Every yard ought to have its quota of shrubs. They give to it a charm which nothing else in the plant-line can supply, because they have a greater dignity than the perennial and the annual plant, on account of size, and the fact that they are good for many years, with very little care, recommends them to the home-maker who cannot give a great deal of attention to the garden and the home-grounds. It hardly seems necessary to say anything about their beauty. That is one of the things that “goes without saying,” among those who see, each spring, the glory of the Lilacs and the Spireas, and other shrubs which find a place in “everybody’s garden.” On very small ground the larger-growing shrubs take the place of trees quite satisfactorily. Indeed, they are preferable there, because they are not likely to outgrow the limits assigned them, as trees will in time, and they do not make shade enough to bring about the unsanitary conditions which are almost always found to exist in small places where trees, planted too thickly at first, have made a strong development. Shade is a pleasing feature of a place in summer, but there is such a thing as having too much of it. We frequently see places in which the dwelling is almost entirely hidden by a thicket of trees, and examination will be pretty sure to show that the house is damp, and the occupants of it unhealthy. Look at the roof and you will be quite sure to find the shingles covered with green moss. The only remedy for such a condition of things is the thinning out or removal of some of the trees, and the admission of sunlight. Shrubs can never be charged with producing such a state of things, hence my preference for them on lots where there is not much room. Vines can be used upon the walls of the dwelling and about the verandas and porches in such a way as to give all the shade that is needed, and, with a few really fine specimens of shrubs scattered about the grounds, trees will not be likely to be missed much.
I would not be understood as discouraging the planting of trees on grounds where there is ample space for their development. A fine tree is one of the most beautiful things in the world, but it must be given a good deal of room, and that is just what cannot be done on the small city or village lot. Another argument in favor of shrubs is they will be in their prime a few years after planting, while a tree must have years to grow in. And a shrub generally affords considerable pleasure from the start, as it will bloom when very small. Many of them bloom the first season.
In locating shrubs do not make the mistake of putting them between the house and the street, unless for the express purpose of shutting out something unsightly either of buildings or thoroughfare. A small lawn loses its dignity when broken up by trees, shrubs, or flower-beds. Left to itself it imparts a sense of breadth and distance which will make it seem larger than it really is. Plant things all over it and this effect is destroyed. I have said this same thing in other chapters of this book, and I repeat it with a desire to so impress the fact upon the mind of the home-maker that he cannot forget it, and make the common mistake of locating his shrubbery or his flower-gardens in the front yard.
The best location for shrubs on small lots is that which I have advised for hardy plants—along the sides of the lot, or at the rear of it, far enough away from the dwelling, if space will permit, to serve as a background for it. Of course no hard-and-fast rule can be laid down, because lots differ so widely in size and shape, and the houses we build on them are seldom found twice in the same place. I am simply advising in a general way, and the advice will have to be modified to suit the conditions which exist about each home.
Do not set your shrubs out after any formal fashion—just so far apart, and in straight rows—as so many do. Formality should be avoided whenever possible.
I think you will find the majority of them most satisfactory when grouped. That is, several of a kind—or at least of kinds that harmonize in general effect—planted so close together that, when well developed, they form one large mass of branches and foliage. I do not mean, by this, that they should be crowded. Give each one ample space to develop in, but let them be near enough to touch, after a little.
If it is proposed to use different kinds in groups, one must make sure that he understand the habit of each, or results will be likely to be most unsatisfactory. The larger-growing kinds must be given the center or the rear of the group, with smaller kinds at the sides, or in front. The season of flowering and the peculiarities ofbranch and foliage should also be given due consideration. If we were to plant a Lilac with its stiff and rather formal habit among a lot of Spireas, all slender grace and delicate foliage, the effect would be far from pleasing. The two shrubs have nothing in common, except beauty, and that is so dissimilar that it cannot be made to harmonize. There must be a general harmony. This does not mean that there may not be plenty of contrast. Contrast and harmony are not contradictory terms, as some may think.
Therefore read up in the catalogues about the shrubs you propose to make use of before you give them a permanent place in the yard.
The plant you procure from the nursery will be small. So small, indeed, that if you leave eight or ten feet between it and the next one you set out, it will look so lonesome that it excites your pity, and you may be induced to plant another in the unfilled space to keep it company. But in doing this you will be making a great mistake. Three or four years from now the bushes will have run together to such an extent that each plant has lost its individuality. There will be a thicket of branches which will constantly interfere with each other’s well being, and prevent healthy development. If you take the look ahead which I have advised, you will anticipate the development of the shrub, and plant for the future rather than the immediate present. Be content to let the grounds look rather naked for a time. Three or four years will remedy that defect. You can plant perennials and annuals between them, temporarily, if you want the space filled. It will be understood that what has been said in this paragraph applies to different kinds of shrubs set as single specimens, and not to those planted on the “grouping” system.
