Musings » Effective Flowering Shrubs
Michael Haworth-Booth was a distinguished English nurseryman and breeder of ornamental shrubs after World War II. He knew whereof he spoke and the title says it all. Shrubs are more costly than small herbaceous plants, they take up a lot of space in the garden and they stay there for a very long time. He is right to insist we know as much as we can about them before making this investment, so they can “earn their keep”.
By effectiveness he means any given shrub must: be healthy and suited to the climate and soil of your particular area; have flowers which are bright, profuse and well presented so the plant is resplendent for a nice long time and be attractive and compact enough to remain decorative even when it is not in bloom.
Gardeners should think of these guidelines when they go to the nursery, making sure they have a good mental picture of the shrub in winter and not just rely on its beauty in the spring and summer. Well-run nurseries are familiar with the climate and soil limitations in their area and usually do not stock anything which is hopelessly inappropriate.
Haworth-Booth himself bred valuable varieties of hydrangea but knew an enormous amount about all the other garden beauties described in this book. His definition of shrub included the smaller blossoming trees such as almond, ornamental cherry and plum. In many cases he considered the species plants to be superior to hybrids but not always. Camellia japonica has given rise to dozens of exquisite cultivars and he is enthusiastic about most of them. He also offers considerable technical help with transplanting, grafting and budding and things of this sort.
In this book the author divides the year into five segments: Early spring and April, May, June, July and August, and Autumn and Winter. In this way he underscores the importance of the late spring and summer in the life of a garden. The heavy hitters are distributed throughout the seasons. In early spring and April he develops the themes of magnolia, rhododendron and camellia but adds that judiciously used, the flowering cherry and plum can make a brave show, He is concerned that their blossoming period is short and that they might not carry their weight throughout the year.
This book repays careful reading and thought. Do not be fooled because it was written forty years ago. The fundamentals of what he says have not changed.
Even though he was writing about England, most of what he writes is fully applicable to the United States with minor regional adjustments for temperature ranges. (It is not in the club’s library but I felt it needed to be brought back into focus.)