Taylor's Guide to Shrubs : How to Select and Grow More than 500 Ornamental and Useful Shrubs for Privacy, Ground Covers, and Specimen Plantings - Flexible Binding, by Fisher, Kathleen
- ISBN: 9780618004379 | 0618004378
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 2/20/2001
Landscaping with Shrubs
The ways we can use shrubs in the landscape are many, and more often than not, those uses overlap. For example, you might want to plant the viciously thorny trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) under a bedroom window to deter prowlers. Yet come spring, you will enjoy the sweet orange-blossom scent of its flowers, and in fall you can make marmalade from its fruits. So this beautiful beast serves as a barrier plant, a specimen plant, and even an herb!
Take another example. We all know a hedge when we see one: a group of shrubs planted close together in a straight or curving line. But the purpose of the hedge may be to serve as a visual screen, a windbreak, or a backdrop for a perennial border. Or all of the above.
Hedges can be either formal or informal. Most people probably think first of the formal variety, which are sheared into geometric shapes. But not all shrubs, or even most, can tolerate such hard, frequent pruning. The most amenable are small-leaved evergreens such as boxwoods and conifers, like yew. Formal hedges are most appropriate if your house and overall landscape are formal, perhaps a colonial home with square-cornered flower beds and symmetrical walkways. Formal hedges are often the background for a perennial bed or more flamboyant plants.
Choosing to go with an informal hedge greatly expands your options. Ideally, you will be allowing the shrubs to develop their own natural habits with little or no pruning. Therefore, you'll want to select your species or cultivar carefully. Don't buy one that will quickly become too wide for the space you have allotted for it, or one that will develop an open habit if you want it to serve as a privacy screen.
For either hedge type, a mix of shrubs has many advantages. For a formal hedge, shrubs with different foliage colors planted close together can be sheared into what is known as a tapestry hedge, with patches of varying hues blending into their neighbors. An informal mix can provide year-round interest with early and late flowering berries, colorful fall leaves, and possibly even a mix of evergreen and deciduous foliage. A mix of species is also good insurance against plant health problems. Insects and diseases are often specific to particular plants and are less likely to spread among unrelated shrubs. When establishing a hedge, don't be impatient and plant your new shrubs too close to each other. As they grow, they will not only look crushed together, but-especially in humid regions-they may develop disease because they lack good air circulation. To fill in between shrubs as they mature, you can alternate them with ornamental grasses or other tall perennials. Or try staggering a planting of two types of shrubs, with tall conifers in back and shorter deciduous, flowering shrubs in front of and between them.
If you select shrubs that lose their lower branches with maturity, you may want to give them a similar treatment. This is often referred to as underplanting or "facing down" a taller shrub with a smaller one.
Shrubs serve as screens in many ways. They can screen us from the outside world, so that our backyard cookouts and croquet games don't become spectator sports, or screen the outside world from us, so we don't have a constant view of the convenience store across the street. You can use shrubs to hide parts of your own landscape, such as a tool shed, dog run, or compost pile. Shrubs will also help reduce traffic noises and absorb unpleasant odors and pollutants.
A hedge can also act as a windbreak, blocking cold air in winter and hot, drying winds in summer. This not only reduces utility bills and makes your home and yard more pleasant for you but also helps protect more delicate plants you may be trying to grow. Shrubs are actually more effective as windbreaks than solid fences are. Because they are semipermeable, they slow the wind, while wind can go up and over a solid windbreak. A gentle breeze allows air circulation that plants need for good health. But if you want a windbreak, choose your shrubs with care. Some species that are excellent choices for other purposes, such as viburnums, don't tolerate windy situations.
Landscape designers use shrubs to manipulate our perception of the landscape. For example, a garden can seem larger if we can't see all of it at once. Use shrubs to divide your yard into garden "rooms." Plant them alongside a curving path so that a visitor can't quite see what's around the bend, creating a sense of mystery. Shrubs can also be used to frame a view, whether of a special part of your own landscape such as a pond or statuary, or a borrowed view of a distant hillside or church façade.
