As trees represent the “ceiling” in the garden room, shrubs can act as dividers or walls, as highlights, focal points, or screens.
Plant materials are one of the most important design elements for the floor, the walls and ceiling of outdoor rooms. They are living elements and need special care in selection and placement in the landscape.
In my previous post, I wrote about the many functions that shrubs can fill in the landscape, and how vital they are for a sustainable landscape design to be satisfying.
In this part, I continue to explore how to design with these plants and give a few choice examples.
How to design with shrubs
A good place for a larger a well-formed shrub is most often the background where it can serve as distinctive backdrop.
In this scene the Potato Bush Solanum rantonnettii lends solidity to a bed of lower growing perennials and grasses and adds an element of long lasting interest.
If you choose a shrub with colorful foliage and exceptional shape that doesn’t require constant pruning and that can stand up behind your perennials you have perhaps the perfect focal point. And with this it can deserve a place in the middle of your planter bed or even foreground (see Coneflowers above).
Some shrubs are indispensable not as backdrop, but mingling right in the midst , such as here the ‘Sunset Gold Pink Breath of Heaven Coleonema pulchella. Its luminous feathery foliage is a great permanent teaser next to the dark and fleshy foliage of the Aeonium ‘Cabernet’ on the left.
For shrubs such as the Round Leaf Tea Tree Leptospermum rotundifolium (another drought tolerant shrub native to Australia and New Zealand) , flowers that draw bees and hummingbirds almost year round are an added benefits; their cascading form and evergreen foliage provide a great backdrop to a tapestry of smaller, more delicate perennials. Its delicate foliage is also in great contrast to the fleshy and sturdy leaves of the succulents (Felt Plant Kalanchoe beharensis and Agave ‘Blue Glow’ as well as Echeverias, Crassula Campfire’, and Sedums).
Although this is not a formal design, shrubs can be used to lend symmetry to the design by repeating them on either side of a walkway, as shown above.
Care should be taken with the pink color of this Tea Tree; an orange flower next to it could be viewed as jarring. However, all reds tinged with blue, blues, purples and yellows are great.
Some shrubs, like the yellow ‘Spreading Sunset’ Lantana here, deserve a foreground place: They can take the place of perennials, have good-looking foliage, almost year-round bloom , good form, and have hardly any ups and downs. It is almost unbeatable in permanence and attraction. It is also very drought tolerant and will easily re-sprout if damaged by mild frost.
The Butterfly Bush Buddleia davidii – a must-have? It’s quite drought tolerant unless planted in inland valleys where it seems to need more water to look good… Its showy flowers have a heavenly fragrance and are magnets for hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects. However, its flowering season lasts a few weeks only, after which the blooms becomes sparse, and the majority of the flowers are faded and dried up and make this shrub less than attractive in my eyes. Add to this the yearly pruning to keep it at a manageable size and encourage re-blooming, this is a plant that demands quite a bit of work – and is still quite popular.
Placed in the way as is the Bottle Brush above, shrubs can add tension and mystery to a garden scene by partially blocking the view and causing the stroller to wonder what’s behind the bend in the path. Incidentally, this shrub also acts as divider between this and the next ‘garden room’.
Here’s a list of choice shrubs:
Focal Point shrubs:
Coneflower: ‘Safari Sunshine’ or ‘Goldstrike’, or ‘Jester’, or ‘Silvan’…Leucospermum & Leucadendron
Potato Bush Solanum rantonetti
Grevillea ‘Superb ‘(see above)
Roundleaf Tea Tree Lepstospermum rotundifolium
Bottlebrush ‘Mauve Mist’ Callistemon Mauve Mist
Back-ground, “backdrop” or mid-border shrubs:
Toyon Heteromeles arbutifolium
African Boxwood Myrsine africana
Baja Fairy Duster Calliandra californica
Texas Rangers: ‘Heavenly Cloud’, ‘Thunder Cloud’, ‘Green Cloud’ , ‘Lynn’s Legacy’… Leuphyllum frutescens & L. langmanniae
Bougainvillea ! (shrub form)
Parney Cotoneaster Cotoneaster lacteus
Golden Breath of Heaven Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold’
For the foreground:
Lantana selections and hybrids: ‘Dwarf Yellow’, ‘Gold Rush’, ‘Rainbow’ etc.
Grevillea Coastal Gem Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’
Bearberry ‘Low Fast’ Cotoneaster damneri ‘Low Fast’
Shrubs to 4 ft
|Botanical/Common Names||Size||Where to plant||Characteristics/Qualities|
|Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’ Grevillea ‘Coastal Gem’||1 ft x 4-5 ft||Full sun; light shade. Best in neutral to slightly acidic soil||Low water needs/drought tolerant. Reminds me of pink-flowering Rosemary… with dense grey-green needle-like foliage that arch and curve downwards, carrying small pink-red, spidery flowers from winter to late spring. Great as woody, hardy foreground shrub and groundcover among softer perennials and fleshy-leaved succulents. Used in repetition will ‘knit’ all together.|
|Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold’ – Golden Breath of Heaven||2-4 ft x 4-6 ft||Full sun/ light shade with good drainage. Medium water needs *||Great plant for its low, spreading, cascading form; as mid-border shrub its golden-greenish foliage contrasts well with succulents or perennials with fleshier texture and darker color.
