The use of bushes and shrubs in a garden design not only gives a strong structure to the design, but is also labor-saving. Once you have prepared the ground well, planted the bush and kept it free of ground weeds for the first year or two, it will then require no maintenance apart from a little pruning if desired or necessary.
Bushes can form a background for lawn or flower beds, or they can themselves be the focal point, with trees as a background behind them. They can be the central part of the design, with trees behind and a herbaceous border in front. Or they can play a useful role as part of a herbaceous border backed by a wall. They can be used as ground cover, either allowed to grow and spread freely, or carefully clipped into a regular ground-covering geometric panel. Shrubs and bushes can be used as boundary hedges or as hedges which divide a garden into different rooms or compartments . This latter use is not, of course, low maintenance. If you are dividing a garden into rooms or compartments on the Sissinghurst or Hidcote model, using hedges as the walls, the shrubs forming the hedges have to be kept neatly trimmed so that they will form a thick, impenetrable barrier.
Sculptural shrubs: Box
Box is normally seen as a little shrub, although it can grow much taller There is a (true) story of a garden, deserted for over fifty years in the middle of a wood. Its new owners were told there had been a formal garden and, having fought their way through the undergrowth to get to the 'formal garden' were unable to find it, until they realized that the scrub which surrounded them, towering over their heads, were huge box hedges, now full of brambles and wild roses and elder.
In its more disciplined state, it is one of the most useful bushes there is, if the garden design is, at least in parts, formal. It is an ideal edging for a vegetable garden design, forming a boundary between the gravel paths and the soil of the beds. It is, of course, by far the best way of making a formal knot garden, with the middle filled with annual flowers or lavender. When allowed to grow tall, it forms a dense and manageable hedge and, together with yew, is much loved by topiary enthusiasts. And if the landscape design includes a maze (and why should it not) box is the preferred medium for creating it.
Box can also be used to give a restful area of green in a vibrant flower bed design. Small box bushes massed together and clipped into flat shaped blocks or undulating waves will give a peaceful contrast to the flowers around.
Climbing backdrop shrubs
A background of wall trained shrubs sets off a planting scheme to perfection. Climbing roses and clematis can be used on a wall or on a fence or trellis to rise above a border and complement its colour scheme. Gold roses above a blue based border give the classic blue and gold contrast of heraldry. Hydrangea anomala petiolaris has fresh green leaves and greenish white flowers, which give a good background to almost any color scheme. Honeysuckle will twine up ropes, and although it is not a strong shrub, works well together with more vigorous climbers. Wisteria is the king of the climbing shrubs and can even be grown as a small tree in a herbaceous border.
Free standing shrubs
There are now thousands of cultivated flowering shrubs to choose from for a garden design. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different varieties of camellia, erica, rhododendron, magnolia, syringe, cystus or daphne, to mention only a handful. The chief factor in choosing freestanding bushes for a landscape design is to ensure that there will be something of interest in every season of the year. Summer and autumn will always be full of flowers and foliage color â€“ it is the other seasons that need careful planning.
Shrubs which have bright winter berries, such as berberis and pyracantha, or which have brightly colored stems, such as many of the salix, always have a place in a design. The early spring flowering shrubs include the lovely chaenomeles and the witch hazels, which can start flowering even in winter. The prunus family are all early in flowering. With these late winter and spring shrubs, the leaves appear after the flowers have died. The early shrubs need to be planted so that, throughout the rest of the year, they form a green contrast to other longer flowering shrubs. In early summer the viburnums, azaleas, lithospermum herald the beginning of the flowering year.