Q: I was wondering if you could recommend a hedge for a black-thumbed, knows-nothing-about-gardening home owner. Our shady yard was surrounded on all four sides by 170 arborvitae...

Q: I was wondering if you could recommend a hedge for a black-thumbed, knows-nothing-about-gardening home owner. Our shady yard was surrounded on all four sides by 170 arborvitae trees, creating a hedge which completely covered our chain-link fence.

One by one the plants have all died. An arborist told us that it was because the previous owner had planted too deep, with the root balls still tied with twine, and the girdled and deeply planted trees had then become susceptible to mites. The hedge prevented us from seeing our neighbors and a busy street in back. We’d like to replace it with a fast growing, sturdy hedge but have no idea where to start. Do you have any advice?

A: It sounds like the previous owner was the know-nothing gardener! You might plant a fast-growing evergreen Clematis armandii vine (with fragrant March flowers) to cover the chain-link fence in the most critical areas while you wait for a new hedge to fill in.

There are lots of possibilities, depending on how thick and high you want the mature hedge to be. Bamboo grows quickly and doesn’t take up much space when properly contained. (I’d suggest you have it professionally installed with a sturdy root barrier.) Consider Pacific bayberry (Myrica californica) or Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), both of which have interesting textures, or Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’ for its fragrant late winter flowers.

Q: I’m hoping you can guide me to a nursery in the Seattle/Bainbridge Island area for palms and other tropical plants. I’m in a perfect spot for them but need to know where to go to find them.

A: Now that summer’s heated up it’s time to search out exotic-looking plants, many of which have been startlingly hardy the last few years in our increasingly warm-winter climate.

For sources, I asked Daniel Sparler, who has a tropical extravaganza of a garden in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood (which will be featured in the July 13 issue of Pacific Northwest magazine).

Sparler has found many of his unusual plants at Heronswood Nursery in Kingston (360-297-4172; www.heronswood.com), and at Arboretum Foundation and Northwest Horticultural Society Plant Sales. He also shops regularly at nurseries run by people he calls “the unsung heroes” such as Colvos Creek Nursery on Vashon Island (206-749-9508) for hard-to-find Southern Hemisphere trees, shrubs and perennials; Minter’s Earlington Greenhouses on Renton Avenue South (425-255-7744) for bromeliads and annuals; and Steamboat Island Nursery northwest of Olympia (360-866-2516; www.olywa.net/steamboat) for eucalyptus and other heat-lovers.

If you do head south, be sure to stop in at Jungle Fever Exotics in Tacoma (253-759-1669) for cool vines, big-leafed plants and a fine selection of garden art.

The Northwest is the envy of the rest of the country because our specialty nurseries offer such an amazing range of hard-to-find plants, and the only way to show we appreciate access to such a stunningly broad plant palette is to buy what they offer.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday’s Pacific Northwest magazine. Call 206-464-8470 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.