I have to admit that until very recently I have had a bit of a blind spot when it comes to shrubs. I have some in the garden but I just let them get on with it.
When we first moved in to this house, the front garden was packed full of a range of shrubs. Some were in theory rather nice plants (I love the wafting smell of Mahonia as I walk past one), but the previous inhabitants of the house insisted on pruning them all into round blobs. I’m sure it was just to tidy the garden up a bit before it went on sale, but it was like walking into a child’s drawing of a garden. Big, blobby green masses on sticks. No flowers – they had all been cut off by indiscriminate use of electric shears. We won’t even mention the crazy paving path. Nor the blousy pink hydrangea which was first up against the wall when the garden revolution came.
And come it did – all the shrubs were mercilessly hoiked out.
But shrubs are important. They provide structure to the garden. In the case of evergreens, winter interest and structure is maintained. Dogwoods give colour in a monochrome season. In spring, shrubs can be clothed in blossom; in autumn their leaves can burn as brightly as any Fall forests. Yet, why is it that I’m only just beginning to realise the importance, and the usefulness and the beauty of shrubs? Stick me in front of a herbaceous border and I can name many of the plants; place me besides a well-stocked shrubbery and until very recently I could have given a few names, had a guess at a couple more, and that would be it. Laurel was laurel – green, ugly, and usually a hedge which had been cut with hedge trimmers, leaving dismembered parts of leaves slowly browning at the edges. Perhaps that’s why I’ve spurned shrubs – people treat them badly; abused shrubs never look good.
A little bit of knowledge has gone a long way to combat my feeling of ‘meh’ when I hear the word shrub. I’ve learnt to identify some and go around naming shrubs in car parks and in peoples’ front gardens. And now I rather like them, and recognise their usefulness. Whilst a I might never want a shrubbery, at least I no longer want to grub them out.