Who's Afraid of the Big Broad Shrubs?

Are you afraid to plant big shrubs in your garden? Look around suburbia, look around anywhere. Do you see many big shrubs?

You might see some big shrubs sheared back to medium size, but do you see big shrubs left to grow to whatever glorious size they can grow to?

I think too many gardeners shy away from planting big shrubs in their gardens. Excuses abound...

"I don't have room."
"I'll have to prune them all the time."
"I don't have room."
"They'll get so big."
"I don't have room."
"I don't want something that big in my garden."

I don't buy any of those excuses, and neither should you!

I think every garden should have some large shrubs.

The big shrub pictured above is Common Snowball Viburnum, Viburnum opulus 'Sterile'. It's a big one, at least eight or nine feet tall and probably that wide. In the spring the branches bow to the ground under the weight of the big white fluffy 'snowball' blooms, especially after it rains. All summer it provides cover for the birds and a cool place underneath for the bunnies to sleep. The only thing it lacks is fall fruiting to feed the birds.

But the birds don't go hungry at the May Dreams Gardens Bird Cafe as I have several other large shrubs that do have pannicles of small fruit in the fall, including Viburnum lantana 'Mohican', Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Lustre', and Viburnum prunifolium.

They are all big shrubs. They are all low maintenance. They flower, they fruit, they have good fall color. They provide shelter for birds and other wildlife. They all deserve to be planted in more gardens.

Do you have a favorite big shrub in your garden?
Or are you afraid to plant big shrubs?


EAL said…
A gardener I wrote about on Garden Rant has huge sprawling chokecherry (prunus virginiana), with white flowers and then, in fall, lots of red berries. I myself have a rarely trimmed mock orange (philadelphus). I love a big shrub. Though in a smallish urban garden you can only go so far.
Mary said…
Carol, good point.

It didn' take me long to get over the fright of shrubs taller than me. In Maryland, everthing we planted grew into giants and hung over walkways and slapped us across our faces. LOL!

Actually, there is a large space behind the pond (8 x 10 feet) that I will cover with one or two large berry-producing shrubs next spring. It will be located about 10 feet from the feeders and the birds will love it.
Pam/Digging said…
I don't know whether I have big shrubs or small, bushy trees. Does the Barbados cherry count? Shaggy Southern wax myrtles? The sprawling American beautyberry? I'm not sure. But like EAL, I've got very limited room and have to consider carefully the mature size of a shrub. I'm maxed out on big stuff right now.
Barbara said…
There are several big shrubs in our garden and it would be difficult to say which one I prefer. However, I'm looking forward to seeing Viburnum bodnantense
'Dawn' blooming again pretty soon. It is one of the rare that blooms during winter here in Switzerland.
Kylee said…
Oh I'm not afraid to plant them at all. The largest one we have is actually an invasive species. :-( It's a Morrow Honeysuckle and we have to butcher that thing or it would take over its corner so much that it looks hideous. The bees and birds LOVE it, as do the cats. I'm not a big fan, but it's so woody and large-trunked (multiples) that it would be a major undertaking to rip it out and plant a replacement something.
Colleen said…
I LOVE big shrubs! When we moved here, we had zero privacy from our neighbors, so the first thing we did was start planting shrubs that would grow big. I have several pussy willows, three different species of viburnum (all of which get BIG) and forsythias, which are now a good seven feet tall. Within the four years that we've lived here, these plants have done a great job of screening our yard from the neighbors and street traffic. And, as you mentioned, they're great if you want to encourage backyard wildlife to take up residence. Great post!
Natalie said…
Do lilacs count as shrubs? I'm not sure because when we moved into our place, all of our lilacs are eight feet or higher, and they border our half acre plot on two sides. Absolutely gorgeous (and sneezerific for my allergic husband) in the spring, and good bird cover the year round.
Dirty Knees said…
I agree that big shrubs are wonderful, especially if they're allowed to grow free. ;-)
Rosengeranium said…
Being an indoor gardener I guess my large shrubs are of bonsai size. Currently my biggest shrub is the tiger nut garden. Boy, those _are_ weeds!
Layanee said…
Carol: Food for the birds and food for thought all in one post! Good job. I love all the viburnums but the V. plicatum tomentosum 'Shasta' is gorgeous in flower and then in fruit. It does show immediate signs of drought though that is its' only fault. One other which I love and have just planted is the longstalk holly, Ilex pedunculosa which has shiny green leaves which are oval without that traditional holly shape. Dirr gives the hardiness zone of 5 but not the southern range of hardiness. It will reach 20 to 30 feet in height and is native to Japan and China.
I love viburnums because their berries attract birds...one of my favorite big shrubs is a Pyracantha "Mojave". It has grown from knee-high to about 8 feet tall in less than 2 years, and I have not watered it since the first few weeks after it was planted.
In addition to the Shrub that Ate My House, in more appropriate places are 2 of my fav large shrubs, the native Cornus alternifolia, and Heptacodium miconiodes. Although I'm not sure if that last 1 counts, as I've trained it to a single trunk so it looks like a small tree.
I am on the "I love big shrubs" side in this. In one corner of my yard there are two HUGE mock oranges that the birds use as the queue area for the bird feeders back there. They are absolutely gorgeous in the spring when they bloom. I also have gigantic forsythia out by the pond, bush honeysuckles on the lot border between us and Al Samons Mobile home sales.

