We’ve all heard it a million times before: Shrubs and small trees are the bones of our beds and borders. This is true, but they can be so much more. Twenty years ago, when I moved to a large lot in northern California, I decided to fill the landscape with an array of woody plants for several reasons. A garden designed primarily with shrubs is lower maintenance in the long run and allows you to get a mature look in a shorter amount of time. Don’t get me wrong: I am not antiperennial—I have hundreds of them in my garden. But I use perennials as the backup singers in my beds. They fill in blank spaces while my newly planted shrubs size up, and they bridge the gaps between larger woody plants.
In my garden, the shrubs are the meat and potatoes. Like many other gardeners, though,…
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