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Using Plants To Create Outdoor Rooms

One landscape idea that's getting a lot of attention these days is outdoor rooms. More and more people are starting to enjoy the practical benefits of dividing their yards into discrete spaces.

There are many reasons to create outdoor rooms. You might want to entertain in one ar

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ea and sit and contemplate in another. One area might be for the kids or even pets, while the other is for cooking.

You might have a water feature in one spot and a fire pit in another. Sometimes you want to see from room to room; other times, you want to build walls and completely separate the rooms.

You can use almost any plant material to create your walls, or you can use more conventional fencing materials such as stone or wood. You can even use containers or sculptures.

I like the idea of using very vertical plants such as Hicks Yew or Buxus Graham Blandy -- a type of boxwood -- for wall material. Sky Pencil Holly (Ilex crenata) work well, too, but can get winter damage in cold dry winters north and west of Boston.

The following chart, created by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, shows you some plants well suited for use as room dividers. Always check to make sure that a plant you're interested in can be used in your zone, and make sure you have the right light and soil conditions for the plant. Also think about what plants might differentiate your yard from everyone else's. Look for unique specimens that will not only be the walls of your outdoor room, but a wonderful conversation piece as well. 

Deciduous trees


Common name Latin name Cultivars and Comments
Hedge maple Acer campestre Small tree
Japanese maple Acer palmatum Many cultivars; small tree
Norway maple Acer platanoides 'Columnar' -- tall and narrow
Red maple Acer rubrum 'Bowhall' -- narrow; fast growing
Freeman maple Acer x freemanii 'Armstrong' -- tall and narrow; fast growing
Alder Alnus glutinosa Tolerates wet soil
Japanese white birch Betula platyphylla 'Whitespire'; tolerates wet soil, pest resistant
European hornbeam Carpinus betulus 'Columnaris', 'Fastigiata' -- narrow
Flowering dogwood Cornus florida Many cultivars; understory, small tree
Kousa dogwood Cornus kousa Small tree, heat tolerant
Washington hawthorn Crataegus phaenopyrum 'Fastigiata' -- small, narrow
Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba 'Fastigiata', 'Princeton Sentry' -- narrow
Deciduous hollies Ilex decidua, Ilex verticillata Many cultivars; tolerates wet soil; fast growing
Goldenraintree Koelreuteria paniculata Summer flowers
Crape myrtle Lagerstroemia fauriei, L x indica. Many cultivars; single and multitrunked; fast growing
Galaxy magnolia Magnolia x 'Galaxy' Pyramidal, deep pink flowers
Crabapple Malus spp. Many broad and narrow cultivars, diverse flower colors
Hardy orange Poncirus trifoliata Small tree with thorns
Cherry plum Prunus cerasifera Many cultivars; dense, purple leaves
Weeping cherry Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula' -- medium tree; weeping branches; flowers
Callery pear Pyrus calleryana 'Capital', 'Chanticleer' - upright, very urban tolerant
English oak Quercus robur 'Fastigiata' -- narrow
Weeping willow Salix babylonica Large tree; weeping branches
Tree lilac Syringa reticulata 'Ivory Silk'; small tree, white flowers
Bald cypress Taxodium ascendens, T. distichum Tall, pyramidal, tolerates wet soil




Evergreen trees


Common name Latin name Cultivars and Comments


False cypress Chamaecyparis spp. Several narrow or pyramidal species and cultivar
Japanese cryptomeria Cryptomeria japonica Pyramidal; fast growing
Leyland cypress x Cupressocyparis leylandii Many cultivars -- tall and narrow; fast growing
Foster holly Ilex x attenuata 'Fosteri' Narrow, drought tolerant
Nellie Stevens holly Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens' Dense, narrow
American holly Ilex opaca Many cultivars -- tall and pyramidal; tolerates wet soil
Chinese juniper Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa' -- arrow; twisted branches
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum 'Mountbatten', 'Skyrocket' -- narrow
Red cedar Juniperus virginiana 'Glauca' -- narrow; silver-blue
Hasse magnolia Magnolia grandiflora 'Hasse' -- upright
Dwarf southern magnolia Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' -- smallest; slow growing
Sweet bay magnolia Magnolia virginiana Tolerates wet soil
Japanese red pine Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera' -- dwarf, umbrella-shaped
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 'Fastigiata' -- upright
Virginia pine Pinus virginiana Dense
Arborvitae Thuja spp. Dense, broad and species and cultivars
Hemlock Tsuga canadensis Pyramidal; not heat tolerant

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