I am in the process of planning and planting a huge stroll garden ( Imentioned this a couple of days ago in a post), and it will have several large shrubs in addition to a section of ornamental grasses. One of the genuses that will be represented there will be viburnums for sure, because of the spring flowers and fall/winter berries for the birds

Lilacs are definitely a shrub.
Oh yes, and Carol, I have put a link to you on my blog today. I have written extensively about one of my "Not in my garden" plants.
Me said…
Right now all I have is common syringa which I am letting invade our yard from our neighbors yard - at our old house we had loads of them and while they get mildew at the end of the summer around here - they are so worth it in the spring!!

I was going to plant a large shrub in the back corner of the yard (I had narrowed my choices down to three leaning heavily towards a large butterfly bush) but with my new landscaping I have to reconsider where I want to plant it.
Katie said…
I want big shrubs in my front yard to screen our view of the whole neighborhood (Live on a corner), but especially to create some privacy for us! Darn code restrictions not allowing fences in front. But shrubs are not fences! Long live big shrubs!
Leslie said…
The tall doesn't bother me...I actually like to have the privacy. But nine feet from the fence is just a foot or two from the middle of my yard...too big for me...I mean 'I don't have room'! But I do have several 6-7 foot tall four foot wide bu...I mean shrubs.
Annie in Austin said…
I'd like to have a few big shrubs, Carol. Maybe some day the camellia and michelia can be described as "big", but not yet. Two Abelia grandiflora were looking good and had reached about 6-feet tall. They're shorter since a pecan tree dropped a big limb on top of them.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose
Carol said…
All... Wow, and thanks for all the comments! It sounds like we are all in the Big Shrub Admiration Society, and we know what large shrubs can add to a garden. We aren't afraid of the big, broad shrubs!

Carol at May Dreams Gardens
rusty in miami said…
Not me, I have two big one in my small garden, the Bougainvillea and the Rangoon Creeper both are my favorite and I don’t mind the work. Isn’t that what gardening is all about? I get a lot of satisfaction seen how the small birds hide in the shrubs.
I'd like to have large shrubs because I'm trying to create some privacy in our yard. It's like one big fish bowl. The problem is most of the area that I need/want shrubs is shady. Any ideas for shady shrubs?
Afraid? Madame you're jesting! ;-) I had big shrubs in my garden when I had only a very small garden to work with ( 10.5 m by 6). And even in my tiny front garden (2.5 by 6 m) I had some bug shrubs : 1 amelanchier and 2 budleia's. ;-)
You all are definitely inspiring me. I've planted several shrubs but they are so small still. With the freeze this spring I had to cut three of my new viburnums to the ground. They have struggled through the summer but are still alive. I hope by next summer I'll see significant growth. They can get as big as they will grow; I'll take all the privacy I can get. Grow shrubs grow!