copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)                                             

Click Here to return to
My Garden
Content Page

Click Here to return to
the previous section


 “Shrubs there are,
that at the call of spring
Burst forth in blossomed fragrance.”
                                      — Thomson’s Seasons.

 THE uses of shrubs are manifold and diverse. Invaluable as screens to hide unsightly objects, lovely to shroud and soften the hard line between house and ground, useful as an underplanting to tall trees, as a background to herbaceous borders, as hedges, windbreaks, or as an edging to walks and drives. These are but a few of the ways in which they will help us in our gardening, and when we remember that our climate is particularly adapted to the fine development of shrubs the wonder is that we do not see them more and better grown.

For myself, I do not care for what is called the “mixed shrubbery.” Too often it is made up of a large variety of kinds so tightly packed that the efforts of the plants are expended mainly in a struggle for mere existence and the gracious, sweeping outlines, of which this class of plants is capable, are quite lacking. A shrubbery border is indeed desirable in many situations, but I feel that it should be much simpler in its construction than is usually the case — large groups of a few kinds chosen for their suitability to be neighbours and blending irregularly one into the other, each shrub being given ample room to develop, even though the border must look a trifle bare for a season or two. Occasionally evergreens are a grateful change in the shrubbery border, and underplanting along the front is very desirable. A few low-growing subjects suitable for this purpose are:

 Hypericum calycinum, one foot.
         "        Moserianum, twelve to eighteen inches.
Jasminum nudiflorum.
Naked Jasmine. (Trailing.)
Vinca minor,
eight inches.
Daphne Cneorum,
one foot.
    “        Mezereum, two and a half feet.
Euonymus radicans,
one and a half feet.
Cotoneaster horizontalis.
Berberis Thunbergii,
two to three feet.
Azalea amoena,
three feet.
Gaultheria procumbens — creeping.
Andromeda floribunda.
one foot. 

Colonies of spring-flowering bulbs are charming scattered beneath and in front of the shrubs, and many gay pictures may be created with their aid.

This class of plants is not as a rule peremptory in its cultural demands, and for this reason we have fallen into the way of imposing upon their kindly nature and sticking them into a shallow hole in any sort of soil and situation, whether conducive to the health of the plant or not, and then feeling quite put out when the poor shrub fails to come up to our glowing expectations.

Shrubs appreciate a broad and deep hole, with the soil at the bottom well broken up. It should be broad enough to admit of the roots being spread out comfortably, and deep enough to enable us to set the shrub at least two inches deeper than it was before-which may usually be determined by the soil-mark upon the stem. The shrub should be set firmly in the ground and the earth well pressed down as it is filled in. A pail of water poured into the hole when partially filled settles the earth around the shoots thoroughly. As little delay as possible in planting should follow the arrival of an order of shrubs, and if the consignment is large the roots of those waiting for attention should be covered with damp burlap, and if very dry may be dipped in water before planting. They may be set out either in spring or fall.

Mr. George Gordon in his “Book of Shrubs” warns us against a practice to which we are all too prone-that of buying very large specimens in order to secure an immediate effect. He says: “Unless the circumstances are quite exceptional and the nursery is within a few miles of the garden, plants of medium size should be preferred to those which have attained to large dimensions. The latter are costly because of the large amount expended in labour upon their preparation by the nurseryman, and they are much more difficult to establish. Sometimes with considerable care they die in the summer after they are planted. In other cases they are so slow in becoming established that they make little growth for two or three years, and when they readily take to their new quarters, it is not unusual for them to be overtaken by plants several years younger at the time of planting.” Mr. Gordon recommends plants offered at “the usual catalogue prices” as best for general purposes. Perhaps the most appreciated shrubs are those which come in the early year before the snow feeling has quite vanished from the air, and those are important, too, in the effect of the garden, for with only bulbs and creeping things, such as mainly decorate the spring, the shrubs and flowering trees are needed to carry our colour higher up.

The first to bloom behind our garden walls in a sheltered south border is the Mezereon (Daphne mezereum), which before a leaf is thought of, often in late February, has wrapped its stiff little branches in a fragrant purple scarf or somewhat less effectively in a white one. It is a dwarf and succeeds best in a light, well-drained soil made rich with old cow manure, and it will grow in partial shade. The first mild days cause the tiny crowded blossoms to open, and often in November there will be another less hearty but very welcome flowering.

