Roger the Shrubberer: There is a pestilence upon this land. Nothing is sacred. Even those who arrange and design shrubberies are under considerable economic stress at this period in history.
King Arthur: Did you say 'shrubberies'?
Roger the Shrubberer: Yes. Shrubberies are my trade. I am a shrubber. My name is 'Roger the Shrubber'. I arrange, design, and sell shrubberies.
Sir Bedevere: Ni!
King Arthur: No! No, no, no! No!
-- Monty Python's Holy Grail, scene 18
I liked Noel Kingsbury's February 29 post on Gardening Gone Wild, titled From the Shrubbery.
It said exactly what I have wanted to post about perennials versus woody plants ever since I began this blog. But of course he said it so much better than I could. And he asserts that after a decade of the New Perennial trend, shrubs may be making a welcome comeback.
I've been trying to create a woodland edge habitat out of my empty half acre yard, so from the start I focused on trees, (lots and lots, do you know how many individual trees make up a small forest and how many will never grow?) and shrubs (woody plants for a woodland look), and rocks (you work with what your garden gives you).
I wanted structure and form and permanence. I wanted height and shade. You don't get any of that from a flowerbed.
But as Noel points out in his post, perennials have ruled the day for a decade. They give you a full effect in two years, they are cheap to propagate and sell, they don't threaten the timid gardener with "care", and they are small enough for small gardens. Woody plants just seem more difficult.
I do grow perennials, and I listen with patience as others go on about hellebores and hostas, but I am a shrubberer at heart. So, with delight at Noel's prediction about shrubs, I present a few of my favorites that are small, that flower, and that grow without complaint in my garden.
|Zenobia pulverulenta (Honeycups). Delicate, open shape. Blueberry-like flowers. Glaucus foliage that holds dewdrops and shimmers with silver undersides. Keeps its leaves into winter. Not flashy or fancy, but elegant and quiet and very pretty.|
|Itea virginica (Sweetspire). A medium green filler in summer, but spring and fall are its seasons --- droopy spikes of white blooms in May, and fall color that is a deep clear garnet. Shapely and tidy.|
|Fothergilla gardenii (Witch alder). Funny white fuzzy flowers appear in May before the leaves. They smell lightly of honey. Medium green, clean foliage all summer, then bright orange fall color in November and December.|
All these shrubs are small enough (about 3 or 4 feet high) not to intimidate a perennial gardener and they fit in a border. They need no care, no pruning, no deadheading. They flower. They have all the attributes of a perennial but also give you structure and permanence all year long, color in fall, and flowers in spring or summer.
There are many other small flowering shrubs like azaleas, daphnes, and others that I do not grow. I love the big ornamental shrubs too --- bottlebrush buckeyes and all the viburnums, and many more. Oh and the winterberry hollies, hydrangeas of course, and half-high blueberries and . . . .
But if we are going to convert perennial gardeners into shrubberers, these smaller woody garden plants are good ones to start with.