Here is a problem I envy, how to plant a shrub border or screen for 200 feet along the edge of a suburban lot, curving along the front and sides, with a good-sized lawn between border and house.
At first the owner thought of a hedge, until it dawned on him he probably couldn't talk his wife or kids into clipping it. He also considered an unclipped hedge, which might do well enough, until I suggested he think of a mixed border of shrubs to provide small pleasures throughout the year.
Here is what I think might suit in Springfield.
First, a row of shrubs spaced 10 or 12 feet apart, then an inner row of lesser shrubs spaced from three to six feet.
The outer row might include such virtuous subjects as these:
Viburnum plicatum, 'Maries' variety. This makes a nice rounded shrub perhaps eight feet in all directions, with tabular branches strung along with single white flowers of dazzling white about the time the dogwoods bloom. Unfortunately its foliage is not gorgeous, though perfectly all right in its way, and sometimes it colors salmon to red in the fall. It sets great crops of blue berries on red stalks but these never last since the mockingbirds eat every last one in June. It is bare and not especially attractive in winter, but when all things are added up, it is one of the most desirable of garden shrubs.
A rather similar viburnum only with much better foliage is the Japanese snowball bush with, not surprisingly, white flowers like tennis balls all over it in spring when the irises bloom. It is similar, only handsomer, to the plain snowball bush (Viburnum opulus sterile) which kids have torn off and thrown at each other for some centuries. Some people call them Whissun-bosses. This last colors better in the fall than the earlier two, and in its nonsnowball variety known as plain Viburnum opulus sterile, it bears fruit. No shrub is handsomer growing up one side of an eight-foot wall and hanging over. In some places it is martyr to aphids, which do it no harm but are rather ugly except to bug lovers. In Washington I have not been troubled with aphids on this viburnum.
Viburnum setigerum makes a 10-foot shrub, sometimes compact but sometimes shooting about like a fountain, especially when young, that blooms inconspicuously in the spring but enters a period of glory in August and September when weighed down with scarlet berries.
There are other viburnums which might be explored, all of them fine in a shrub border, though some get rather too large to suit today's problem of the suburban screen.
I would mention V. tinus, which is evergreen and which flowers off and on through the winter. It is, for some reason, ignored, but is lovely with its rose-flushed clusters of white flowers even before the camellias bloom. It is not ironclad hardy, but should do nicely.
For winter cheer, there surely might be a few hollies. A good one for today's purpose is 'Foster No. 2' which is sold as Ilex fosteri. It is upright rather than globular, has beautiful smallish leaves and heavy crops of berries; one of the best garden hollies.
A shrub of dull foliage, but with the merit of incredibly bountiful crops of pinkish-red fruit in the fall, is Euonymus 'Red Cascade.' Mine does not fruit; I suspect it needs a pollinator such as the plain European spindle-bush, of which 'Red Cascade' is merely a garden variation chosen for its spectacular fruiting habit.
Another fine euonymus for this outer border is E. alatus (not the form called compactus, but the plain alatus) which makes a plant 9 feet high and maybe 12 feet across. It has most remarkable corky ridges on its branches, attractive all winter, and (the crowning glory) pinkish-scarlet fall foliage. Where there is space for it, nothing is more beautiful in late October and few things rival it.
If a conifer is thought desirable in the border, nothing is better than a spreading yew, of which there are many garden forms. Taxus intermedia is the name, and you simply ask for one that will grow as wide as high. Nothing is a more beautiful rich black-green in winter, and it is nice to have a one for cutting.
One of the few shrubs to cast fragrance on the air in October and early November is that form of the evergreen Russian olive called Eleagnus pungens 'Fruitland.' It wishes to sprawl by sending out long willowy shoots that arch about. Its flowers are papery, small, off-white and barely visible, and the scent is like sweet-olive. Birds greatly like to nest in it and mockingbirds like the small, hard olivelike fruit in the spring. It is just as well, by the way, if you want a particular plant to be sure you get it, and not something vaguely like it. 'Fruitland,' for example, is not the same as Eleagnus pungens, and 'Red Cascade' is not the same as another euonymus.
A good broadleaf evergreen that may reach eight or nine feet, more or less round, is a hardy sweet-olive called Osmanthus 'Gulftide,' which looks like a neat densely foliaged holly, but which has scented flowers in October and November when it feels like it (for some gardeners it flowers madly every year, with me it rarely flowers, but is handsome enough in its glossy leaves).
A rather shapeless shrub that might be included is buddleia in one of its good garden forms such as 'Ile de France,' which has wands of violet flowers in the summer, much loved by butterflies and, alas, bumblebees, though I should say that while terrified of bumblebees I have never been stung by one, even though everything I seem to grow is a great favorite of theirs. My place draws bumblebees from six counties. There are other kinds, some with neon-black-purple flowers, or off-white or rose-violet and so on. They are cut almost to the ground every spring when the daffodils bloom, so you want to stick in the buddleias among shrubs that have more monumental character like viburnums, euonymus, hollies and so on.
Nothing equals the hybrid Asian witch hazels for delight in late January-February-early March, depending on the weather. There are curly little flowers made of narrow strap-shaped petals. Usually, as in the variety called 'Jelena,' they are orange-bronze in effect and surprisingly showy.
The only crab apple I would use here is Sargent's (Malus sargentii) with blush-touched scented white flowers in spring and small reddish crab apples in the fall, and it tends to perform only in alternate years. It grows more slowly than most crabs and is handsomer.
I cannot sign off without mentioning both the crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) and Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora. The first makes a shrub 12 or 14 feet high with the most beautiful woody stems imaginable, and neat foliage that colors well in the fall and, of course, spectacular sheaves of flowers (white, several shades of pink, rose, watermelon and red, depending on the variety you choose) starting in mid-July. It can be damaged in zero winters, but is grossly neglected in gardens here, and it should be everywhere. There are new sorts nowadays which, while meaning no disrespect, do not strike me as triumphs. The hydrangea is the one with white flower clusters like a moderate hornet's nest in August. A well-developed plant is impressive, however common the plant may be.
If you like them, a forsythia might be included for its early-spring blast of yellow, and also the common lilac for its irresistible smell in April. Next week we shall mention a few shrubs of lesser growth for the inner row.