Out of the Shrubbery
This weekend I attended the Society of Garden Designers conference at the Royal Geographical Society. The subject for the day was ‘Out of the Shrubbery’. This is an interesting topic as over the last 25 years garden designers and gardeners have tended to be influenced by the New Perennial Movement with planting schemes that follow the influence of the German and Dutch plantsman like Piet Oudolf. Grasses have become popular for creating form and winter interest within planting schemes, and shrubs have largely been overlooked. Whether this is because many people are ‘frightened’ of how to prune and maintain them or they have become associated with car park schemes. Badly maintained and cut into pudding basin shapes rather than sensitive pruning to retain their natural form. This is a shame as not only do they offer all round structure whether it is in their form, flowers, autumn colour or berries, something that the perennial planting we have become so familiar with largely does not, especially when cut down at the end of the winter. This type of planting provides interest from mid summer into autumn but largely ignores the earlier part of the year.
One of the ways to introduce shrubs into a perennial planting scheme is to add them as an accent point. An evergreen like Osmanthus delavayi clipped into a round bush with something arching like a species rose which has both flowers and hips in autumn. These can then be underplanted with layers of perennials and bulbs. Where space is a problem then smaller shrubs like Daphnes or potentillas but planted in groups so that they grow into large domes. Shrubs with berries or winter coloured stems are useful amongst perennials as are evergreens like Sarcoccoca humilis. Whatever you choose let these shrubs act as punctuation marks within a planting scheme and probably use no more the 20 percent in an average planting scheme.