Most of us learned in elementary drawing classes how to create the illusion of depth, using converging lines for a road disappearing in the distance, or making background objects smaller than those in the foreground. By using the same tricks in your landscape, you can create the impression that your garden is larger than it really is. Plant a row of shrubs with those farther from your house planted closer together and pruned lower.
Shrubs can direct not only the eye, but also the feet, telling the mail carrier where to walk and children where to play. Shrubs used in this manner are considered barriers. If you have serious concerns about grown-up trespassers or vandals, you can plant a thorny shrub of barberries or roses. To keep out children and animals, a hedge need only be dense enough to impede casual passing and can even be fragrant and inviting. In fact, if you have children, you might consider a kid-friendly hedge such as one with thornless berries that they can eat, or conifers that can be clipped into a secret hideout. (Caution: Yews prune beautifully, but their berries are poisonous.)
Shrub barriers needn't be tall. Low-growing shrubs such as lavender, germander, and dwarf boxwood have served for centuries to mark the edges of knot gardens and their close relative, the parterre. Shrubs knee-high or lower can visually say, "Don't walk here" or "Stop mowing there" while still allowing an unhampered view of whatever is on the other side.
* FOUNDATION PLANTINGS
Several decades ago, when many houses were built on ugly raised cinderblock foundations, Americans decided that the best-or even only-way to use shrubs was to ring them close to the house, like a lace doily around a valentine. To keep these shrubs-usually conifers or privets-from blocking windows and entryways, they had to be severely pruned. Today this style remains a garden cliché, even though house foundations may not be unattractive and our plant choices are so much wider.
By all means, look at the area immediately adjacent to your home as a potential planting bed. But keep in mind that this strip has a number of drawbacks. Overhanging eaves may create a "rainshadow," so that plants here get less moisture than they would on more exposed ground. Concrete and similar building materials may make the soil more alkaline, so that mountain laurels and other heath family members may suffer. Working the soil near the foundation may be frowned upon by the people who protect your home from termites and other pests. And of course, tall shrubs may block views out windows and offer prowlers a place to hide. All of these factors suggest using our foundation beds for a mix of low-maintenance perennials and small shrubs, rather than the demanding-and visually uninteresting-hedges of the past.
* MASSING AND GROUND COVERS
"Massing" is a concept usually associated with annuals and perennials, which have been planted close together for a big splash of color. Shrubs can be used in much the same way, but rather than a swath of marigold orange or petunia purple, they bring to an otherwise barren spot a sense of texture, height, and form, as well as green or other foliage color and bloom or berries in season. A single shrub in the middle of a lawn can look lonely. A mass has presence.
You're most apt to see examples of massing in public areas such as traffic islands, the intersection of walkways in parks, or edging the fairway on a golf course. But the same approach can be used to great effect in a private landscape. Pick smaller shrubs, if your space is limited, and fewer of them-but remember that you need at least three to make a mass! Create a mass of drooping leucothoe on a shady slope. Plant a mass of Zenobia where your driveway meets the front walk. Situate a mass of fragrant clethra between your picnic table and the neighbors' yard.
Especially effective in masses are shrubs that provide bright fall or winter color, such as the foliage of chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) , or yellow-root (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) , the berries of Ilex verticillata , or the stems of Cornus alba or C. stolonifera .
Ground covers are also masses, just normally lower growing and wider spreading. Goals are often similar: to cover a bare and awkward area, such as a strip between your driveway and the neighbors', or your sidewalk and the street, or a slope that's hard to mow. Shrubs like heaths and heathers, Gaultheria , bearberry, or cotoneaster can fill these areas in style, providing more interesting texture than turfgrass along with winter flowers, in the case of heaths and heathers, and berries in the other instances.
Plants in general help reduce wind and water erosion by holding soil with their roots and deflecting heavy rain. But many of the plants categorized as ground covers are especially good at this because they spread by underground roots that knit loose soil into a mat.
* BORDERS AND SPECIMENS
However useful shrubs can be, we grow many not because of any practical value, but because they're beautiful. There are several ways we can highlight these aesthetic qualities. In addition to masses of one species, shrubs can be planted in borders with other shrubs, mingled with herbaceous perennials (resulting in what are called mixed borders) or used alone as specimens.