Another very early corner is the Twin-flowered Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, and besides decorating its brown branches in every direction with pairs of creamy blossoms, it floods the cold spring garden with a most delicious fragrance. It is an erect-growing, semi-evergreen shrub, reaching a height of about six feet, and will grow almost anywhere, but in a sunny sheltered spot it blooms earlier than in exposed places. Others of its family well worth growing and which flower much later in the year are L. Standishii and Maackii.

Often, as early as the middle of March, the Forsythias hang out their yellow lamps, casting a pale radiance for the Crocuses to get up by. There are several different sorts, all bearing the same yellow bells, but showing differences in their manner of growth. Forsythia suspensa has long drooping branches, and this is the best sort for training against a wall, or for planting in groups in half-wild places where it will have plenty of room to trail its branches without interfering with its neighbours. F. intermedia is a fine form of robust habit, more erect than suspensa, while F. viridissima is the strongest growing and most erect of all but with less fine flowers than the other two. These shrubs grown in masses constitute one of the joys of spring. In the garden I have a group of three in a wide border, one with its branches trained against the wall, the other two in front of it. They have an underplanting of pale Crocus bifiorus, which is very charming in the soft light of the yellow Forsythias.

Hurriedly slipping on her clothes, also by this soft effulgence, is that baby of the great Spiraea family, S. Thunbergii, a fluffy, appealing mite, seldom growing more than a yard high and covering itself in early spring with a smother of tiny white flowers and reddish leaves.

This is a pretty shrub to grow in front of Forsythias, with drifts of purple and white and yellow Crocuses around and beneath it.

The beauty of Magnolias in early spring is well known to most garden lovers. The great M. Yulan and the purple-stained M. Soulangeana are spoken of in the chapter on flowering trees, but snowy M. stellata has a place among the earliest shrubs of the year. It is seldom seen more than four feet high, but blooms at so early an age and presents so solid a mass of gleaming whiteness that it frequently looks like a forgotten snowdrift lying upon the wet brown earth or the freshening grass. The fragrant flowers are composed of about a dozen strap-shaped petals, loosely grouped, and the leaves do not appear until after the blossoms are past. This Magnolia, like most of its kin, is best suited with a rich, porous soil, and if it may be protected from the rowdy gales of the young year by wall or taller shrubs, it is grateful.

Pyrus or Cydonia Japonica (Chenomaler) , which blooms in early April, is one of the most brilliantly effective shrubs of the entire year. The gay scarlet flowers cling along the crooked, thorny bushes most artistically, and in spite of its being what we call “common,” should be found in every garden. There are pink and blush sorts and a variety called Maulei, which has some orange in its scarlet colour. Against our garden wall the ordinary scarlet sort creates a fine picture with bright-pink early Tulips trailing down the border from its prickly skirts.

Before spring has got very far along her flowery path other members of the Spiraea tribe begin to deck themselves in festal array. S. prunifolia, ft. pl., with long, wand-like branches lined with white button-like flowers, is early to bloom, and S. arguta is another lovely early-blooming sort. S. Van Houttei is a well-known and splendid sort which blooms in early May, and is followed through the season by other kinds, all worth having in a large collection — Reevesii — white, May. Bumalda —  dwarf — pink, July. Anthony Waterer, magenta, all summer; and others.

Daffodils and early Tulips are charming peeping from beneath the snowy draperies of the early-flowering Spiraeas, and groups of the noble Crown Imperial are very handsome in the neighbourhood of S. prunifolia.

Toward the end of April Ribes aureum, the Flowering Currant of old gardens, begins to shake out its small yellow blossoms, the perfume of which seeks us out at a great distance. This is not a shrub of high degree, but a sweet old-fashioned thing that one likes to tuck away in all sorts of places for the sake of its perfume, particularly under one’s windows. It does well anywhere, even in shade. There are other varieties, sanguineum and atrosanguineum with reddish flowers, but I have had only the common sort.

The Kerrias, both single and double, are at their height about the first of May. I rather prefer the single sort, but both are fine and golden in their bloom, which thickly clothes the slender light-green branches. These plants are said to prefer a damp soil, but I have not found them fastidious, and save that they are sometimes nipped by late spring frosts are most easily managed.

Lovely indeed, just now, is Prunus triloba, ft. pl., a shrubby member of the plum family, which wreathes itself from top to bottom with gay pink rosettes resembling but larger than those affected by the Flowering Almond. We have two great bushes of Prunus triloba in front of the garden-house porch with a fine clump of gray-white Florentine Iris and some cherry-coloured Tulips Pride of Haarlem as its neighbours.

