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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mid-century landscaping: shrubs and trees

After the success of posts on authentic mid-century houseplants and perennials for the yard, some discussion of trees and shrubs that look great with MCM homes is certainly in order. If you like any of the suggestions in this post, you can discuss them with your local landscaping expert to find out if they do well in your area.

I'll start with nandina, also known as Heavenly Bamboo, because I love it and because I'm literally surrounded  by it! It is planted in a U-shape around my patio, and I'm reasonably certain it has been there since the house was built in 1950 or soon thereafter. In the summer, the leaves are green and the shrubs are covered with clumps of bright green berries. During the winter months, many of the leaves (and all, in the case of  some young plants) will turn purple, and the berries will become bright red. My nandina is well over six feet tall and is very dense, providing complete privacy on the patio...and providing a pair of cardinals the perfect place to raise a family every year. When I was growing up, everyone I knew had nandina in their yard.

Bamboo is a stunning backdrop for a mid-century home, often planted on the perimeter of the property, but it can spread quickly and become invasive. If bamboo is what you want, it's best to plant the clumping variety, instead of the running rhizome type. The clumping variety is much easier to control.

Japanese red maple displays red foliage all summer, which becomes even brighter red in the fall, making it a spectacular focal point for a landscape. It is very common to see them here in a small rock garden near the front of a house.

Another good specimen tree is the cedar.  A theme in mid-century landscaping seems to be a ruggedness, and several small varieties of cedar fit that description perfectly. Cedars have rough bark and twisted branches and can be trained to shapes.

Nandina behind the boxwood shrubs on my patio

Nandina domestica in winter

Landscaping with a stand of bamboo and rock

Black bamboo

Landscaping with Japanese maple

Japanese red maple

Landscaping with cedar trees

Close-up of Eastern red cedar


  1. Ahhh, the images just made me calm and happy. Thanks for sharing. Love the view of your patio and the neatly kept boxwoods, so mid-mod!

  2. We had all these plants at our house too!

    I also have experience with bamboo: Yes!! Never get something like golden bamboo and plant it in the ground. Over the years runners of the stuff have criss-crossed my whole backyard. A "clumper" like hedge bamboo works well.

    Japanese Maples are essential, and there are no spreading problems with Heavenly bamboo!

    Junipers are still common in my neighborhood, all originals from the 50's-early 60's when they were planted.

    Gee I'm glad to see someone who is talking about mid-century landscaping in my planting zone. That's fairly uncommon. Thanks Dana!

  3. @DearHelenHartman: It's that time of year when looking at pictures of landscaping makes us all realize there will be spring...someday. I woke up to another chilly, overcast day. Blah! And I'm headed out estate sale-ing all bundled up.

  4. @1950sarh: Yes, bamboo can be a nightmare here too. Occasionally my nandina (Heavenly Bamboo)will pop up a baby in some weird place, but I just dig it up and transplant it along the side of my carport, where I'm trying to get another stand started.

  5. Gorgeous patio! Japanese red maples have always been one of my favorites for landscaping. I've had nandina growing for years and when I move, I take a clump with me. The bright crimson on the berries in fall / winter bring a lot of color to grey skies.

  6. I love your patio and the black bamboo!

  7. @Krazy4Mod: I've had nandina at every house I've ever owned too...and at my parents' house before that. The beautiful red berries in winter make it a must-have for me.

  8. @SherryBaby and Ashly: If I sell this house, I think I'll miss the patio more than anything else. And doesn't that black bamboo look exotic? I have to find some.