You can plant a border to bloom in flowers of a single color, to make a big splash of color in a particular season, or for fragrance. Many gardeners take advantage of the wide array of varieties available and attempt to create year-round interest with shape, texture, and color of both foliage and flower.
In a mixed border, shrubs can provide welcome form and substance in the winter when perennials have disappeared underground. A shrub can be planted between bright-colored perennials to keep them from clashing, or to offer afternoon shade to a species that sunburns easily. (If you plant a mixed border in early spring, remember to site sun-loving perennials where they won't be shaded once deciduous shrubs leaf out.)
An all-shrub border lets you create a mass of differing shapes and textures that lasts all year, rather than fading to bare patches as happens in a mixed border. If fragrance is one of your chief thrills in gardening, shrubs can give you pleasure in every season, from lilacs and daphnes in spring, to roses and butterfly bush in summer, and witch hazel and wintersweet in winter. When siting plants for fragrance, think about where you walk or sit most often. And consider your prevailing wind direction at various times of year, so that most of the pleasure doesn't waft into the neighbors' yard instead of yours.
Keep in mind a shrub's appearance when it's not in bloom. Lilacs and mock oranges have little to offer once their sweet-scented flowers are spent, and the foliage of the former can become disfigured by mildew. Situate them toward the back of your border, and give center stage to a `Carol Mackie' daphne, with its variegated leaves, or a burkwood viburnum that will have bright fruit or foliage in fall.
Remember the changes in seasonal light angles when siting shrubs. In summer, colors that are washed out by harsh midday sun can turn into high drama when sidelit or backlit in the morning or evening. In winter, the sun is at a low angle throughout the day, which will highlight bark, berries, and buds such as the fuzzy gray knobs that form on star magnolias. Include some shiny-leaved shrubs such as hollies, which will make your landscape sparkle even without snow. You'll also find that shadows can be an effective garden element, whether cast by shrubs or on them. If you rarely venture into your landscape in winter, be sure to place winter blooms and buds where you can enjoy them from a window, or even along the path to your trash cans!
A specimen is a solitary plant chosen for its showiness or rarity and sometimes also intended to commemorate an event or individual. Site a specimen shrub where it can't be missed-at a fork or at the end of a path, or outside the window of the kitchen or family room. Don't make it compete with similar-sized plants or distracting dements such as a chainlink fence. If it's an evergreen, such as a `Dragon's Eye' pine, you might give it a background of pale fencing or trellis. A Harry Lauder's walking stick, attractive for contorted deciduous limbs and yellow-brown catkins, could use a dark evergreen background. Planting your specimen on the top of a berm or natural rise in the terrain not only makes it more visible but also will help ensure good drainage.
An "accent" is a plant used in a similar manner, but rather than being planted in a separate bed, it is intended to be an attention grabber amid smaller or contrasting plants.
Perhaps because we've lost so much of our wild landscapes, American gardeners today are trying to recreate them at home, with petite prairies in the Plains, desertscapes in the West, and mini-woodlands in the East. We strive to mimic as closely as possible the natural landscape that existed on the site before home construction, so that the plants can be self-sustainable. As a result, we are rediscovering the sometimes understated charm of many of our native shrub species.
Unfortunately, most of us live in highly unnatural environments. Our subdivisions were built by bulldozing all the trees and shrubs and scraping away the topsoil and laying streets and sidewalks that have permanently changed drainage patterns. Thus, we can't just remove our lawns and let native plants return on their own. Such projects take some homework into regional plant communities-species that flourish adjacent to each other in whatever situation we have to offer, whether wet or dry, sunny or shady, sandy or clayey. They require vigilance to prevent alien species from crowding out our native seedlings and transplants.
Nevertheless, gardeners who "naturalize" their properties benefit from increased visits by birds and other wildlife. They enjoy their plants more through the seasons and worry less about maintenance chores.
Excerpted from Taylor's Guide to Shrubs by Kathleen Fisher Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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