The gay little Flowering Almond, in both its pink and its white manifestation, is in full regalia at this season. Ours are growing against a group of Purple Leaved Plums, in a border where Bleeding Hearts and pink and white Cottage Tulips complete a delightful picture.

Soon come Lilacs, “in snow-white innocence or purple pride,” and how glad we are to see them! Surely it is the favourite shrub. Here we have fine old bushes, tall enough to shake their scented plumes into the second-story windows. And all about the countryside are magnificent specimens, many of them keeping guard, with the striped grass and orange Day Lilies, over the charred or crumbling ruins of what was once a cherished home.

Even after making the acquaintance of many of the splendid new varieties, so truly fine in colour and form, my foolish heart clings to the old-fashioned single purple and white, for no flower seems to me to so truly express the fulness of the spring. But I am planting all sorts and feel that we cannot have too many. Some of the best of the new sorts are Charles X, a stirring reddish purple; Marie Legraye and Madam Casimir-Perier, splendid single and double whites; Madam Lemoine, double cream; Souv. de Louis Spath, pinkish mauve; Pres. Carnot, double lavender; Pres. Grevy, bluish-lavender; Grand Duc Constantin, ashy-lilac, double.

It is well, if possible, to procure these new Lilacs on their own roots, as suckers from the budded sorts cause much trouble and if not carefully removed will soon kill out our rare variety.

Few shrubs are lovelier than the old Persian Lilac, in both its lilac and white varieties. It is more slender in all its parts than the other Lilacs and bears its great loose panicles of bloom from top to bottom.

There are other sorts of Lilacs that one might also grow. The Rouen Lilac is lovely, and Syringa Japonica, of tree-like form, leathery leaves, and creamy blossoms that come after other Lilacs are past, is said to be fine. I have had a bush of the Hungarian Lilac (S. Josikaea) in the garden for several years, but it seems most deliberate and has not yet bloomed.

Lilacs love a rich soil and a spot not too dry, and they seem to like to grow close to a house, where the drip from the eaves finds its way to their thirsty roots, or perhaps the sympathy and companionship of human beings answers to some need of its nature, for surely Lilacs are never so fine as when growing close to a dwelling. To prune Lilacs is to do them grievous harm. I have known them sulk, or perhaps mourn, for years after a smart trimming, not giving a single bloom. The faded flowers are best cut away, but the branches may be left to themselves.

Besides the beloved Lilacs May has great wealth in the way of flowering shrubs. The Deutzias are a useful and deserving race, which will thrive lustily if given tolerable conditions. There are numerous varieties, but the family is well represented by D. crenata ft. pl., Pride of Rochester, double white flowers; Crenata rosea, double pink; Lemoinei, a sturdy dwarf shrub of upstanding habit, producing pure-white flowers, and gracilis, a small fluffy-flowered thing of great beauty.

Exochorda grandiflora, the Pearl Bush, is one of the prettiest of flowering shrubs, though not often seen. Its snowy, inch-broad blossoms appear in great profusion with the leaves, and a well-grown specimen may be eight feet high and as many through. It delights in rich soil and some protection from the wind, and to be seen at its best should be given plenty of room for development.

Another good white-flowered shrub is Rhodotypos Kerrioides, which has much the appearance of a single white Kerria. The foliage is large and handsome and the gleaming blossoms are followed in autumn by dark coloured berries. It grows about six feet tall, is reasonable about soil, and belongs to the early days of the month.

The Mock Oranges (Philadelphus) are only a bit behind the Lilacs in our affections. The old P. coronarius is perhaps in some danger of being superseded by the beautiful new hybrids, which have been placed at our disposal, but they all have the same charm of creamy bloom, delicious fragrance, and good foliage. Save for P. microphyllus, which is a dwarf of the most engaging type, the Mock Oranges are tall-growing shrubs. The best of the new varieties are Avalanche, Boule d’Argent, Fantaisie, Mont Blanc, and Gerbe de Neige. There is a yellow-leaved form of coronarius which is a much better shrub than many other yellow-leaved things, and often very useful in lighting up a shadowy corner. These shrubs will grow in shade, if necessary, but they dislike being crowded and will bloom well only when given plenty of space. They bloom upon the wood of the previous season, so if this is cut away the result is obvious.

