How to plan - design - and plant a
shrub border or shrub bed.
The days of poor choice and
unavailability of colourful shrubs has long gone. In fact, I would argue
that there has always been wide choice, but a choice not always taken advantage
of! These days, with the surfeit of garden centres and nurseries - pushed
forwards in quality and display expertise by the superstores - there is a huge
range of shrubs always available.
One of the biggest mistakes I see from amateur gardeners
attempting their first - sometimes last - shrub borders, is the
basic error of not allowing enough room for the shrub to develop
into whatever it will! Basically, planting it in the wrong
One of the biggest mistakes I have seen - often repeated - by
professional gardeners (and designers) is planting a shrub in
the wrong place!
This often means the removal of a shrub, just when it is
reaching its ultimate size - or having to remove many plants and
shrubs that are nearby.
We are all prone to buying shrubs and other plants when we
see them in flower - looking superb. Back at home, there needs
to be a space for the new purchase. Often there is not so it is
planted somewhere unsuitable. Somewhere where it just
cannot reach maturity.
myself did the same thing yesterday. Just could not resist the deep scarlet red flowers
on the Ixora, so into the boot of the car it went. I do not have the problem of
having to find room, for all of my gardening is done in containers. But of
course, when I got home, there was not a spare container suitable. Another trip
to the garden centre - and as you might have guessed - yet another plant into
the boot of the car - but with two containers this time!
The lesson - which we all have to learn
(some hope!) is to plan your shrub border BEFORE you go out and choose a
few plants. You can of course find a few favourites - or 'must-haves'
then plan a new border or bed around those particular shrub. The options
for that are infinitesimal - so won't be discussed here!
There are some basic rules to be followed
to ensure that you have a shrub border or bed that is going to stay the
distance, and that a few years hence, you are not going to have to move
a prized specimen that may well be lost in the transplanting. That's
why I like container gardening!
Colour the year round.
When discussing shrubs, one of the most
asked questions is "Can you give me twelve shrubs for my border, to
ensure that I get flowers in every month of the year?"
Problem! Most shrubs - and certainly the
most popular shrubs - rarely flower for more than a few weeks (if the
weather is alright) Taking that through to a natural conclusion, you can
see that it is possible that for eleven months - at least - most of the
shrubs will not have flowers! In other words, we are going to have
somewhere in the region of eleven shrubs with no colour at any given
time of the year! However, with careful planning, the barren shrub bed
can be avoided - even if there is not a huge show of flowers from
January through 'till December.
If you think that a shrub is a shrub, then
possibly this next section will help you think a little differently.
Shrub Flower Colours:
All shades imaginable from purest white through to darkest purple,
taking in all shades of pink, red, yellow, orange, blue. Almost any
shade that can be developed on a painter's palette can be found in a
shrub of some type.
Shrub Foliage Colours:
All shades of green ranging from lightest lime green
through to rich velvety deep green. Together with these basic 'foil'
colours of shrub foliage, you can have Reds in assortment, Purple or
Copper shades, Silver, Grey, Yellow, Gold, Pink, White, Cream, and
Variegated foliage on
shrubs is also an important feature and aspect to take
into account, with edge variegations, spots, stripes, speckle,
freckles, marbling, multi-colours and more!
Foliage shape on
Shrubs is also an important design factor, with huge
leaves, small leaves, ferny leaves, textures of silk, fur and so
so smooth. Palm-like, spear-like, heart shaped, round, fronds
Most will be aware of the spectacular Autumn - fall - foliage on
many deciduous shrubs, but there are other seasons to be aware
of if you are looking for foliage colour. Most are at
their best during the first few weeks of growth in the spring,
but other will come into their own in the middle of summer.
Colours of Winter Stems.
Winter can be a gorgeous time in the garden - even if viewed
from the comfort of your lounge. The range of colours of stems
is quite amazing, and will take you though the lightest of
greens, yellows, oranges, reds and the darkest purple. To give
the show they are capable of, then they will need a little
bit of attention at the right time of the year. There is much
more to colour in the border than flowers or leaves.
Height and Spread of Shrubs.
As above, many problems are caused by not knowing how tall your
shrub will grow. How wide it will spread. Will it cover the ground
or shoot up like a rocket! To make matters even worse (interesting)
many shrubs within the same family, will have totally different
habits of growth to their brother, sisters and close cousins! A
Cotoneaster is not just a Cotoneaster! Some will hug the ground -
just a few inches (cms) high. Other Cotoneasters will look down on
them from heights of around 12ft or more.
Rate of Growth. Some
shrubs grow quickly (very quickly) - left right up or down. Others
will simply sit there for many years looking as thought they are
still the same size as they were in the garden centre container!
Some so slow, that they will be smothered by their vigorous
relatives - never to see the light of day - on which they depend for
How Hardy a Shrub is,
can depend upon where you live; what the winters are like; what the
summers and spring are like also! It will also depend upon the type
of soil: Dry in Winter; dry in Summer: Wet in Winter; soggy in
Soil Types for Shrubs.
Acid soil; alkaline soil: Clay soil; sandy soil: Many shrubs are
reasonably happy in most 'average' types of soil. Others will die on
you - or at least be very sick, if you plant in the wrong soil.
Shape and Form of Shrubs.
Just the pure shape and form of some shrubs, makes for specimen use.
Not least the Japanese Maples. Shrubs are not simply green blobs
with flowers on. They can be erect, droop, lend themselves to
training in formal shapes. Others will have it their own way and be
as formal or unruly as they were born to be. Look beyond the flowers
and foliage. For instance the Mahonia japonica types - whilst ideal
for their winter flower and glossy green foliage, have very
distinctive growth habits, which are a features in their own right.
Other shrubs will grow erect, then arch over at the top - even weep
(out of habit not despair!)
Fragrance of Shrubs.
Yes there are those that are grown for their sweet scented flowers,
but others just need to be planted in a position where they get
brushed upon walking by to let go of the deep aromatic scents of
their foliage. Some have flowers so small and insignificant, and yet
are worthy of including simply because of the amazing scent that
those shy flowers emit. I have seen many visitors to gardens trying
to trace the heavenly scent that wafts around from an Elaeagnus
ebbingei in late October!
Sun or Shade? Some
shrubs will thrive in heavy shade. Others will be happy - nay demand
- that they can sunbathe all day. dappled shade beneath the light
foliage of a Silver Birch tree will suit others down to the ground.
Some will have problems - even though hardy - if they are situated
where the early morning sun quickly thaws out the frosted flower
buds in early spring. Camellias for instance, are notorious for
this, yet altogether hardy in other respects.