In planting shrubs, the rule given for trees applies quite fully. Have the hole for them large enough to admit of spreading out their roots naturally. You can tell about this by setting the shrub down upon the ground after unwrapping it, and watching the way in which it disposes of its roots. They will spread out on all sides as they did before the plant was taken from the ground. This is what they should be allowed to do in their new quarters. Many persons dig what resembles a post-hole more than anything else, and crowd the roots of the shrub into it, without making any effort to loosen or straighten them out, dump in some lumpy soil, trample it down roughly, and call the work done. Done it is, after a fashion, but those who love the plants they set out—those who want fine shrubs and expect them to grow well from the beginning—never plant in that way. Spread the roots out on all sides, cover them with fine, mellow soil, settle this into compactness with a liberal application of water, then fill up the hole, and cover the surface with a mulch of some kind. Treated in this way not one shrub in a hundred will fail to grow, if it has good roots. What was said about cutting off the ends on injured roots, in the chapter on planting trees, applies with equal pertinence here. Also, about keeping the roots covered until you are ready to put the plant into the ground. A shrub is a tree on a small scale, and should receive the same kind of treatment so far as planting goes. These instructions may seem trifling, but they are really matters of great importance, as every amateur will find after a little experience. A large measure of one’s success depends on how closely we follow out the little hints and suggestions along these lines in the cultivation of all kinds of plants.
Among our best large shrubs, suitable for planting at the rear of the lot, or in the back row of a group, is the Lilac. The leading varieties will grow to a height of ten or twelve feet, and can be made to take on bush form if desired, or can be trained as a small tree. If the bush form is preferred, cut off the top of the plant, when small, and allow several branches to start from its base. If you prefer a tree, keep the plant to one straight stem until it reaches the height where you want the head to form. Then cut off its top. Branches will start below. Leave only those near the top of the stem. These will develop and form the head you want. I consider the Lilac one of our very best shrubs, because of its entire hardiness, its rapid development, its early flowering habit, its beauty, its fragrance, and the little attention needed by it. Keep the soil about it rich, and mow off the suckers that will spring up about the parent plant in great numbers each season, and it will ask no more of you. The chief objection urged against it is its tendency to sucker so freely. If let alone, it will soon become a nuisance, but with a little attention this disagreeable habit can be overcome. I keep the ground about my plants free from suckers by the use of the lawn-mower. They can be cut as easily as grass when young and small.
If there is a more beautiful shrub than the white Lilac I do not know what it is. For cut-flower work it is as desirable as the Lily of the Valley, which is the only flower I can compare it with in delicate beauty, purity, and sweetness.
The Persian is very pleasing for front positions, because of its compact, spreading habit, and its slender, graceful manner of branching close to the ground. It is a very free bloomer, and a bush five or six feet high, and as many feet across, will often have hundreds of plume-like tufts of bloom, of a dark purple showing a decided violet tint.
The double varieties are lovely beyond description. At a little distance the difference between the doubles and singles will not be very noticeable, but at close range the beauty of the former will be apparent. Their extra petals give them an airy grace, a feathery lightness, which the shorter-spiked kinds do not have. By all means have a rosy-purple double variety, and a double white. No garden that lives up to its privileges will be without them. If I could have but one shrub, I think my choice would be a white Lilac.
Another shrub of tall and stately habit is the old Snowball. When well grown, few shrubs can surpass it in beauty. Its great balls of bloom are composed of scores of individually small flowers, and they are borne in such profusion that the branches often bend beneath their weight. Of late years there has been widespread complaint of failure with this plant, because of the attack of aphides. These little green plant-lice locate themselves on the underside of the tender foliage, before it is fully developed, and cause it to curl in an unsightly way. The harm is done by these pests sucking the juices from the leaf. I have had no difficulty in preventing them from injuring my bushes since I began the use of the insecticide sold by the florists under the name of Nicoticide. If this is applied as directed on the can in which it is put up, two or three applications will entirely rid the plant of the insects, and they will not return after being driven away by anything as disagreeable to them as a nicotine extract. Great care must be taken to see that the application gets to the underside of the foliage where the pests will establish themselves. This is a matter of the greatest importance, for, in order to rout them, it is absolutely necessary that you get the nicotine where they are. Simply sprinkling it over the bush will do very little good.