Weigelas belong to May and are very hardy and useful shrubs, but somehow they awaken little enthusiasm in my soul. The white-flowered sorts, candida and Dame Blanche, are the prettiest, I think; but the pink-flowered varieties enjoy much favour. Eve Rathke blooms quite late and bears very handsome claret-coloured flowers; Abel Carrière is a good bright rose; Esperance, pale salmon, and Fleur de Mai, purplish-pink, flower earlier than the rest; and there are also La Perle, a pretty blush-colour, and Saturn, very nearly carmine. Little pruning is required, save to keep the sturdy bushes free from old and useless wood, and they succeed well in almost any situation.

A shrub familiar to most garden-bred folk is the old Snowball tree, Viburnum opulus var. sterilis. Great bushes of it were in the garden where I grew up and we called it “Summer snowball” and not infrequently used it as such. It will grow eight feet high and almost as thick through, the long branches bending under the weight of the heavy blooms. The bushes grow thickly in a rich soil and require an annual thinning out of old wood.

With the opening summer comes the lovely Rose Acacia (Robinia hispida) drooping its long branches, hung with rosy pea-shaped blossoms, among the fresh young leafage. I do not often see this charming shrub in handsome gardens, but I know of many humble door yards that boast its high-bred beauty, but where it ever has an alien look, seeming to belong to higher walks of life. The Rose Acacia is of rapid growth and becomes an ornament while more deliberate shrubs are making up their minds to grow. On account of its drooping, spreading habit it requires room to adequately display its charms. In Mr. E. T. Cook’s book, “Trees and Shrubs for English Gardens,” he says, “The Rose Acacia (Robinia hispida), trained on a wall or house, is as beautiful as any Wisteria, and the quality of the low-toned rosy bloom of a much rarer colour. It is quite hardy, but so brittle that it needs close and careful wail training or other support.”

With the arrival of summer the great array of flowering shrubs becomes noticeably depleted, but we do not feel their loss so much as the herbaceous borders are rapidly filling with tall and splendid tenants. But there are still a few, the old-fashioned Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus floridus), with its hard little brown blossoms of memory-stirring fragrance, so valuable to children for tying tightly in the corner of a handkerchief for the refreshment of the nose. Some people lose their fancy for the fragrance of these little brown blossoms when they acquire a taste for spotless handkerchiefs and perfumes in bottles, but I do not lose my love for it. One whiff of the spicy, exhilarating odour, and open flies the gate long closed upon a joyous childhood, and with the brown talisman tightly held within my palm I an free to pass through into a land of perpetual revels where all wonders are possible and where faith in life and its great promises is as firm as the walls which guard the garden. I like to see my children tying the Calycanthus blossoms in their grimy little handkerchiefs, for I feel sure they will one day be as glad as I for a passport which will admit them once more to the sheltered garden of their childhood.

Friend Althaea is about the most accommodating shrub of my acquaintance. Even life in a city backyard, where it is peppered with dust and soot and where the air it breathes is far from pure, does not alter its determination to grow and be beautiful. I like the single Althaeas best, but the doubles are pretty enough, and generally preferred. The colours go from white to deep rose and maroon, and there are some nice purplish and lilac shades which are particularly effective against stone walls or gray stucco houses. Hibiscus syriacus is its proper name, and it is also called Rose of Sharon. The trees are strong and woody, and reach a height of ten feet.

Another shrub of mid-summer and early fall is the Hardy Hydrangea, which, in a small garden, is rather like the proverbial bull in a China shop, clumsy and unmanageable, owing to the great size of its blossoms, which are out of scale with the bush and with most things in its vicinity. It is, in the language of the catalogues, “a grand specimen shrub,” and as such it is too frequently used to the desecration of what would otherwise be a pleasant lawn. Massed against tall evergreens or sweeping along a driveway the Hardy Hydrangea acquires a certain dignity and power, and to my mind it is only in such bold planting in wide places that it should be used. Hydrangea paniculata and its var. grandiflora are the best and hardiest kinds. They will reach a height of about six feet, and in the autumn the blossoms turn a fine reddish colour, and may be brought indoors for winter decoration. The shrub should be severely pruned in early spring, one-half its growth cut back to insure a symmetrical form and countless heavy-headed blossoms.

Most of the Buddleias are too tender for the rigours of our winters, those best for our gardens are all varieties of B. Davidii and are known under various names like Veitchiana, more robust than the type, and B. variabilis, etc. These may be counted upon to come through a severe winter unscathed as far north as Boston. These shrubs grow into fair-sized bushes with wand-like, drooping branches, bearing flowers not unlike the lilac in form and of a charming rosy-lilac shade. The blooms form on the new wood, and the bushes require cutting back in very early spring (March) to within two or three eyes of the old wood. They are best planted in spring, so that they may become well established before the strain of winter.

