The only part of this programme that seems hard is the selection of summer or foliage effects. But here's the answer to that — Cornus and Viburnum. (See plate 73.) We've got to have lots of those bushes anyhow for autumn and winter effects. They may not be the showiest things in the world when in bloom, but for texture of foliage, play of light and shade, and individuality of bush they are hard to beat. If you want to wake right up to our "heaven-born opportunity" with shrubs, go to Boston in summer and drive through the Arnold Arboretum. For there you will see all the long-lived American and Japanese bushes that have the noblest or most graceful personality, and you will see how cheap and tawdry in comparsion are such Coney Island muckers as the golden elder and purple-leaved plum. And then you will understand what the best landscape designers and nurserymen mean by such words as these: "Flowers are not the main object; they are only an incident. The principal thing is the form, texture, and density of the foliage masses and their way of carrying lights and shadows." I used to think that such talk was only "hot air" by the picayune brand of expert who exalts the technical above the human — the letter above the spirit. But it's plain horse sense. For any particular shrub blooms only a fortnight or so; what you have to live with every day for seven months is foliage.
I am sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting me to tell you how to copy English effects with shrubbery, for there aren't any worth worrying about. Of course, I took about a bushel of notes on beautiful shrubs I saw there, but when I came back I threw them away, for they are no use to us. We must hew out an entirely new path. And it would be a sin and a shame for me to crow about Cornus and Virburnum and Hydrangea, simply because England can never touch us there. For the big fact is that we are three hundred years behind England on gardening and we ought to "get busy." The irregular shrubbery border is "our game," but we play it in the wrong way, and so the one thing we need most is not a list of material, but a better way to plan a border!
No book can teach the people the art of design. But here are a few rules that any one can use with better results than the haphazard methods we commonly employ. First draw a diagram of your home grounds to scale. Then place your trees where they will shut out unsightly things and frame pictures of beautiful objects in the distance, such as a church spire. Then indicate where big bushes are necessary to hide what you don't want to see, and leave blanks where they would cut off the good views. Then make a bold, irregular outline for your shrubbery border, leaving room in front of the tall shrubs for low ones. The rest should be unbroken lawn.
Next comes the selection of the best bushes for the chief mass effects — say twelve kinds, one for each month, and then the arrangement of these. Don't try to select all your bushes now, and don't put off arranging them until the shrubs arrive. Make twelve slips, or one for each important period — April effect, May effect, and so on. Add to each slip the ultimate height of the bush and the colour of the flowers. This is the easiest way to secure "finish" and avoid colour discords.
The next job is to separate the slow-growers from the quick-growers, for the former cost most and are soon crowded to death by the latter in the ordinary mixed border. The quickgrowers are privet, spirea, mock orange, hydrangea, golden bells, deutzias, red-twigged dogwood — anything you can buy in the form of one or two-year-old plants at eight dollars to twenty dollars a hundred. This is the stuff that will attain the height of a man in three or four years. The reason you can buy it so cheaply is that it can all be easily raised from cuttings; whereas the costly shrubs have to be propagated by slow methods, such as grafting, layering, or seeds.
The quick-growers are to go in the back and the slow-growers in the front of the border. Typical slow-growers are lilacs, Japanese maple, white fringe, pearl bush, Japanese red bud, dwarf horse-chestnuts (plate 70), and azaleas (plate 73). These cost about fifty cents each or more.
Now draw the foundation line of your house and indicate all the most important windows, because we want a beautiful picture from each window and each view is to be strikingly different from every other. Nearly all the foundation line should be hidden and the ideal material for banking against a house is broad-leaved evergreens. Consider this material first, as it is the costliest of all.
Then take the view from each window in turn. Don't put your big flower show opposite the most important window, because flowers are short lived. Put a winter effect there, and be sure it has good foliage in summer. Hold the list of effects by months in your hand and think how twelve bushes of each kind would look from each window when the plants have grown to the height of a man. Thus you will be sure of strong, simple mass effects that are good to live with, not a weak, spotty, distracting mixture.
Next indicate directly on the plan where the conifers or other evergreens are to stand. You must do this now, because your winter berries and branches will be much more effective if seen against an evergreen background. The same is true of forsythias and all the April flowers, since these bloom before the leaves.
Now it is safe to indicate where each tall bush is to stand. When these are full grown they will be six feet apart and for the finished picture you may not need more than six of a kind in any one group. But the right way is to order three times as many small plants as you need and set them two to four feet apart. This always seems wrong to a beginner. It looks just like a nurseryman's scheme to sell more plants. But landscape gardeners and park superintendents have no such interest and at a recent convention the sentiment was practically unanimous in favour of the old rule, "Plant thick, thin quick." One reason is that if you plant far apart, the place looks raw the first two years. Again, it costs more for cultivation. Again, the bushes actually do not grow as fast, because they are too far apart to shelter one another from drying winds, etc. On the other hand, if you plant thickly and begin thinning the second year, you can sell the larger plants you don't need or move them to some other part of your grounds. That's the cheapest and quickest way to get the best bushes. Don't try to save three years by buying extra large bushes, except in the case of a few near the house or in the garden where immediate effect must be had. In three years small shrubs will catch up with big ones. That is not the case with trees.