The Spirea is one of the loveliest of all shrubs. Its flowers are exquisite in their daintiness, and so freely produced that the bush is literally covered with them. And the habit of the bush is grace itself, and this without any attention whatever from you in the way of training. In fact, attempt to train a Spirea and the chances are that you will spoil it. Let it do its own training, and the result will be all that you or any one else could ask for. There are several varieties, as you will see when you consult the dealers’ catalogues. Some are double, some single, some white, some pink. Among the most desirable for general culture I would name Van Houteii, a veritable fountain of pure white blossoms in May and June, Prunifolia, better known as “Bridal Wreath,” with double white flowers, Billardi, pink, and Fortunei, delicate, bright rose-color.
The Spireas are excellent shrubs for grouping, especially when the white and pink varieties are used together. This shrub is very hardy, and of the easiest culture, and I can recommend it to the amateur, feeling confident that it will never fail to please.
Quite as popular as the Spirea is the Deutzia, throughout the middle section of the northern states. Farther north it is likely to winter-kill badly. That is, many of its branches will be injured to such an extent that they will have to be cut away to within a foot or two of the ground, thus interfering with a free production of flowers. The blossoms of this shrub are of a tasselly bell-shape, produced thickly all along the slender branches, in June. Candidissima is a double white, very striking and desirable. Gracilis is the most daintily beautiful member of the family, all things considered. Discolor grandiflora is a variety with large double blossoms, tinted with pink on the reverse of the petals.
The Weigelia is a lovely shrub. There are white, pink, and carmine varieties. The flowers, which are trumpet-shaped, are borne in spikes in which bloom and foliage are so delightfully mixed that the result is a spray of great beauty. A strong plant will be a solid mass of color for weeks.
An excellent, low-growing, early flowering shrub is Pyrus Japonica, better known as Japan Quince. It is one of our earliest bloomers. Its flowers are of the most intense, fiery scarlet. This is one of our best plants for front rows in the shrubbery, and is often used as a low hedge.
One of our loveliest little shrubs is Daphne Cneorum, oftener known as the “Garland Flower.” Its blossoms are borne in small clusters at the extremity of the stalks. They are a soft pink, and very sweet. The habit of the plant is low and spreading. While this is not as showy as many of our shrubs, it is one that will win your friendship, because of its modest beauty, and will keep a place in your garden indefinitely after it has once been given a place there.
Berberis the “Barberry” of “Grandmother’s garden” is a most satisfactory shrub, for several reasons: It is hardy everywhere. The white, yellow, and orange flowers of the different varieties are showy in spring; in fall the foliage colors finely; and through the greater part of winter the scarlet, blue and black berries are extremely pleasing. Thunbergii is a dwarf variety, with yellow flowers, followed by vivid scarlet fruit. In autumn, the foliage changes to scarlet and gold, and makes the bush as attractive as if covered with flowers. This is an excellent variety for a low hedge.
Exochorda grandiflora, better known as “Pearl Bush,” is one of the most distinctively ornamental shrubs in cultivation. It grows to a height of seven to ten feet, and can be pruned to almost any desirable shape. The buds, which come early in the season, look like pearls strung on fine green threads—hence the popular name of the plant—and these open into flowers of the purest white. A fine shrub for the background of a border.
Forsythia is a splendid old shrub growing to a height of eight to ten feet. Its flowers appear before its leaves are out, and are of such a rich, shining yellow that they light up the garden like a bonfire. The flowers are bell-shaped, hence the popular name of the plant, “Golden Bell.”
Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora is a very general favorite because of its great hardiness, profusion of flowers, ease of cultivation, and habit of late blooming. It is too well known to need description.
Robinia hispida, sometimes called Rose Acacia, is a native species of the Locust. It has long, drooping, very lovely clusters of pea-shaped flowers of a soft pink color. It will grow in the poorest soil and stand more neglect than any other shrub I have knowledge of. But because it can do this is no reason why it should be asked to do it. Give it good treatment and it will do so much better for you than it possibly can under neglect, that it will seem like a new variety of an old plant.
The Flowering Currant is a delightful shrub, and one that anyone can grow, and one that will flourish anywhere. It is very pleasing in habit, without any attention in the way of training. Its branches spread gracefully in all directions from the centre of the bush, and grow to a length of six or seven feet. Early in the season they are covered with bright yellow flowers of a spicy and delicious fragrance. In fall the bush takes on a rich coloring of crimson and gold, and is really much showier then than when in bloom, in spring.