When autumn arrives we cease to expect flowers from our shrubs and are grateful to those with colouring leaves and gay fruit. The Sumachs give superb colour, their ruddy plumes in fine harmony with the scarlet of their foliage. The Smoke tree, Rhus Cotinus, is one of the finest of the Sumachs. It grows into a tall, full shrub, or small tree, with bright, light-green leaves. The purple flowers in summer are not very conspicuous, but later become what the botanists call “exceedingly plumose,” giving the tree the appearance of a huge puff of brown smoke. R. typhina laciniata, the Cut-leaved, Staghorn Sumach, is a beautiful sort, with delicate foliage, which turns magnificently in the fall and bears, besides, great clusters of dark crimson fruit.

Barberries I have not before mentioned, for while they flower early the pendent fruit that is the chief of their charms does not come until the autumn. The common Barberry B. vulgaris, so intimate a feature of the New England landscape, but not native to it, having been introduced from Europe many years ago, is a good sort, with small yellow flowers in spring and dangling, brilliantly scarlet berries in the autumn. The purple-leaved Barberry, B. vulgaris var. purpurea, is a tall-growing shrub of splendid colour. Best known of the family is, perhaps, B. Thunbergii, the small, thorny shrub so much used for low hedges. Its foliage colours richly, and in winter the scarlet fruit dances gayly in the wind above the snow-shrouded garden.

Many of the Elders, Sambucus, are fine in the late months of the year, turning a soft yellow and bearing ornamental fruits. The common Elder, S. canadensis, is a good shrub and bears dark reddish-purple berries. S. nigra var. aurea has yellow leaves and flat clusters of bluish-white berries. S. maxima var. pubescens bears large flower clusters in the late summer, which are followed by red berries.

Viburnums also are gay fruited. V. Opulus has red berries; lantana has red berries that finally turn dark; dentatum has rich blue-black fruit, and the Maple-leaved Viburnum, which grows wild in our mountains, also has clusters of dark-coloured berries.

The old-fashioned Snowberry peeps through most of the tumbledown fences in our neighbourhood, and we have a fine group at our own front fence. The shrub grows about five feet high and has small leaves, tiny pink flowers, beloved of bees, which are followed by large, gleaming white berries. The appalling name of this simple old friend is Symphoricarpus racemosus. It spreads quickly, and is a good shrub of medium height.

Besides these gay-leaved, bright-fruited shrubs there are many others, too numerous for inclusion in a short chapter, but they may be found among the Dogwoods. Euonymuses, Hawthorns, Crabs, Plums, Andromedas, Roses, Alders, and others.

PRUNING. One needs to be wary of the knife where shrubs are concerned. Constantly I see them lopped and mangled into the most pitiful semblance of their former graceful state, the ignorant butcher seemingly unaware or unmindful of the fact that he has cut off the greater part of the spring’s store of blossoms. Some gardeners seem to have a perfect mania for pruning — really it is not safe to leave the knife within their reach, for once launched upon a pruning orgy they are seemingly insane and cut and slash with horrid joy — just one more bud-laden twig, just one more branch of promise —  until where is the gracious, long-limbed shrub of a moment ago? Quite gone, and in its place a stubby, shame-faced, denuded thing, already suffering pangs of mortification over the barrenness she knows must be hers in the coming season of bloom and fruitfulness.

It is better not to prune at all until one knows one’s shrubs pretty thoroughly: when they bloom, and if they are vigorous or delicate.

Mr. E. T. Cook says: “Many shrubs which have been in one place for some years, and have become stunted or poorly flowered, are often given a new lease of life by a hard pruning in winter, cutting away all the old wood entirely and shortening the remainder. With a good feeding at the same time, they will throw up strong young shoots, full of vigour, which will bear fine and well-coloured flowers.” Mr. Cook also says that when a cut is made it should be accomplished with a sharp instrument, clean and slanting toward a bud.

Most flowering shrubs need little or no pruning, save the removal of old and useless wood, but if pruning is considered desirable it is essential to know whether the flowers are borne upon the old or upon the new wood, so that we shall not cause ourselves, as well as the poor shrub, the sorrow of a flowerless season.

Click the icon to go to the next chapter of My Garden.