Saturday, December 15, 2007

Making easy-maintenance borders using shrubs and trees

Trees and shrubs easily and effectively add long-lasting color and interest to a garden but, to keep down the workload, you will need to choose plants that need minimum pruning. Shrubs and trees can be used without the addition of other plants to create a beautiful planting on their own. They can also provide a permanent framework for a border that includes many other plants: for instance, they can form a background against which seasonal flowers are displayed, or they can be used individually to create a particular effect, such as a focal point. For the ultimate easy-care border, add only as many perennials and annuals as you have time to look after, because they generally need more upkeep.

Spend plenty of time planning what to put where, so you don't have to move plants around later. Walk around your neighborhood to see which trees and shrubs grow well in other gardens and which plants are invasive, and seek advice from your local garden centre or nursery. To decide on where to place a tree or shrub in the garden, especially one chosen to give height, use a cane or a tripod of canes which can be moved around the garden to give you an idea of where the new addition will fit in to best effect.

When choosing a tree, give particular consideration to its rate of growth and ultimate size, because a tree can survive for many decades, easily dominating a garden. A fast-growing plant may have the advantage of filling up empty spaces quickly, but it will need extra maintenance to keep it within bounds later on.

Decide first on the effect that you want to create - either using trees and shrubs in groups or singly - and then choose plants that suit your needs. If you want to focus the eye on the end of a garden bed to create a 'full stop', use an upright, columnar shape, such as a pencil pine, a clump of golden cane palms or the upright Taiwan cherry, Primus campanulata. To lead the eye across the garden, go for a low, spreading plant that gives a horizontal effect, such as Junipenis x media 'Pfitzeriana' or Calliandra tweedii. And for a good focal point, consider a compact, weeping tree, such as Primus subhirtella 'Pendula'. For greater impact, combine two different effects. For example, use the prostrate, horizontal Grevillea biternata with the multi-stemmed, upright Eucalyptus luehmanniana.

Color, texture and fragrance should also be considered. Trees with golden or variegated foliage, such as Robijiia pseudoacacia 'Frisia' or Acer negundo 'Variegata', can brighten up a dark part of the garden or contrast well against a dark background. Color can be used to create an illusion of space. Cool blues and purples, which fade into the background, can be used at the end of a small garden to make it look longer. To use size, color and texture in a cascading effect, plant the tallest plants at the back, graduating to the lowest in the front. Shrubs with scented foliage or flowers, such as a fragrant rose or Choisya ternata, are best near a path or doorway.

Creating interest
  • Do find out the ultimate size of the plant and its rate of growth before buying. A tree that grows to 2 meters in ten years is slow-growing.
  • Do select compact plants that require little or no pruning.
  • Do use a few large, architectural plants, such as phormiums or cordylines, to create a dramatic effect, rather than lots of fussy, small plants.
  • Don't select large, vigorous plants for a small garden. They will need constant pruning to restrict their size.
  • Do create year-round visual interest by choosing plants with leaves in contrasting sizes, shapes, colors and textures.
  • Don't plant winter-interest shrubs in a part of the garden used only in summer. Think of your needs.

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