Add Timeless Shrubs to Your Garden

From low-growing thyme to towering juniper, this group of herbs adds shape, scent, and permanence to the garden.

| December/January 2000

  • The brilliant yellow flowers of broom cover the green stems of the shrub.
  • The flowers of elderberry (Sambucus canadensis and S. nigra) have herbal uses in teas.
  • Lavandula ¥intermedia ‘Grosso’, also known as ‘Fat Spike’ lavender, bows down on the morning after a rain, making a colorful skirt for a sundial in the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
    Photography by Geraldine Adamich Laufer
  • The hips and blossoms of old roses add color when the plants are used as herbal shrubs.
  • Viburnums, among the larger herbal shrubs, offer a transition between lawn and deciduous trees. This one is Viburnum plicatum tomentosum‘Mariesii’.

Horticultural luminaries John L. Creech and Donald Wyman have called woody shrubs “one of the most important groups of commonly grown plants,” but herbal woody shrubs are often overlooked. Deemed herbal because of their fragrance or uses, many hardy herbal shrubs are available to today’s herb gardener.

When herbal shrubs are included in the landscape, they add beauty, fragrance, and functionality. Shrubs that have herbal uses and aromatic qualities can extend a garden’s herbal theme. Woody plants useful for medicine, seasoning, fragrance, or crafting add a feeling of permanence.

Try These Shrubs in Your Garden  

Shrubs have many functions, including hedges for screening, grouped plants for transitions between trees and perennial herbs, and single plants as focal points.

Hedges and screening enclose spaces in the garden. If you are not lucky enough to have serpentine brick walls (my ultimate goal), try surrounding your garden with a clipped evergreen hedge. For example, I chose a native dwarf holly, Ilex vomitoria ‘Schelling’s Dwarf’, to surround my Shakespeare Garden. It encloses an oval 40 feet long by 30 feet wide. Although it needs the gas-powered hedge shears once every year or two to keep it from spreading outward, it never grows too high. Taller hedges can create useful visual barriers, physical barriers, and windbreaks and contribute to the design or pictorial effect of the landscape.

Hedges can add drama and excitement to the garden. Many gardeners can remember hedge features from gardens they’ve visited, such the famous central roundel at Sissinghurst Castle, the garden of Vita Sackville-West. Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia boasts eight miles of tightly clipped evergreen hedges.

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