Planting the Garden with Trees and Shrubs
So, you’ve reached the stage in your garden landscaping when you are infilling with further plants, and planting the garden up with trees and shrubs. Ideally, a good proportion of these should retain their foliage all year long. This is even more important when your boundaries are more useful than beautiful, and in those parts of the garden that are visible from the house.
At some distance, the tracery of bare branches against a winter sky has much beauty, but a touch of greenery, a streak of gold or a soft blur of silver can give a great deal of comfort in the dreariest months when spring seems a long way off. Some shrubs, such as the Senecios, look especially magical when rimmed with frost, and should be placed where the sun can catch them and make them sparkle.
All shades of green and gold, some blues, and silver, can be found in our gardens in winter, whilst one or two of the evergreens take on red overtones in the cold months. Other trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous, come into flower between October and March, being, especially valued for their bravery. Fruits, berries and coloured barks all add to the picture.
Unless you have plumped for a sophisticated planting scheme of specific trees and shrubs, involving not more than two colours – green and white, perhaps, or silver and blue – it is pleasant to have a continuous succession of colours, blossoms and scents throughout the year and good economic sense to choose those plants that are willing to reproduce themselves freely in some way or another, whether by seeds, division or cuttings.
Some species are so anxious to survive that the merest twig of them, stuck into the ground in the most casual of fashions, or even by chance, will sprout away and grow into a tree very quickly. Many a bean-pole or pea-stick has astonished the novice gardener by taking root and bursting into leaf. Willows are apt to do this and Forsythia will have a go, whilst manygrow well from these hardwood cuttings. Other plants simply droop into the earth and their tips take root there. Blackberries and their relations do this, while, in my garden, Forsythia suspensa, Winter Jasmine and various honeysuckles have obliged in this way.
A number of shrubs are so ready to perpetuate themselves that any healthy sprig from them can be stuck straight into reasonable, in a shaded spot, and a good proportion will root, although they would probably not be ungrateful if you stirred a bit of peat and sand into the cutting bed first. I have had successes this way with Choisyas, Hebes, Rue, Senecios, Lavender, Rosemary and many others.
Of course, you are likely to get an even higher success rate if you do things more scientifically and prepare a proper seed-bed, either in the open ground or in containers and cold frames. The use of hormone rooting powders and some kind of glass or plastic cloches can also help. Still, the simplest methods take so little time that it is always worth giving them a go.
If you have large areas to fill, do not be too choosy about your infilling to begin with. Plant what you can get free, cheaply or by propagation, which will fill up the space and keep the weeds down. As these have cost you little, it will be no great wrench to heave them out when you have found something a bit more choice to take their place. With any luck, you can trade these outcasts with someone else, donate them to a plant stall or, if all else fails, add them to the compost heap.
It is, in general, better to plant the smaller subjects in bold masses, groups of three, five or seven, punctuated here and there by the odd single specimen of striking appearance to provide a high note or exclamation mark. A billow of lavender sharpened by a standard rose ‘Ballerina’, perhaps, or some plump Choisyas in front of a fastigiate or cone-shaped tree.
To this infilling of planting the garden up with trees, shrubs and sub-shrubs, you can add the finishing touches of herbaceous perennials, biennials, annuals, grasses and, all chosen on the same principles as the other plants.
Unless you have a great deal of spare time and energy, I would not advise planting a traditional herbaceous border. Lovely as they are when seen at their best, they require endless attention to keep them looking that way. You will be forever attending to them as the plants must be staked, divided, cut, sprayed, dusted and especially fussed over, while the more dedicated border-fanciers are hard at it, training late-flowering Clematis through early-flowering plants, and early-flowering Clematis away from late-flowering plant, all the while whipping pots ofand other bulbs into a corner and whizzing a procession of annuals through each bare patch where something has succumbed to pests or diseases.
Better, I feel, to adopt the fashion, which has become deservedly popular, of mixing trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs in a carefully controlled riot, preferring those plants which, being far more sturdy, will reward you with their offspring.
To Summarise – Planting the Garden
So there it is: clear your land, dig it thoroughly, adding as much in the way of soil improvers as you can lay your hands on; then, having chosen your plants realistically, however you plan to come by them, get them into their designated spots, firm them in, staking if necessary, and water them sensibly, probably more often than you had imagined, for at least the first two years, keeping the weeds at bay and the soil mulched whenever possible.
The aim will be to get all the earth covered by plants, but until that happy day comes, wage war on weeds by one method or another. A lot of plants, particularly alpines, will appreciate a handful of gravel below and about them at planting time. Bulbs, too, like some fine gravel or coarse grit to sit upon and many of the silver plants will feel at home with a top dressing about them, as will the Phormiums and a lot of other rather tender subjects. It also helps to discourage slugs, who, understandably enough, do not relish oozing across the rough surface of the stones.