Planting, Thinning, Moving, Pruning, Soil, etc.
Cultural errors in gardening are serious in proportion to the cost and size of the plants. The point that it is less easy to rectify a mistake in planting an Oak than in planting a Snowdrop is so obvious as to call for little emphasis.
There are people who rely for their principal garden effects on flower beds, which are planted at least twice a year. Changes can be rung on these from year to year, but shrubs and trees are planted for permanence, and it is, therefore, the more necessary to give careful consideration to every point, particularly to site, soil and preparation, before planting begins.
Shrubs and trees respond to different methods of treatment just the same as other classes of plant. A person who takes the trouble to observe the ill-effects of over-crowding on a seed-pan of Ten-week Stocks or Tomatoes has an object-lesson that should serve him well in planting his shrubberies.
It is, unhappily, rather the rule than the exception to see trees interlacing, and shrubs thrusting at each other in gardens. The nearest woodland or thicket gives examples of what comes from crowding, and yet the same doleful evidence of neglect is allowed to accumulate in gardens.
As regards pruning, let the amateur note what happens in the hedgerows, where a tangled growth of brier, hazel, wayfaring tree, bramble, and many another wilding is seen. What a mass of growth for a sparse and fugitive display of bloom ! Old gnarled branches, long past the stage of flowering, mingle with younger shoots, half-smothering them, and robbing them of food and light.
Lessons from Nature are abundant on every hand, but for the most part they are unheeded, and so it is that shrubberies become unkempt and ineffective. One must confess that there are moments when the tangle of hedge or thicket is picturesque. Those who see it in its summer beauty, and never realize that it has another and a longer phase, may even hold it up as a model. Seen only from a passing motor-car in summer a large hedge may suggest grace and natural beauty in a form worthy of imitation in gardens. But keep in touch with that hedge through the round of the year, and a different opinion is formed. It is the casual visitor to countryside and garden who condemns as mere professionalism the demand for good culture in gardens.
If we take any one of the great flowering shrubs, and study two plants, one grown in suitable soil with plenty of room and properly pruned, the other crowded with a mass of shrubs in poor ground and left uncared for, we shall have an unforgetable lesson.
It is not stiff and formal professionalism which asks for good culture with shrubs. A well-pruned shrub is much more graceful than an unpruned one. It is a fallacy to suppose that most plants in Nature are graceful. It is only for a few odd days of the year that they are pleasing, most of the time they are ugly. Well-managed shrubs are attractive even in winter.
Most failures with shrubs spring from overcrowding. When the plants begin to mass, the cultural sense degenerates, with the result that pruning is neglected, and the plants grow into each other. The weaker are overborne by the stronger, and their growth dwindles. Instead of long spikes or racemes of bloom we see a few feeble blossoms on weak twigs.
Every good shrub has an individuality of its own, and that ought to be developed, not allowed to become submerged.
There is perhaps the least tendency to crowding when standard flowering and foliage trees are planted amid shrubs, and that in itself, apart from their admitted beauty, gives a good reason for planting them. These trees give a sense of "furnishing," which a low belt of shrubs does not. Let the reader who is oppressed by a sense of emptiness in a newly-planted shrubbery, and is tempted to put more shrubs in, set a few standard trees among the shrubs at distances of fifteen to twenty feet apart, and he will find that the change in perspective has a remarkably satisfying effect.
Another plan that may be adopted is to set tall standard Roses of vigorous, free-growing kinds, preferably Wichuraianas, among shrubs. These also have a "furnishing" effect, and exercise a restraining influence on that tendency to pack which is so fatal a lure to most planters when they are forming shrubberies.
Perhaps sparing use ought to be made of the word "shrubbery," because it has grown to have an association in the minds of most people with dense masses of Laurels, Aucubas, and such commonplace things. It is this type of shrubbery that it is most desirable to get away from, except as a means of cheap shelter, which, as we have already seen, a hedge provides. The "shrubberies" that I have in mind are rather shrub-beds, planted with selected kinds, just as Roses are planted in beds by Rose-lovers, every plant standing out by itself, with its individual beauty fully displayed.
One is reluctant to speak of the massing of Rhododendrons as a mistake, in view of the fact that they are evergreen, and that a large bed presents a brilliant spectacle in early summer; but when one sees them grown as separate plants, as in the great Cornish gardens like Tremough, and at Kew, one sees that the plan is superior, for each plant becomes a noteworthy individual, symmetrical, evenly-balanced and with finer trusses of bloom. Following this plan, one would space Rhododendrons in large beds, or set them at intervals beside a walk, rather than plant them so close that they grew into masses. While saying this, it may be admitted that Rhododendrons lend them selves better to massing than most shrubs, and their comparative success under such conditions cannot be taken as a guarantee of success with other kinds.