Why Plant Shrubs

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardener
“All gardening is landscape painting.” Horace Walpole in :On Modern Gardening” (1780)

When landscape designers say something like “Shrubs are a part of the bones of a garden,” what does that really mean and is that some kind of mystique jargon? Not really, because “Garden-pedia” defines shrub as a woody plant, smaller than a tree, with several stems or branches arising near the base or at ground level — also sometimes called a bush. An interesting garden question one might ask is: Are shrubs like the middle child in a family of trees and flowers? To those who garden they will probably answer with a resounding NO! A new book called “Shrubs: Discover the Perfect Plant for Every Place in Your Garden” by Andy McIndoe (Timber Press, 2018) provides positive proof that shrubs can indeed provide the glue that holds a landscape together… like bones.

Shrubs book coverMany books on shrubs are heavy on the three S’s: sun, shade, soil (pH, the degree of acidity and alkalinity); however, there are many other important conditions that gardeners face. Aside from USDA plant hardiness zones (noted for every plant described in the book), soil is the primary factor for attaining good shrub health and continued survival. Note that over time soil will change its characteristics. Space does not permit further explanation. Suffice to say it is a good idea to have a quality soil test (e.g., by VA Tech soils lab) taken about once every three years. This test will determine what you need to do (perhaps alter the pH and advise on nutrient uptake) in order to enhance your soil for a specific planting area.

The abundant points and emphasis made in “Shrubs” are specific and provide good reasons for why to plant, what to plant and where to plant shrubs. Unlike other shrub books this one is not designed as an alphabetical encyclopedia. “Shrubs” is a reasonably complete read as indicated in the book sub-title. Starting with the last chapter first, this is the piece de resistance because here is where you will read about the author’s abundant choices for shrubs with desirable characteristics. A beautiful color photo accompanies each plant description, and often the plants included exhibit architectural and dramatic effects for impact, screening and shelter for wildlife. There are also numerous pages on long-blooming shrubs and those with fragrant flowers. This chapter ends with a reminder about deer and rabbit resistant shrubs, and it is important to understand how to cope with this problem.

The author starts his shrub book explaining how to choose the “right” shrub, planting and care. Many garde