The Best Shrubs
Deciduous shrubs are, beyond all question, the most important element in planting small grounds.
— C. S. Sargent
If one-tenth the trouble wasted on carpet bedding and other fleeting, though costly, rubbish, had been spent on flowering shrubs, our gardens would be much the better for it. There are no plants so neglected as flowering shrubs.
— Wm. Robinson
The wild shrubs which skirt the waysides have a beauty beyond that of the cultivated exotics in spaded gardens.
— Wilson Flagg
To some unfortunate persons masses and borders of loose-growing shrubbery suggest nothing but neglected roadsides and pasture grounds. The commonness of such materials, and the ease with which unthoughtful persons may pass them by, seem to indicate a certain crudity, if not a real vulgarity, in the bushes and branches. But this feeling is founded upon an untrained sympathy,—upon a true lack of feeling for nature,—upon notions of ornamental planting which are in the highest degree incorrect. There is nothing so crude and vulgar in gardening as an over-display of colors (which are nearly always inharmonious among themselves.) An appetite for these gaudy colors indicates an untrained taste, just as an appetite for dime novels indicates a poor taste in literature, or as a preference for noisy street songs indicates a lack of training in music. The more refined enjoyment and the most deeply pleasurable sensations aroused by any art are those which arise from delicate colorings, from subtle modulations, from almost imperceptible distinctions. And so the nature-lover delights in the most delicate tones and tints of grays and greens and browns, like those of the pussy willow and the roadside dogwood; and he revels in the beautiful variety of texture offered by the spiræa, the sumach and the Judas tree.
We have already called attention to the usefulness of shrubs in naturalistic plantings, and need not repeat what has been said. But shrubs are also indispensable in all other systems of gardening, and a study of the species and varieties at command must be the first business of the gardener. The following list is not at all complete, but is meant to include the hardier and more useful kinds. There are enough for most plantings, for one must not make the mistake of trying to plant everything. A dozen well-selected species give a better effect than two hundred sorts huddled and crowded and jumbled together.
One frequently sees shrubs tied up in straw, or laid down and covered, or otherwise carefully protected for the winter. This has to be done with certain species in certain situations to keep them alive. But there are so many perfectly hardy shrubs, able to withstand everything that comes, that such labor may be entirely avoided. In fact, those plants which have to be coddled through bad weather and favored above then-neighbors always give a suggestion of unnaturalness to the place. They seem to be exotic,—foreign to the situation. The perfectly wild garden, able to care for itself and always at home with its surroundings, has a certain permanency and unity of effect which no other garden can have.
Shrubs should be given proper pruning; but they should be spared the sort they often get. Only in very exceptional circumstances should the tops be sheared, or the growth cut back at the extremities. This spoils at once the graceful drooping habit which is separately characteristic of almost every species. When the pruning knife and the shears are to be applied to any shrub, they should usually cut out at the base. Old, straggling stems are cut away, and fresh, clean, vigorous sprouts come up in their places. Many species, like the sumachs, give the best results if they are cut back almost annually quite to the ground, and allowed to sprout afresh from the stools.
ALDER.—Several of the alders make very useful shrubs for border planting, particularly the European alder, which is rather a small tree if full grown. The Green or Mountain alder, Alnus viridis, is one of the best, three to eight feet tall. Alnus incana is a good plant of its size, eight to twenty feet.
AMALANCHIER CANADENSIS, Juneberry, Shad Bush. —The dwarf varieties, two to five feet high, are best for planting.
AMORPHA FRUTICOSA, False Indigo.—A good, hardy shrub. Amorpha canescens, Lead plant, is mostly herbaceous, with fine, soft, silvery foliage, and well worth more extensive planting. It has beautiful spikes of deep violet-purple flowers. One to three feet.
ARALIA SPINOSA, Hercules Club.—Bears immense leaves which give a striking, somewhat tropical effect. Six to eighteen feet.
BERBERIS, Barberry.—Very useful shrubs. The common species is from Europe, but is naturalized in many parts of the eastern states. The Purple-leaved barberry is a variety of this. B. Thunbergii is a small shrub from Japan with beautiful, delicate foliage, taking a fine red color after frost.
CALYCANTHUS FLORIDUS, Spice Bush.—A small shrub with very sweet-scented flowers.
CARAGANA, Pea Tree.—C. frutescens is a low shrub, bearing an abundance of bright yellow, pea-like flowers in spring. C. arborescens is similar, but larger.
CEPHALANTHUS OCCIDENTALIS, Button Bush.—A hardy native shrub of wide distribution, making a round head; foliage good; flowers white, abundant, in globular heads in spring. Four to eight feet.
CERCIS CANADENSIS, Judas tree, Red bud.—A small tree with pretty bark and fine foliage; covered with red blossoms early in spring before the appearance of leaves.
CHIONANTHUS VIRGINICA, Fringe tree.—A large shrub or small tree, inclined to bear too little foliage, but having an abundance of white blossoms about lilac-flowering time.
