shrubs is stunning by any measure

Erin Schanen

Every gardener recognizes the importance of trees and shrubs in the landscape for the structure they provide year-round, season after season. And that’s how many of us think of them, as the bones, but perhaps not the flesh, of a garden.

But Dale Deppe has created an expansive garden created exclusively of shrubs and trees, which are not just a backdrop, but also the features and fluffs of a captivating space.

I recently visited Deppe’s garden in Grand Haven, Mich., and spent hours meandering through its wide grass paths that serve as the guide to many dozens of island beds. Interesting evergreens — Deppe is clearly a conifer enthusiast — provided much of the color on my early spring visit, but magnolias and flowering plum trees provided all the floral interest.

Many shrubs had not been pruned yet (and others simply don’t need pruning), and their dried flowerheads, still left from last season, provided gorgeous texture and interest.

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) was particularly stunning, providing a haze of airy, gray flowers that perfectly captured the light. A large grouping of them was so good looking that I would plant it just for that moment. They were due to be pruned at any moment to make way for fresh foliage and white panicles of flowers with a sweet scent that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds but not deer.

Groupings of shrubs was a key design element, with a single variety planted in swaths in the same way you’d plant perennials but on a larger scale.

Of course any gardener’s mind immediately goes to the budgetary conundrum of planting shrubs en masse, given that an average shrub costs about three times as much as a one-gallon perennial. Deppe has a clever way of managing that. He’s the founder and president of Spring Meadow Nursery, which is responsible for breeding and developing shrubs in the Proven Winners ColorChoice program as well as other shrubs. So that explains his hedge of Incrediball aborescens hydrangeas along the entrance and the border of what has to be hundreds of Invincibelle Limetta hydrangeas that border a natural swampy area.

I met Deppe in the garden pruning another large group of Hydrangea macrophylla. Although there is plenty of help in this enormous garden that also serves as a display area for the nursery’s shrubs, he said he didn’t trust anyone else not to accidentally prune off flower buds. The garden, he said, is about 25 years old, but very few plants in it are that old because he’s constantly changing things and has no tolerance for underperformers.

As I looked at a pile of pruning in an otherwise meticulous garden, I couldn’t help but think about how low-maintenance a garden full of shrubs would be. Certainly pruning is a large task, and I imagine the spring work is substantial, but beyond that it would mostly take care of itself.

The result is a stunning garden full of texture, form and color even in early spring. In fact, the only thing it didn’t have was a single perennial, and unless you went looking for them you’d probably never miss them.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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