This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
THE growth of the appreciation of shrubbery is one of the significant notes of the time. Every one likes trees and is willing to plant them, but the regard for shrubs seems to be a later development. This is well illustrated in many of the fine old estates, in which there are trees of magnificent proportions but a great dearth of plants of lower growth. This former lack of appreciation of shrubbery is all the more singular from the fact that the beauty of our common native landscapes often depends quite as much on the shrubs as on the trees. I suppose that the mere smallness of the shrubs causes them to appear to be trivial and little worth the while. We have undergone a similar evolution in fruit growing. Our early pomology is concerned mostly with tree fruits - apples, pears, cherries, peaches, plums. The bush-fruit industry is really a development of the last fifty years; and even yet there are many good fruitgrowers who will not "bother" with berries.
Clump of one of the wild roses, showing good shrub-effects as well as good bloom.
The marked advance in the appreciation of shrubs is probably due to two general agencies - to our growing intimacy with the particular objects in nature, and to the teaching by the landscape gardeners. We are caring more for things afield. We even start agitations to preserve the wild flowers and animals from destruction. Every year we are transferring greater numbers of the wild plants to our gardens. Our appreciation of nature is becoming closer and more particular. I believe that we have lost nothing of appreciation in the large; but we have certainly added a more specific understanding of the details. From the art side, we are aware that our canons of taste are changing. The old idea of the grove as a proper conception for the home area has given place to the idea of a picture; and, in a landscape picture, trees are not the only elements of interest, any more than they are in a picture on canvas. The shrubs are needed for the intermediate tones.
Ugly corners and bare lattice-work screened with wild bushes and herbs.
Truss of Azalea mollis flowers.
Before discussing the kinds of shrubs, it is important that we understand why we use shrubs. The largest use of shrubs is as a part of the general composition. The old books said much about the sky-line made by the tops of trees. In places of ordinary dimensions, however, it is more important to consider the ground-line. The ordinary line of vision should often be arrested at the boundaries of the place, else the place looks bare, indefinite and unfurnished.
A good treatment of sumac, planted against a background, and cut to the ground now and then in order to force a vigorous new growth.
The proper disposition of shrubs breaks the monotonous ground-line and sets limits to the place. Shrubbery also introduces great variety of form and colour and texture, and it relieves the tameness and openness of mere tree-planted areas. It enhances the intimacy of our relations with the planting, since shrubs grow to the height of one's eyes; whereas trees grow far above us, and most herbs are far below us.
Aside from these general considerations, shrubbery has specific uses. It affords a most excellent and quick-growing screen to cut off undesirable objects. Thus, a thick planting of shrubs may screen a chicken-yard, a clothes-yard, a neighbour's premises, the kitchen door, the vegetable garden, the rear fence, the children's playground. It may afford a good cover for high and bare foundations, serving to tie the house to the greensward. It may cover rough and intractable areas, as rocky places. It may hold banks from washing. It is useful for filling all odd and unmanageable corners, as the corners by the steps and in the wall. It may be made to cover naked and unsightly places under trees and under wide eaves. Nearly every important group of trees should have more or less shrubbery at its base. Compare the tree-groups that please you in the parks with those that do not, and see whether shrubbery does not enter into the composition of the former. Observe the treatment of the roadsides in modern parks.
Why is the old fence-row so attractive?
If the reader has been patient enough to follow me thus far, he will understand how very difficult it is for any one to give general advice on the kinds of shrubs to plant. The shrubs must suit the objects for which they are to be grown, and must adapt themselves to the particular conditions. The questioner must first analyse his subject; then the question may answer itself. If you are wholly at sea as to what you want to do, call in a landscape gardener. Do not think that because your place is small you want a small landscape gardener. Often the most difficult questions are those concerned with small areas. Get good advice, or else take your own. If you know what you want as to effects, but are unacquainted with the kinds of shrubs to produce these effects, again take advice, and be willing to pay for it. Ask some competent landscape gardener or some reliable nurseryman what shrubs will thrive, for example, in shady places in your climate, what ones will bloom in July, what ones will grow in wet places, and the like. Perhaps there is a park nearby to which you can go to see the kinds of shrubs. The superintendent or some other officer will be glad to tell you what they are and what they are good for, and to answer any other intelligent question.