Sambucus aurea—the Golden Elder—is one of the showiest shrubs in cultivation, and its showy feature is its foliage. Let alone, it grows to be a very large bush, but judicious pruning keeps it within bounds, for small grounds. It makes an excellent background for such brilliantly colored flowers as the Dahlia, Salvia splendens, or scarlet Geraniums. It deserves a place in all collections. Our native Cut-Leaved Elder is one of the most beautiful ornaments any place can have. It bears enormous cymes of delicate, lace-like, fragrant flowers in June and July. These are followed by purple berries, which make the bush as attractive as when in bloom.
The Syringa, or Mock Orange, is one of our favorites. It grows to a height of eight and ten feet and is therefore well adapted to places in the back row, or in the rear of the garden. Its flowers, which are borne in great profusion, are a creamy white, and very sweet-scented.
The double-flowered Plum is a most lovely shrub. It blooms early in spring, before its leaves are out. Its flowers are very double, and of a delicate pink, and are produced in such profusion that the entire plant seems under a pink cloud.
Another early bloomer, somewhat similar to the Plum, is the Flowering Almond, an old favorite. This, however, is of slender habit, and should be given a place in the front row. Its lovely pink-and-white flowers are borne all along the gracefully arching stalks, making them look like wreaths of bloom that Nature had not finished by fastening them together in chaplet form.
It is not to be understood that the list given above includes all the desirable varieties of shrubs suited to amateur culture. t does, however, include the cream of the list for general-purpose gardening. There are many other kinds that are well worth a place in any garden, but some of them are inclined to be rather too tender for use at the north, without protection, and others require a treatment which they will not be likely to get from the amateur gardener, therefore I would not advise the beginner in shrub-growing to undertake their culture.
Many an amateur gardener labors under the impression that all shrubs must be given an annual pruning. He doesn’t know just how he got this impression, but—he has it. He looks his shrubs over, and sees no actual necessity for the use of the knife, but—pruning must be done, and he cuts here, and there, and everywhere, without any definite aim in view, simply because he feels that something of the kind is demanded of him. This is where a great mistake is made. So long as a shrub is healthy and pleasing in shape let it alone. It is not necessary that it should present the same appearance from all points of view. That would be to make it formal, prim—anything but graceful. Go into the fields and forests and take lessons from Nature, the one gardener who makes no mistakes. Her shrubs are seldom regular in outline, but they are beautiful, all the same, and graceful, every one of them, with a grace that is the result of informality and naturalness. Therefore never prune a shrub unless it really needs it, and let the need be determined by something more than mere lack of uniformity in its development. Much of the charm of Nature’s workmanship is the result of irregularity which never does violence to the laws of symmetry and grace. Study the wayside shrub until you discover the secret of it, and apply the knowledge thus gained to the management of your home garden.
Shrubs can be set in fall or spring. Some persons will tell you that spring planting is preferable, and give you good reasons for their preference. Others will advance what seem to be equally good reasons for preferring to plant in fall. So far as my experience goes, I see but little difference in results.
By planting in spring, you get your shrub into the ground before it begins to grow.
By planting in fall, you get it into the ground after it has completed its annual growth.
You will have to be governed by circumstances, and do the best you can under them, and you will find, I feel quite sure, that good results will come from planting at either season.
If you plant in spring, do not defer the work until after your plants have begun growing. Do it as soon as the frost is out of the ground.
If in fall, do it as soon as possible after the plant has fully completed the growth of the season, and “ripened off,” as we say. In other words, is in that dormant condition which follows the completion of its yearly work. This will be shown by the falling of its leaves.
Never starve a shrub while it is small and young, under the impression that, because it is small, it doesn’t make much difference how you use it. It makes all the difference in the world. Much of its future usefulness depends on the treatment it receives at this period. What you want to do is to give it a good start. And after it gets well started, keep it going steadily ahead. Allow no grass or weeds to grow close to it and force it to dispute with them for its share of nutriment in the soil about its roots.
It is a good plan to spread a bushel or more of coarse litter about each shrub in fall. Not because it needs protection in the sense that a tender plant needs it, but because a mulch keeps the frost from working harm at its roots, and saves to the plant that amount of vital force which it would be obliged to expend upon itself if it were left to take care of itself. For it is true that even our hardiest plants suffer a good deal in the fight with cold, though they may not seem to be much injured by it. Mulch some of them, and leave some of them without a mulch, and notice the difference between the two when spring comes. If you do this, I feel sure you will give all of them the mulch-treatment every season thereafter.