Shrubs and perennial flowers serve as walls, windows and doorways of our outdoor rooms. They partition space, either physically, like a tall hedge, or just visually, like a low perennial border. These architectural elements form the long-term underlying structure of our landscapes. Their placement must be carefully considered, since they generally require a significant investment of time and maintenance to reach maturity. With a little planning and forethought and some basic design techniques, you can create a beautifully landscaped yard using shrubs and flowers.
Conduct a site analysis of your property. Pay attention to views you like and those you'd prefer to block out. Assess areas that get sun most of the day and those that stay shady. Determine from which direction the prevailing winds blow. Identify any other important features including overhead lines, buried utilities or poor soils. Make a rough sketch of your site on graph paper and label the site features and issues you've identified, to use as an aid in deciding where to plant specific shrubs or flowers.
Assess your family's needs and desires for your landscape. Think about developing shady play areas for children, or grassy runs for dogs. Decide if you want to devote some space to a vegetable garden or a privacy screen for a spa. Identify areas where you need to maintain access, like the space immediately adjacent to walls, or over septic systems. Write down your findings in a notebook.
Look at your sketch of the site and your notes and try to visualize what size, form, texture and color would work best in each area of your site. Decide how high a shrub border or hedge needs to be to screen undesirable views, while preserving good views and air flow. Use your site analysis to determine the best place to locate your planting beds and the approximate size of the shrubs and flowers in each bed.
Choose plants you like, which fit the space well. Match plants with desirable characteristics with special areas in the landscape. For example, in northern latitudes, choose evergreen shrubs to screen a poor view. Select species that naturally grow to the size you want, to reduce maintenance. Use plants which are dependably hardy in your area for hedges, borders or any other large planting areas.
Make large planting beds, which are from 5 to 8 feet wide. Avoid narrow beds whenever possible. Plant shrubs and flowers in groups or masses, instead of in straight rows.
Create a layered look by planting wide borders with tall shrubs at the back and progressively shorter plants in front. Use plants with contrasting colors and textures to create interest in your borders. Add depth to small spaces by planting lighter-colored, fine-textured shrubs behind darker-colored plants with coarser texture.