The right shrubs can save work in mixed situations
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
The oft-bandied term “perennial border” has become embedded into our gardening parlance over the past several years. Almost every gardening magazine or article brings it up again and again.
It’s a misnomer, actually, particularly in this country where a border (that’s just a flower bed that’s longer than wide and usually viewed from one side) that consists of perennials only is practically impossible to find.
Even in the north, where 100-degree heat doesn’t debilitate and droughts are uncommon, it is extremely difficult to keep a pure perennial border presentable for more than a couple of months a year. Few gardeners would be willing to slave over a piece of ground for a performance that short.
Most borders and beds that are called “perennial” actually are mixed. Shrubs, annuals, bulbs and even small trees have their places in such a setup, and a mixed border can be contrived that will hold up virtually all year.
My own borders have, over the past several years, leant more toward additional shrubs. There are a couple of reasons for that. With four borders of some size and other maintenance requirements on our place, lower upkeep has, of necessity, become a requisite. I’ve created a monster that must be controlled, and shrubs are less demanding than perennials.
Then, too, some shrubs bloom longer than some perennials. Mostly it’s the other way around, but not always. Many perennials would be grown more but for the fact they’re so quickly in and out of bloom. Think bearded irises, for instance.
There is a fairly plentiful selection of shrubs that will offer bloom or good foliage — or both — for longer than the most brief of perennials.
Shrubs require no division, generally (but not always) are more drought tolerant and, on average, are longer lived. Many of them, as well, offer winter attraction when almost all perennials are dormant or are lying askew waiting the spring cleanup that should have been done in autumn.
Another thing going for shrubs is the fact they are nearly always less finicky than the average run of perennials. Again, this is a general statement and there are exceptions, but they simply prove the rule.
Of course, for a shrub to contribute in a mixed border, its bloom should be during the time the border is otherwise attractive. It does little good, for instance, to have a winter blooming corylopsis, or some such, in a location that is seldom seen during its March season and takes up valuable space the rest of the year.
In this instance, it might be better to have, say, a variegated weigela that offers bloom in May with early perennials and then keeps up the show with foliage until fall. The weigela might not be, overall, the better shrub necessarily, but considering the requirements of a mixed border, it is. There are whole genera of shrubs that work well in mixed situations, and perhaps we’ll look at some of them anon.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger on 11.06.07
Garden Path, Jimmy Williams