March 4, 2012

I Am a Shrubberer

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.

Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet).  I have 'Hummingbird' which is low and white flowered and 'Ruby Spice', taller and pink flowered. The candles are spicy scented in mid summer and in fall it is a fireball of bright yellow foliage.  It's not a spring plant --- it wakes up slowly and looks like twiggy rubble until it leafs out, but all is forgiven in summer with the first whiff of spice and the first wink of a blooming candle.

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.
 

21 comments:

  1. From one shrubberer to another I so heartily agree! As a confirmed shrub-aholic myself, I have always maintained that you can have continuous blooms from spring to fall with carefully selected trees and shrubs. Great post.
    Sharon

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    1. Sharon, thanks --- I'm glad to know another shrubberer! You've certainly used them to great effect throughout your property.

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  2. I have quite a few of these shrubs in my garden too. I have such a small space and not much sun so I have to be careful. I just love shrubs and trees. CAn't get enough of them.

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    1. Lisa, For a small space these are good shrubs since they don't take too much room. And the clethra will take shade.

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  3. I love Monty Python and I love shrubs! great post. So thrilled to see some photos of your Clethra as I just received some seed of this plant and am very excited to get it growing this spring. I think you rightly point out that price and time is a big inhibitor with growing shrubs but some of them really grow quite fast and undeservedly get passed over.

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    1. It will be interesting to see your clethra. I assume it is the straight species, and if so, it can get quite large, bigger than the cultivars I grow. Once you get it going, be prepared, it takes forever to come alive each spring, and you'll think winter killed it! But it's just slow to wake up.

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  4. I agree with every word! I turned to shrubs because of the amount of space I had to fill and also because of my need for low maintenance. And usually shrubs provide more seasons of interest and much more bang for the buck than perennials. Call me a shrubber!

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    1. Shrubs are definitely low maintenance, but they do take a few years to mature, and that deters many gardeners. Like you, I had so much space to fill --- just hope my woodland edge attempts come out looking like your beautiful woodland.

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  5. As an arborist shrubs are the very thing that I work with the most. I do love perennials very much too! Shrubs are essential for creating a bio-diverse habitat in the winter months. I really like the list you present here in this post!

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    1. Forest Keeper, I can imagine shrubs make up most of the work an arborist does. You are the true shrubberer!

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  6. I am a Shrubberer too, but all of mine do need pruning or they get leggy and dead underneath. I am not familiar with any of the ones you pictured, and my conditions are so different to yours that they mightn't grow well here, but I'm on the hunt for something similar now that I know they exist.

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    1. Lyn, I wonder if you could grow any of these shrubs. You are in a temperate area, right? Anywhere that roses survive, these shrubs will do well --- if you could even find them. It sounds like they are unknown in Australia.

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    2. The climate should be okay, it's the soil I'm not sure of. The Clethra seems to need acidic soil, so it's out, but the others don't seem so fussy. I've looked and I can get them by mail order, but they're considered 'rare' here and are expensive - $30 for a plant in a 6-inch pot, plus postage, so it would be a risk. I really like the look of that Fothergilla, though!

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  7. Fellow shrubberers, unite!! I packed a flower bed with sweetspire and then stuffed in a dogwood to fill it out. I added diervilla to the garden a year or so ago, and love my deutzia, lilac, sweetbox, and viburnum shrubs. I grew fothergilla in SC. Flowers are great, but I, too, love the substance of shrubs. :o)

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    1. Tammy, I could tell you are a fellow shrubberer!

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  8. I cannot disagree with you, but you probably knew that from my very long comment to Noel. I often don't agree with him either or leave a comment, but his noting shrubs as coming back, well they never left. Our focus changed as HOME gardeners. It is a matter of how big a garden that one gardens. You seem to have a good handle on scale and have no fear of using shrubs and trees as all your images show so clearly.

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    1. Donna, thanks. Even small gardens can have some shrubs and trees, just more limited numbers. But it takes more imagination than just plunking them down in a row in front of the house foundation!

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  9. Laurrie, I've said before that I've gone about gardening backwards, that is, I started with annuals, then perennials, and finally shrubs. Partly, that is because our home already had large trees and a few--mostly boring--shrubs. But last year I vowed to add more shrubs and did a lot of researching over the winter on what to add. Coincidentally, I added one of all of these, except for the Zenobia--now I'll have to check out that species! My clethra didn't do much of anything last year, though; I'm hoping it was just "sleeping" its first year and will provide more of a show this year.

    I will say, though, no matter the trend, I'll always be a perennial lover!

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    1. Rose, I'm glad to know you have these same shrubs in your garden... and may add the zenobia, which is a little hard to find (I got mine at Woodlanders nursery online, but make sure you go to Woodlanders [dot] net, not [dot] com!)

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  10. Shrubs went out of vogue? Where was I? I thought most gardeners planted both shrubs and perennials. Annuals too.

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    1. Sweetbay, I know, it seems like good gardens should always have all kinds of plants in them!

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