The shrub border or screen that we are considering has an outer row of large bushes nearest the sidewalk and an inner row of smaller shrubs nearest the house but separated from it by the lawn.
A thing worth considering is how the border will look at different times of the year. The plants suggested in last week's column, along with the ones mentioned today, all have the merit of looking fairly good through the year, but some are evergreen and cheerful in winter, while others flower at specific times of the year.
It would seem only sensible to consider how many of the shrubs should be evergreens, and where in the border they should be placed. If, for example, the approaching headlights of cars shine into a downstairs bedroom, a little thought can correct that.
It is also a good idea to get familiar enough with the shrubs mentioned, either by going to see them at nurseries or through illustrations in books, that shrubs blooming at the same time of year or having similar foliage are not planted next to each other, but spaced at a distance.
There will not be room for all the shrubs mentioned, in a mere 200 feet of border, but I hope simply to make suggestions. If some plants, like viburnums, are mentioned in a number of varieties, it is only because they are neglected, not always thought of, and because they are superb for shrub screens.
Lesser shrubs, planted five feet inside the line of the outer row of larger shrubs, might include the following:
Abelia grandiflora, with neat polished dark green thin leaves and a dense twiggy habit of growth, with small pink-flushed white flowers for a good many weeks in late summer and fall. These are much visited by butterflies and, needless to say in this favorable climate, bees, wasps, hornets and the Lord only knows what else. Not a very showy shrub, but it looks neat and trim in the five weeks before and after Labor Day, which is a merit in anything.
Jasminum nudiflorum, the winter jasmine, scentless, but producing bright yellow tiny trumpets on bare rich-green stems from Christmas on. In the open, it flowers in early spring, but where sheltered it blooms off and on in winter, and moreover is useful for its cut branches brought indoors to flower in January. It sprawls, but when there are things to lean on, it hoists itself up a few feet.
Kerria japonica, sprinkled all over with golden nickels just before the azaleas bloom, with a smattering through the summer and fall. Its foliage is undistinguished, but its open habit of growth is pleasant, arching down at the ends of branches, and after it loses its leaves in the fall, the bright green stems are good-looking. I prefer the single form, with one row of petals, but there is a double sort with blooms like small shaggy carnations.
Taxus, or yew, in its dwarf forms will provide a mound of deep green in winter. The one called 'repandens' makes a weeping hummock. All yews are intolerant of waterlogged soil (as indeed almost all plants are) and should never be planted in a hollow where water stands after rains.
Mahonia aquifolium, whose broadleaf evergreen leaves turn bronze in winter, grows to knee height and sometimes spreads out to form a naturalized grouping of stems, running back into the taller shrubs. It used to be despised, because everyone went mad for the taller mahonias like M. bealei, but now its merits are again recognized.
Leucothoe axillaris, one of the smallish andromedas or hobblebushes or dog-hobbles (we were most pleased when one of our dogs stumbled over quite a small plant of this), has stems that arch to the ground with pointed evergreen leaves that turn bronze, etc., in winter. There are small, pleasant white clusters of flowers that do not look like a great deal in spring. It combines nicely with most larger things.
Viburnum juddi, which often remains at four feet in height, though it may grow into a seven-foot globe (in other words, it could go into either row), is like all viburnums a good-looking plant, but especially in daffodil season, when it produces pink tennis-ball clusters of small waxy flowers that are intensely scented.
Nandina domestica, the so-called celestial bamboo, though it is a member of the barberry family, is one of the handsomest of all broadleaf evergreens, its fernlike foliage turning bronze in winter, a gorgeous foil to its melon-sized clusters of scarlet berries. For all its exceptional beauty, however, it does not blend or combine well with other things, since it is so distinct in itself. You simply shift it about (before planting it, of course) until it seems happily sited to you.
Azaleas in endless variety are possible for the inner small-shrub border, depending on whether you like them. A white one that takes care of itself in mixed company (though this could be said of most azaleas) is 'Treasure,' a Glenn Dale variety that, through some miracle or other, is widely grown by nurserymen. Its foliage is half-evergreen and not glossy, but it makes a handsome bush and its flowers, speckled in the throat with fawn color, are to my mind exceptionally beautiful and I much prefer it to 'Glacier,' another good one that would be chosen by those who love its glossy leaves.
A good scarlet, 'Stewartstonian,' usually comes with a misspelled label, having a few too many s'es and t's for the illiterate to cope with. It has the uncommon merit of extreme flower-bud hardiness, so that it blooms perfectly even after those occasional outrageous winters that damage other azaleas. It also has quite rich bronze-red leaves in winter.
Barberries are wonderful in their beauty, both the deciduous and evergreen kinds. Most of them fruit heavily, and almost all are, alas, severely thorny. Of course you don't have to run out and pat them every day, but they are annoying in a minor way when it is necessary to get among the shrubs to pull up poison ivy, seedling maples, dogwoods, oaks, etc. For while a shrub border is quite trouble-free, it will be much visited by birds and an amazing number of trees will try to grow in it without any invitation. Discreet whacking down twice a year will keep them out.
May I suggest that it is neither necessary nor desirable to set out one plant of each of the recommended shrubs in a neat vegetable-garden straight row. Instead, some may be clumped, using three or five plants, and they should be allowed to bulge out here and there.
Another thing I strongly recommend is clumps or drifts of daffodils at the edge of the inner row of shrubs, or in pockets between bulges. I personally would concentrate on the earliest daffodils (such as 'February Gold,' 'Peeping Tom' and 'Ceylon,' all of which have superb constitutions) and rather late ones (the white triandrus kinds like 'Thalia' are good; that one is much tougher than some of the others like 'Rippling Waters' and better adapted to the hurly-burly unpampered life of the shrub border, where all that is necessary is not to cut the leaves off after flowering but to let them die naturally, and given such treatment they will behave beautifully for 10 years or more without digging, separating the increase and replanting).