CLETHRA ALNIFOLIA, White Alder.—A useful native shrub. Three to ten feet.
CORNUS, DOGWOOD. The dogwoods are among our best shrubs. No one should think of planting a place without them. The native red-branched species, C. stolonifera and C. Baileyi, are especially desirable. C. paniculata is also a native species, a good grower, and desirable for its flowers. C. sericea, C. mas, C. sanguinea and C. florida are all good.
CYDONIA JAPONICA (Pyrus Japonica), Japan quince. —Much cultivated in this country. Desirable chiefly on account of its brilliant scarlet flowers in early spring.
DAPHNE.—D. mezereum is a deciduous low shrub with rose-colored flowers; one to three feet. D. cneorum is a hardy, evergreen undershrub from Europe, and a great favorite with some planters.
DEUTZIA.—The deutzias are not quite hardy in the north, but can usually be depended on in the middle states, where they are very valuable. There are three useful species: D. crenata, D. scabra and D. gracilis.
DIERVILLA FLORIDA, Weigelia.—Included in this species are most of the shrubs sold as Diervilla rosea, Weigelia alba, etc. There are many varieties, mostly hardy, good growers and profuse bloomers. The foliage, however, is a trifle coarse.
ELDER.—The common American elder, Sambucus Canadensis, Fig. 29, is a shrub of no mean artistic capabilities. It is fine for massing against trees and along woodland borders, and for working into various compositions. The Golden elder is a pretty shrub for use in limited quantity.
ELÆAGNUS, Oleaster.—E. longipes has been widely sold in recent years and is a good shrub, with ornamental and edible fruit. E. argentea is also planted, but is not so desirable.
EUONYMUS ATROPURPUREUS, Burning bush, or Strawberry tree.—Well-known shrub with bright ornamental fruit which persists long into the winter. Not hardy in the north.
EXOCHORDA GRANDIFLORA.—A fine shrub, bearing beautiful white blossoms in spring. Deserves more general planting.
FORSYTHIA, Golden-Bell.—One of the very finest shrubs for the latitude of New York and southward, especially F. viridissima and the commercial F. Fortunei, which bear great quantities of brilliant yellow flowers in early spring. These are quite commonly planted and form one of the most attractive features of the spring landscape in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Forsythia suspensa of the catalogs is a weeping or semi-prostrate form.
HYDRANGEA PANICULATA GRANDIFLORA, The Hardy Hydrangea.—There are several forms of this, but the spreading shrub with large flowers is best. One of the best and most reliable hardy shrubs, giving a great abundance of showy white flowers in autumn when blossoms are few. Four to eight feet.
HYPERICUM, St. John's Wort.—Small native shrubs of considerable usefulness, of which the best species are H. Kalmianum, H. prolificum and H. aureum.
KERRIA JAPONICA.—A pretty shrub with slender, delicate, bright green twigs, fresh green leaves and handsome yellow flowers. Well worth planting. Three to eight feet.
LIGUSTRUM, Privet.—One of the best shrubby hedge plants, but available also for massing. Hardy and thrifty and bears shearing. The species mostly grown are L. vulgare and L. ovalifolium.
LILAC (Botanically Syringa).—The lilacs are old and never-to-be-forgotten favorites. They are capable of much greater beauty than is usually realized. They should be kept cut back to a reasonable height, the old wood thinned out, and a fresh, vigorous growth kept up by liberal manuring. The fine new varieties, with magnificent large single or double flowers in numerous extremely rich colors, offer a chance for many new experiences with these old favorites. Sometimes the finer varieties may be successfully grafted upon old, established plants which give inferior blossoms.
LONICERA TARTARICA, Bush Honeysuckle.—A very common and very useful shrub. A profuse bloomer. Very hardy. Four to eight feet.
MYRICA GALE, Sweet gale, and Myrica asplenifolia, Sweet Fern, are well known, small native shrubs which add very much to certain effects when judiciously set in small masses in the shrubbery border.
PHILADELPHUS, Syringa, Mock Orange.—These shrubs are most remarkable for their abundance of very fragrant white flowers in spring. Like lilacs, they need to be rigorously clipped out to prevent the accumulation of old, unsightly wood. The best plan is to cut all the stems back to the ground at three or four years old, or even at two years old if the growth of new wood justifies it This keeps up a rotation of fresh, clean shoots The best species are P. grandiflorus, P. coronarius and P. Gordonianus. Six to ten feet. POTENTILLA FRUTICOSA, Cinquefoil.—A native shrub with bright yellow flowers. Hardy and inclined to be weedy in some sandy soils Three to four feet.
PRUNUS, Plums and Cherries.—Nearly all the native plums and cherries are worth planting for ornamental purposes. The Beach plum, Prunus maritima, is one of the most useful, though for larger plants selected varieties of P. Americana make the finest of small trees. The Sand cherries, P. pumila, and P. Besseyi, growing from two to five feet high, are excellent; while for heavy masses in certain places the common Choke cherry is one of the best species known. It is vigorous, clean and healthy though occasionally denuded by caterpillars.
