Although there are many summer-flowering shrubs it is in spring that the shrub-planter who devotes real care and thought to his collection reaps his richest reward. Some kinds will be in bloom before the winter quarter expires; a few, notably the deliciously-scented little Mezereon (Daphne Mezereum) will be in flower in advance of their leaves. March will give blossoms, April, May and June will be rich in bloom.
One of the great delights of spring to the garden-lover is to see the first soft and tender film of green spreading over the beds and borders where deciduous shrubs are planted. At first it is only faintly perceptible, but it derives substance day by day. Some of the Spiraeas are particularly pleasing in their gauzy garb. The beds become interesting at once, and their charm grows as the days lengthen and spring establishes itself more and more firmly. The long ruddy rods of Deutzias become studded with dove-green swellings; the thick canes of the Weigelas are stained with fresh verdure; the grey, frail, almost substanceless shoots of the Mock Oranges pulse with vigorous life; sturdy green knots appear on the Honeysuckles. One by one the shrubs respond to the gentle and sympathetic touch of spring, and for many weeks the entrancing picture of unfolding goes on, growing in volume as the April days wind their course towards May.
However insignificant the other features of a garden may be, he who has a collection of shrubs will lack neither interest nor beauty in the joyous spring days. He may sympathize with, but assuredly will not envy, the Alpine enthusiast, whose rockeries are also bright with flowers.
When the grower realises how much delight there is in the pageant of spring he will take steps not only to enrich but to prolong it. He will not only plant beautiful shrubs, but he will make a judicious selection of kinds, so that from the first days of spring until the Rose-season begins, he may have beauty.
In those old-time shrubberies that we wot of a thick belt of shrubs and trees came right to the edge of the lawn, drive or path. Things were kept "neat" with shears, mower and besom. The grass was cut, the belt clipped and the gravel swept. Vegetation was dense, almost impenetrable. Well, this was at least good for the birds. They swarmed in the thicket, and found the fruit-crops in the adjacent kitchen garden conveniently near. But garden interest was lacking. Spring was a happier time for the birds than for the gardener. What we now do is to keep the shelter-belts back from lawn and path, in order that we may have objects of interest and beauty to see when we wander in the garden.
Turf is the best of all foils for shrubs, and even where they are planted in borders by the side of walks, a margin of grass, perhaps two feet wide, should be provided between border and path. When the grass is there the mowing machine must be used, and this simple fact will tend as a check on the straggling over paths which is so often seen. The mower will see to that for the convenience of his work.
The old packing resulted from the almost exclusive use of evergreens. In nine cases out of ten they were not put in with any gardening interest, but merely to fill up space. Modern horticultural taste will not tolerate this. The melancholy thing is that it went on in small gardens, where every inch of space was valuable. Now, broadly speaking, the evergreens are not important for their flowers (there are exceptions, Berberis Darwinii and the Rhododendrons to wit) and indubitably there is a temptation to pack them and leave them. The greater the proportion of evergreens in a collection of shrubs the more likely is a sense of sameness, with concomitant loss of interest, to take possession of the mind of the owner. Partly because of this deadening influence, and partly because the bloom is relatively unimportant, evergreens should not predominate.
It is the deciduous flowering shrubs that are the chief joy of spring, and they should be the most largely represented in modern gardens. The fact that they will need cultivation is in their favour, for culture maintains interest. A person who prunes his shrubs as he prunes his Roses and his fruit trees will always have a lively interest in them. He will feel that their success or failure hangs directly on his own handiwork. When they thrive he will have a gush of pleasure that far exceeds any passive enjoyment.
Perhaps the ideal plan of making what might be termed mixed borders or beds of shrubs and trees is to plant both deciduous and evergreen kinds, the former mainly to give flower-beauty, the latter to give a "furnished" and substantial effect, particularly in winter. Some of the evergreens may be members of the great Conifer or cone-bearing class, many of which are admirably adapted for planting among leaf-losing shrubs. This point is kept in mind in the illustrated suggestions for planting which appear in other parts of the present volume.
It is beside lawns and paths rather than beside drives that the most important shrub-planting should be done. The commoner, cheaper kinds of evergreens may be set near drives, where it may be assumed that movement is more rapid and time for detailed inspection less abundant. Here there may be such massing as is contemplated, for broad effects are appropriate.
In the larger places much richer and better garden treatment beside the main drives may be expected in future than is generally attempted now. Such drives often pass through a large park, and until the im mediate surroundings of the house are reached, little of horticultural interest is attempted. Yet by the simple plan of forming groups of shrubs at suitable intervals, garden interest and beauty could be unbroken from lodge gate to house door. The groups would have to be fenced to keep stock at bay, and in exposed sites it might be necessary to set up close wattles for protection in winter. But neither would entail a great deal of labour or expense.
In such cases I would certainly plant groups of one kind at each station rather than adopt the mixing system, because with the rapid transit bold clumps of colour would be more suitable than blends.
It is not only beside drives, lawns and paths that we can utilize shrubs, but also beside water. The islands of garden lakes form splendid beds for shrubs, and we may learn lessons for our work in this direction from the Japanese, whose skill as landscape gardeners makes their system well worthy of study. Inasmuch as the waterside presents its greatest charm in summer, when the hot weather makes the coolness and humidity grateful, we may here plant or otherwise utilize summer-blooming plants. The Hydrangea ought to have a prominent place, and it can be conveniently used in the form of large plants growing in tubs, which can be shifted under cover, or to a sheltered place, for the winter. The soft tone of the flowers, the freedom with which they are produced, and their long duration, are strong points in favour of this splendid shrub as an ornament for the waterside.
Fig. The flowering currants are among the earliest shrubs to bloom. Painted by A. C. Wyatt.
The Flowering Currants (Ribes) are among the earliest of deciduous shrubs to bloom. Their precocity is such that a mild winter may find them in flower in February, and this is regrettable, because the sprays have no protection from the leaves, which often open behind the flowers, and a spell of sharp weather may spoil the blossoming, taking the colour out of the flowers and leaving them pallid and limp. They are such gross growers that rich soil should be eschewed and plenty of room should be given. The Forsythias may be in bloom with the Flowering Currants, and the Mezereon will also be early. A little later the earlier Magnolias, such as stellata, the Weigelas, and the Deutzias will open. Later still, and yet in anticipation of summer, will come the hardy Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Kerrias, Viburnums, Mock Oranges (Philadelphus), Brooms (Cytisus), Barberries (Berberis), Lilacs and the earlier Spiraeas such as arguta and prunifolia flore pleno.
The flowering trees of spring embrace the Almond, Cherries, Plums, Thorns, Lilacs, Laburnums, and the lovely Pyrus spectabilis, all suitable for planting on standard stems among shrubs, where they break up the level and give a happy suggestion of "finish" even to a young bed.
The shrub-lover will naturally try to get all the best kinds represented in his garden, whatever their flowering season; but he will make a special effort to plant all the best of the kinds which bloom in spring - that season when flowers have the most cheering influence, and when the awakening activities of Nature excite the most active response in the human heart.