No More Meatball Bushes!
Just a little gardening rant…NO MORE MEATBALL BUSHES! You know what I am talking about. Those overly sheared round, ball-like shrubs that seem to be everywhere! When I moved into my house a little over a year ago, there were shrubs in my yard that I simply couldn’t identify. I thought I knew what they were, but I swear I had never seen a shrub that looked quite like that! Looking around my new town, it seemed I was seeing an abundance of them!It was kind of like moving to the Land of Suess, as I imagine there would be lots of those meatball bushes and lollipop trees in a land created by Dr. Seuss. Even the Lorax might change his mind about chopping them down if he were surrounded by all this roundness!
Meatball bushes in front of my house.
So I started asking, “Why do you do that to your shrubs?” And the answer was typically something like “that’s what my neighbor does,” and the neighbor’s answer was “that’s how I see the lawn maintenance guys do it.” Argh! Herd mentality drives me crazy! What I want to do is yell at them that of course the lawn maintenance guys do it that way because they have a butt load of shrubs to tend to and not much interest or time, and furthermore, it looks like #!meatballs#&!
Unless, of course, you live at Versailles or some such palace in which case those meatball bushes of various sizes look stunning! But, frankly, I have seen very few Versailles-like homes around here, so the meatball bushes just look ridiculous.
Formal Garden at Ham House. Photo: geograph.org.uk
Now don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the role rounded shrubs play in formal gardens, but I’m not seeing formal gardens around here.
So let’s have a lesson on selecting the right plant for the right place. Simply put, if the right plant is selected in terms of size (it’s mature height and spread) then you would not have to shear it like a sheep to keep it in that place.
Select plants according to their mature height and spread.
Plants, like most things natural, have amazing shapes. When I select plants for a design, shape is a strong consideration…along with texture, size, color, etc. And when I say shape, I mean the natural form of a plant, not the artificial form created by overused shears. In fact, you’ll see me gesturing with hands and arms about what types of shapes I am looking for in a plant. For example, I might want to pair a plant with an upright growth habit with one that is loose and floppy. But if you whip out those shears, the design would be ruined. Ruined I tell you!
Ahhh…the natural shape of these shrubs is stunning!
As a designer, plant selection is the most time consuming task because there are so many factors to consider…size, shape, lighting, color, conditions of the site, and so on. I want to create gardens with visual interest…again, shape is paramount. So instead of those shears, selective pruning is more often the best bet.
Shearing a plant is ultimately disastrous for that plant’s life. If you look closely at shrubs that have been sheared over time, you will see that all of the foliage is growing like a shell on the outside of the shrub. If you look even closer, you will see a tangled mess of sticks in the center of the shrub. This occurs because the light has been cut off by the dense foliage that has encased the plant. (take a look here
And one more thing…when a shrub that has been sheared has the courage to send up those single shoots, that’s its way of screaming, “set me free!” I have had clients tell me that they had to cut off those unsightly signals of desperation. But with just a little patience, that one little branch of growth will be followed by many more, and soon your shrub will start reclaiming its natural form.
So, for heaven’s sake, put the shears down and back away! Unless you live at Versailles.