Plants don’t age in the same sense that animals do. As they grow, they may lose a degree of reproductive output (as in the case of fruit trees) as well as decline in the rate of growth and rate at which they photosynthesise, but this is largely to do with their size rather than a decline in health related to age. Size, therefore is the single most distinguishing factor of “old” plants.
Another way of distinguishing the age of a plant (particularly trees) is the presence of bark on its stem or trunk. To get technical, bark is, after all, the buildup of dead meristematic tissue. In the case of shrubs, fullness of foliage and the presence of flowers are good indicators of reproductive maturity.
Selecting plants that emphasise these characteristics will help create the impression of a backyard wisened by the years.
Plant Fast Growing Trees
Some trees can reach an impressive size in a short amount of time, giving them the appearance of age without the wait. The Northern Red Oak for example grows to 60-75ft and can reach a height of 16-20ft in just 10 years! The Thuja Green Giant, on the other hand, is a hardy evergreen tree that shoots up an impressive 5ft a year, making it perfect for use in hedges and to create privacy in your backyard. Another, smaller evergreen is the Willow Hybrid that grows an incredible 6ft a year. Although, not an instant solution, most fast growing trees will appear mature and time-hardened after only a year or so.
Plant Fast Growing Shrubs
The Honeysuckle is a flowering shrub (perfect for arbors) that quickly reaches maturity. Its white blossoms emit a strong, pleasant scent and fall away to reveal red berries in the winter. The Rose of Sharon likewise rapidly reaches blooming maturity and can grow up to 6-12ft, making them ideal for hedging. While not an actual rose, the flower of the Rose of Sharon is two-toned, ranging from pink and red, blue and purple, to yellow and orange - so it's also a great way to add color to your outdoor spaces!
Plant from a Pot
Planting from a pot is another way of ensuring the look of a more mature plant as these will already be “pre-aged.” Size and fullness of foliage are two elements to look out for. Flowering shrubs such as azaleas, camellias, lavender, and even roses can be bought in their mature form to be used as potted plants or transplanted into your backyard or even front entrances. Trees up to a certain level of maturity can also be bought in pots to be transplanted in order to save time waiting for them to develop from saplings or seed.
Vines grow quickly, and because of their ability to climb, cover walls, trellises, and other structures, giving them the appearance that they’ve been there for ages. When selecting vines for your outdoor areas, it’s important to take into account whether the vine is a creeper or a climber. A climber will latch onto just about anything and “climb” by itself while a creeper may need some help if you intend to use it on a trellis or upright structure. Trumpet vines are ideal for our Orange County areas, bearing bright orange flowers and quickly extending their reach across walls, fences, and trellises. Because they can cover such a wide area, they do require some sturdy structural support. Related: 3 reasons why fall in the Hudson Valley is perfect for plantings