Creating shape with shrubs

It’s all well and good planting annual and perennial flowers in the garden, but they’re nothing without a strong support act. While many bedding plants are over in a flash, woody shrubs play the long game, offering a backbone of structure upon which more fleeting plants can lean. Placing shrubs well takes care and precision. With many having a lifespan of 15 years or more, it pays dividends to get it right.

The Winter Garden. Cambridge Botanic Gardens - © Howard Rice/GAP Photos

The Winter Garden. Cambridge Botanic Gardens – © Howard Rice/GAP Photos

This traditionally planted border at the Cambridge Botanic Garden shows how winter can be just as eye-catching as any other season. The bright stems of dogwoods add vertical accents of lime green and blood red behind hummocks of winter-flowering heathers. Behind the dogwoods are low-growing junipers and winter box, which then gradually lead the eye to the larger mounds of evergreen tree foliage behind.

Cornus controversa, Phormium, Senecio and Conifer. The Garden House - © S&O/GAP Photos

Cornus controversa, Phormium, Senecio and Conifer. The Garden House – © S&O/GAP Photos

This image, in complete contrast, shows that colour doesn’t have to be key. Green is planted in abundance, with different tones and variegations adding striking disparities. A bold striped phormium nestles between an emerald Rodgersia and silvery senecio. Your eye is then drawn vertically using an upright conifer to the graceful tiers of the Cornus controversa above.

Clipped box in the topiary garden with shrubs - Windy Ridge - © Carole Drake/GAP Photos

Clipped box in the topiary garden with shrubs – Windy Ridge – © Carole Drake/GAP Photos

In this garden formality and informality sit happily beside one another, thanks to this semicircle of three tightly clipped box balls. The clean lines of the box are reinforced with brick edging and a gravel mulch. Outside the circle chaos happily ensues, with a merry tangle of shrubs in randomly shaped beds.