Has small pinkish-white flowers in winter to spring.
|Lantana ‘Golden Spreader’ Dwarf Yellow Lantana
(see also Yellow Spreader Lantana)
|2 ft to 6 ft||Full sun; light shade||Low, spreading foreground shrub with deep green smallish-narrow leaves, sporting bright yellow flowers most of the year. Loves heat, has moderate watering needs. Tender to frost. Use it as stand-in for frillier perennials; used in repetition will “knit” smaller perennials and succulents together. Lantana is a well-used plant and has many attractive hybrid-“sisters”.|
Shrubs to 8 ft
|Botanical/Common Names||Size||Where to plant||Characteristics|
|Myrsine africana African Boxwood||6-8 ft x 4-5 ft||Full sun or dry shade.||This is a tough evergreen backdrop shrub with tiny deep green leaves and insignificant flowers. Its form can be tightly upright/rounded in full sun, or more open cascading in shadier situations. Drought tolerant/low water needs. I like its almost “elegant” foliage as background to colorful perennials of any texture as well as cool- or hot-colored succulents. Makes also small hedges. Hardy to 20-25 degrees.|
|Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’ Thunder Cloud Texas Ranger||3 ft x 3-4 ft||Full sun, reflected heat. Needs good drainage (excellent plant for slopes)
Mid-border shrub. Densely branched with compact form; fine silvery foliage. Low water needs.
|Blooms repeatedly during summer and fall with deep violet flowers. Great contrast to grasses with silvery or much darker foliage as well as succulents or smaller perennials. There are many other very attractive Leucophyllums available at Mountain States Nursery (see below)|
|Tecoma ‘Solar Flare’ Solar Flare Esperanza||4-6 ft x 4-6 ft||Full sun.||Upright spreading shrub with bright green foliage and yellow-orange flowers spring thru fall. Loves heat; fast growers. Low to moderate water needs. Prune only occasionally to cut back on reaching branches, and prune hard after frost. Great screening shrub and “big sister” plant that provides a colorful and vibrant companion and ‘chaperon’ in the background. Also attractive as stand-alone accent shrub or focal point shrub.|
Shrubs to 10 ft and above
|Botanical/Common Names||Size||Where to plant||Characteristics|
|Cotoneaster lacteus Parney Cotoneaster, Red Clusterberry||8-12 x same||Full sun , part shade||Mounding shrub with dark-green foliage that is pale beige/silvery leaves on the underside. Tolerates dry conditions. Clusters of small white flowers in spring; red berries in fall/winter.
Excellent as screening and arching, spreading background plant that through its permanent form and foliage provides a great stabilizing effect. Could also be used as attractive focal point shrub. Will re-seed if conditions are right (with adequate water).
|Adenanthos sericeus – Coastal Woollybush||6-10 ft x 4-6 ft||Full sun; light shade. Needs well-draining soil.||A fine-textured shrub with silvery green, soft-needle-like foliage and branches that reach skywards in upright, undulating fashion. Little to low water needs. Its foliage color makes a soft, almost elegant backdrop to more colorful perennials, smaller shrubs or succulents. As screening shrub is a ‘distractor’ rather than a dense screen. Great for “Mediterranean” designs or as softening agent in designs consisting of mostly succulents. Excellent in coastal conditions as it is both salt and wind tolerant. Cold hardy to 25 degrees. Great cut foliage.|
|Grevillea ‘Long John’ Grevillea ‘Long John’||8-10 ft x 8-12 ft||Full sun; light shade||An upright, rounded shrub that is drought tolerant/low water needs. Hardy to 20 degrees. Foliage is narrow, needle-like along vertical branches, with airy “see-through” appearance; intriguing rosy-pink/red flowers. Beautiful “distractor” of ugly sites rather than opaque screen; airy backdrop to interesting foreground plants. Could also be used as tall accent shrub or focal point.|
* WATER NEEDS
Low = Might survive in coastal conditions on normal rainfall (which hasn’t happened in the last few years) but need infrequent deep irrigation in drier conditions (f. ex. Every 2-3 or 4-5 weeks depending on location and soil.)
Medium = Water regularly for it to be attractive in the garden: In coastal conditions this might be 1x/week to 1x/every two weeks once established; more often in hot/dry conditions. May also need supplemental water in dry winters.
[For a more in-depth research data on the watering needs and irrigation practices of these plants, please consult WUCOLS IV, the research results published by the University of California Cooperative Extension and the California Department of Water Resources. This study sought to determine the irrigation needs of ornamental plants and make recommendations for irrigation practices for many areas of our state. WUCOLS (Water Use Classification of Landscape Species) categorizes the most commonly used ornamental plants, assigning a relative value to the irrigation required for each plant. In late 2014, 22 years after the first WUCOLS study, WUCOLS I was published athe new online version nd 15 years after the last edition, WUCOLS STUDY III, WUCOLS IV is now available on the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Website.]
Please consult these grower/nursery websites for more plant information and availability:
Waterwise Botanicals, Bonsall www.waterwisebotanicals.com
San Marcos Growers, www.smgrowers.com
Green Meadow Growers, Bonsall www.greenmeadowgrowers.com
Mountain States Nursery www.mswn.com