Choosing Shrubs For a Dry Climate Garden - How to Think Like a Professional Designer

By Jonathan Ya'akobi

When choosing which shrubs to include in your garden, your starting point may be based on your favorite likes and dislikes. As counter intuitive as it may sound, this approach is mistaken. Instead, you can think like a professional garden designer, by allotting a specific design role to each element in the garden, including the landscape shrubs and bushes.

Landscape shrubs usually, but not exclusively, play a supporting part in the garden composition. As a quiet backdrop to a dazzling flowerbed, an ornamental statue, or a water feature, they enhance the focal point role of the above. Bushes in such circumstances therefore, ought to be non-flowering types, and not unduly showy and spectacular. It is also preferable that their foliage texture be medium to fine, as opposed to course; fine leaf texture being a property of small sized and delicately shaped leaves. Examples of such ornamental bushes that are suitable for dry climate and Mediterranean gardens, include species of Myrtle, Cotoneaster, Pistachio, Syzygium, Sumac, and Carissa.

In addition to acting as a background, landscape shrubs also have the functional purpose of screening for privacy or for blocking out undesirable views. For this, ornamental bushes can either form part of an informal screen, or a more formal, trimmed hedge. Species for the latter role should always be of the fine-textured variety, whereas more flexibility is possible with the former. Care should be taken however, to ensure that the shape, form, and foliage texture of the screening shrubs associates well with the trees and other plant types in the garden. Species of Melaleuca, Callistemon, and Grevillea, (fine textured plants) or Elaeagnus, Pittosporum, Viburnum and Ligustrum, (medium textured plants) are examples of screening shrubs for dry climates.

Many ornamental bushes sport showy blooms. Some like Hibiscus rosa-sinensis or Plumbago auriculata flower for long periods through the summer, a feature that for some curious reason does not always endear them to the home gardener. Duranta erecta is especially beautiful and suitable in mild-winter climates, whereas Nerium Oleander has to be one of the showiest shrubs available. The plant's toxic properties however make it too dangerous for the home garden.

The golden rule when it comes to flowering shrubs is that they do not compete for attention with the garden's focal point. Pay attention as well to the shape, size, and texture of the shrubs' flowers, remembering that these too have to combine appropriately with the other garden elements. Does the large, course flower of Chinese Hibiscus for instance, look right next to the delicate, pincushion blooms of Callistemon or Albizzia julibrissen?

Shrubs that have sculptural qualities or colored foliage are used sparingly and judiciously by the professional designer, while the naïve or inexperienced gardener tends to get carried away by the novelty of an "unusual" plant. The primary function of such plants is that of emphasis, rather like a loud moment in a symphony. Yucca for instance, can rise out of a sea of low ornamental grasses, the narrow, sword-like foliage combining with the similar foliage of the prostrate plants. Never forget, that the emphasis plant, while contrasting from the mass in some way - size, form, color, or texture - must have at least one morphological property in common with them. That is how a professional designer thinks in any case.

My name is Jonathan Ya'akobi. I've been gardening in a professional capacity since 1984. I am the former head gardener of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, but now concentrate on building gardens for private home owners. I also teach horticulture to students on training courses. I'd love to help you get the very best from your garden, so you're welcome to visit me on http://www.dryclimategardening.com or contact me at jonathan@dryclimategardening.com

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