When designing gardens, shrubs are part of the structural planting phase. (Before choosing shrubs, make sure you have first considered designing with trees.) Most shrubs provide year-round interest and a green background for flowers.
When choosing shrubs for your garden, choose evergreen shrubs first. If you like shrubs that are deciduous or have variegated foliage, that is fine. Save those plants for when you consider choosing shrubs for a focal point. You’ll want your shrubs to provide year-round interest and provide a nice backdrop and sense of order for the flowers that you’ll plant later in your garden design process.
If you’d like to provide a boundary, garden wall, or screening for privacy, you can plant tall shrubs. Keep in mind that trees can provide this function as well; it depends on your need and space. If you want to block something at ground level, then shrubs are the best choice.
When you are trying to hide an object or provide walls, choose shrubs with small green leaves so that they do not attract attention. If one shrub is not enough, plant the same type of shrubs next to one another to form a wall.
In backyards that already have fences, you can plant shrubs along the fence (unless the fence is attractive). A wall of shrubs will provide a more lush feeling and a prettier backdrop for flowers than an ugly wood fence—especially if you can see through the fence panels.
Shrubs planted near the foundation of a house will enhance the curb appeal (unless the house has beautiful stonework or some other nice architectural feature). In fact, a shrub with sharp leaves, such as Holly, may even help deter unwanted visitors from accessing windows.
You can plant shrubs to provide boundaries for separate garden “rooms” or areas. You can also plant small shrubs to provide boundaries in flower gardens. For example, if you have a long side yard and want to plant flower gardens, you can use shrubs to separate different garden themes and color combinations.
You can also plant shrubs that are below eye level but above knee level to limit access to certain areas. For example, if you find that guests walk on your lawn to visit your front door, you can plant a wall of low-growing shrubs to help guide visitors where you want them to walk. This type of planting won’t obstruct your view but will provide boundaries. You can also use this method to limit access to water, a steep slope, cars, and other areas where you don’t want to block the view, but you do want to help guide or prevent direct access.
Shrubs planted close together to form a wall is considered a hedge. When choosing shrubs for a hedge, choose plants that have a fine texture so that you can easily trim them with a hedger to keep it in shape (shrubs with large leaves should be pruned at the branches because the large leaves will brown if cut in half with hedgers—too time consuming for a hedge).
If your hedge is tall, be sure that the bottom of the hedge is a bit wider at the bottom than at the top. This is called being “cut with a batter” and allows sunlight to reach the entire hedge.
A great shrub for formal hedges is Yew. Yew has a fine texture, dark leaves, and is non-reflective. It makes a great background for ornamental planting.
A great shrub for low hedges is Boxwood. You can shape and clip Boxwood to suit most any garden.
When designing your garden, be sure to allow space for you to walk around and clip your hedges.
If you don’t want the height of a tree, you can use shrubs to help provide shelter from wind.
Consider placing a “special” shrub to serve as a focal point in a garden. You can also place a few of these in several parts of the garden. Using a shrub as opposed to a tree as a focal point will call attention lower to the ground. (Keep in mind that you can also save the focal point to be flowers or garden artwork.)
When using a shrub as a focal point, choose one that has sculptural interest; for example, one with a strong form, distinctive habit, or bold foliage. You can also create your own sculptural interest by clipping a hedge into a topiary shape, such as a globe, spiral, or animal.
Next Steps in Designing Gardens
The next step to consider in your garden design plan is groundcover, which can include cement, pavers, rocks, turf, and more.
by Shannon Mendez