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.
This is one of the things that parks are for - to afford information to the intending planter, as well as to be things of beauty in themselves.
My own predilections are for the native shrubs - for those, I mean, that grow wild in my neighbourhood. They are usually "easy" to grow, requiring no extra trouble: perhaps this is the source of my interest in them. Then, if planted freely, they make the place a part of the region in which it is. We are content only when we appreciate the region in which we live. Where hobble-bush is the commonest bush, hobble-bush should be to us the best bush. It is often said that the native bushes are cheapest, but I doubt this. I can buy Japanese shrubs at the nursery one hundred miles away, and have them shipped to me, at a total cost considerably less than that incurred when I search the woods for dockmackie and good wild rose - providing, of course, my time is worth anything. But then, how could I spend my time more entertainingly?
The pond in rhododendron clme.
Of course, I should not plant exclusively of the natives; and if none of the natives seemed to fit the conditions and requirements, then I should have none of them. But, at all events, I should make the main body of my shrubbery of staple, hardy, easily grown kinds. Then I am sure that I am making no experiment and taking no risks. The fancy and capricious kinds I should use sparingly; then if they fail I still have my main plantations left. The list of the reliable and hardy kinds for central New York is really a long one. I should include in it lilacs, mock-orange or philadelphus, spireas, deutzias, rugosa roses, Tartarian and other bush honeysuckle, privets, elders, Japanese snowball (the old-fashioned one is too much infested with plant-lice), viburnums, barberries, Japanese quince, several willows, chokecherry, flowering currant, dogwoods (cornus) weigelas, hazels, symphori-carpuses, sumacs. These I should call good general-purpose shrubs, and suitable for the main effect in planting.
Most other shrubs I should consider to be special-purpose kinds in central New York. For example, the big-trussed hydrangea is a special-purpose object. Perhaps no shrub is planted with so little taste as this. The idea seems to be that it must be planted, but that it is immaterial where it is planted. Oftenest it is made to spoil a good lawn by having it thrust in here and there without relation to method, purpose or design. It reminds me of the old lady who came into possession of some doors when a neighbouring church-building was pulled down. Of course, she must use the doors: therefore, she set posts in her garden and hung the doors between.
This brings up the whole question of what to do with very showy plants like the hydrangea. It is perfectly legitimate to have them, but their disposition should have some relation to the place itself. I am perfectly sure that they should not be scattered here and there. They show to best advantage against a background of foliage. The best effects usually are secured when they are planted in front of heavy shrub-masses. They then have some connection with the construction lines of the place, and they are far enough removed from the other shrubs to allow them to develop into their full individuality. A long, sweeping line of them against a flowing background of taller and heavier growth also comports well, particularly if the place is somewhat florid in its character. It is always well, with whatever plant, to avoid the isolated, unrelated, single specimen in the middle of a greensward. Note how emphatic are the plants of sumac and mock-orange in the illustrations on pages 74 and 75, because they have a background of good foliage.
You would not put a pump in the center of your front yard: then why put a hydrangea there? The beauty of any planting will be enhanced by due consideration of the surrounding conditions of landscape.
Azalea amoena, forming the terminus of a line of shrubbery.
Deutzia gracilis, used for a border-mass.
Hardy hybrid rhododendrons planted in 1869 at Jamaica Plain, Mass.
The value of shrubbery really lies less in its bloom than in the foliage and the general character as to form and "habit." Many shrubs have merit in both flowers and foliage. Of such is the Japanese quince. In spring the bush is on fire with flowers; in summer, if the plant is not sheared, the habit and foliage are good. The forsythia, however, while excelling in early spring bloom, has a thin and sparse summer effect that lacks both strength and individuality. Therefore, it is well to make the forsythia an integral part of a shrubbery-mass, in order that its summer aspect may be blended with other foliage. Roses are rarely good for shrubbery effects. They are essentially flower-garden subjects, valued for their bloom alone. They do not produce their best bloom when massed with other shrubbery. Therefore, it is best to grow them in a place by themselves, and in rows, where they may receive the best of care. There are some exceptions to these remarks in the case of the Japanese rugosa rose and some of the natives; these may be good shrubs as well as good flower-bearers; but even in these the blooms are secondary.
The whole subject of purple-leaved, yellow-leaved, variegated-leaved and cut-leaved shrubs may be considered in this connection. These objects should always be mere incidents in a place. They are curiosities. When planted sparingly and near some shrubbery-mass, some of them give very pleasing effects, adding richness and emphasis to the group; but it is always easy to use too many exclamation points.
The swamp leucothoe (L. racemosa), a shrub with waxy white flowers.
The reprehensible practice of shearing shrubs should also be considered here. The beauty and interest of a shrub surely lie in its natural habit and form. When shrubs are sheared into formal shapes, the shrub no longer exists for itself, but is only a means of expressing some queer conceit of the shearer. Of course, shrubs should be pruned to make them healthy and vigorous, to keep them within bounds, to increase the size of bloom, and to check mere waywardness; but all this leaves the shrub a shrub, with the hand of the pruner unseen, and does not make it to counterfeit a bottle, or a barrel, or a parachute. If the forsythia has superlative merit, it is for the wealth of early spring bloom. Yet, I know a yard in which the forsythias are annually sheared into shapeless shapes, and this is done when they are in bloom. Last year two-thirds of the bloom was cut from these bushes when it was just opening, and the reply of the Irishman who barbered them, when I remonstrated, was, "Indade, they hev no shape."
The satisfaction in shrubs, as in any other plants, lies in their vigour and healthfulness. Make the ground rich before you plant them; or, if they are already planted, dress them in the fall with fine manure, and in spring apply a little chemical fertiliser. I like to prepare the shrub-border by spading it or plowing it deep, working in an abundance of good humus-making material, such as fine litter and old manure. This extra work pays exceedingly well in the end.
Plant thick - say two feet apart, unless the shrubs are very large to begin with. You want quick effects. The plantation can be thinned out later, and those plants that are removed can be planted elsewhere. Shrubs can be moved readily. Sometimes I remove certain shrubs frequently for several years, letting them do service in various places for a time. For a year or two, strong-growing annual herbs may be grown in the vacant or bare places; but if this is done, extra care must be taken with fertilising and watering, or the bushes will suffer. When the bushes are planted, they should be headed back severely, and this practice may need to be repeated for a year or two until the plants are thoroughly established; but after they are well under way, prune them only mildly.
As to fall or spring planting, one cannot give dogmatic advice. I usually prefer the spring, not knowing what the winter will do for the plants; but get them in early, so that they may establish themselves partly before the hot, dry weather comes. If the land is well prepared the preceding fall, much will be gained.
Spiraea Van Hounei one of the moat floriferous of all shrubs, and useful also for Its foliage and habit.
Always prepare to destroy the bugs and leaf-blights. Every place of any size - even a well-planted city lot - should now have a light spraying outfit. A little ammoniacal carbonate of copper can always be kept in stock in bottles, ready to be diluted, and to be used for fungous attacks; and hellebore or other poisons may be kept for the insects. Most shrubs will take care of themselves, to be sure; but this does not prove that good care on your part may not produce still better results.