RHODODENDRONS.—These magnificent ornamental plants are hardy in most situations and not usually difficult to grow. There are many wonderful and striking varieties offered by the nurserymen, but the beginner will hardly be able to discriminate their merits.
RHUS, Sumach.—The sumachs are mostly all very hardy and good ornamental plants. Their spreading, luxuriant pinnate foliage gives a peculiar and somewhat tropical suggestion. In most places they are best if the old growth is constantly cut out and the vigorous young shoots depended on. Their colors in autumn are especially desirable. Rhus glabra is probably best, followed by R. copallina and R. typhina. R. Cotinus, the Smoke tree, is quite different from the others. It is a well known shrub, five to ten feet high, bearing large feathery wands of reddish or purplish abortive blossoms.
RIBES AUREUM.—A native currant, now often cultivated for fruit as well as for ornament. It bears many pretty, spicy, sweet-scented, bright yellow flowers in spring, and always shows a clean, attractive foliage. Four to seven feet. Other species of currants and gooseberries are also useful in shrubbery masses.
ROSES.—Hardy flowering roses are usually best planted in beds by themselves; but many of the native species are remarkably fine if grown in the border with the other shrubbery. Rosa lucida, R. blanda and nearly all the native species may be planted. The Sweet Brier and the Prairie rose, R. setigera, are among the best. The Japanese rose, R. rugosa, is also a very fine shrub for general planting.
RUBUS ODORATUS.—The flowering raspberry is one of the most useful and neglected of native shrubs. It should generally be used in small masses for the emphasis which its large, striking foliage gives. Three to five feet. Other brambles are very useful in many places.
SALIX, Willow.—Most of the willows tend to be trees rather than shrubs, but many of them can be grown as shrubs if severely cut back. They are especially desirable for the delicate gray-greens which they give in spring, and some of them for the brightness of their twigs in winter. Salix vitellina of horticulturists has beautiful bright golden twigs. S. lucida is especially remarkable for its shining foliage. The so-called weeping willows grafted in the top of a straight trunk are to be avoided.
SPIRÆAS form, on the whole, the finest and most useful group of shrubs we have. Their hardiness, thrift, grace, floriferousness, all recommend them. Probably the best one is the horticulturist's Spiræa Van Houttei, sometimes called Bridal Wreath. No grounds anywhere ought to lack this. Then come S. prunifolia and S. hypericifolia. The former has specially beautiful foliage. The latter is much like a small edition of Van Houtt. S. Thunbergii is small (one to three feet) and very delicate and graceful in growth and in foliage, but not fully hardy northward. The golden spiræa (S. aurea, Hort.) is a fine, upright grower, with good, yellowish foliage, and bright stems in winter. Four to ten feet.
SYMPHORICARPUS RACEMOSUS, Snowberry.—A good native shrub, with white berries in autumn. Two to five feet. S. vulgaris, Coral berry or Indian currant, is very common in the central and western states, and is well worth planting. It is graceful of growth and bears quantities of persistent bright red berries. Two to five feet.
VIBURNUM OPULUS, Snowball or Guelder rose.— This is a fine, strong-growing shrub giving abundant white blossoms. Other viburnums are also desirable, as V. plicatum, V. lantanoides, V. tomentosum, etc.
- A Select List of Trees - In all large plantings there should be included a number of specimen trees, so placed as to show their individual good qualities, and so grown as to possess those good qualities in the greatest measure. For all these reasons the selection of suitable trees becomes one of the landscape gardener's first and most important duties.
- The Best Shrubs - Shrubs are indispensable in all systems of gardening, and a study of the species and varieties at command must be the first business of the gardener. The following list is not at all complete, but is meant to include the hardier and more useful kinds.
- Hardy Perennials - Hardy perennials may be used in almost any situation where plants are wanted at all. They may grow under the trees, among the shrubs, in rockeries, along the borders of ponds and rivulets, on sloping banks, in borders by themselves, in shade or sun; in fact, it is very hard to go amiss with them unless, indeed, they are put into flower beds.
- The Indispensable Annuals - While it is possible to find many pleasant gardens without trees and shrubs and perennials, the annuals are omnipresent. Their great variety, their adaptability to all needs and circumstances, the innumerable, characteristically beautiful ways they have of expressing themselves, make them always indispensable.
- A Few Bulbous Plants - Bulbous plants have in general the same requirements and the same capabilities as the herbaceous perennials. Many of them will live untended in the open border quite without protection, and thrive and blossom year after year. Some require winter protection, but all of those named here will last without replanting for several or many years.
- Climbers - When buildings are introduced, and fences have to be dealt with, and other more unsightly objects need amelioration or concealment, the climbers are indispensable. In the shading and adornment of porches they play no insignificant part in the list of the gardener's materials.
- The Gardener's Materials - The landscape gardener has a rich palatte for his composition. From trees, to shrubs, climbers and perennials, here we endeavour to review some of the possibilities. Here are the raw materials and a few cautions and comments.
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