Take your outdoor space from ho-hum to house beautiful with some out-of-the-box landscaping ideas using shrubs. Whether you pot them, trim them or leave them more or less in their natural states, using shrubs is one way to add color and texture to your property.
Try a Bit of Topiary
Topiary is the art of creating sculpture out of living plants. Head into an old-fashioned English garden and you might find hedges trimmed into perfect cubes or pyramids, or even animal shapes designed to liven up the landscape. One of the most popular shrubs for topiaries is Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis), which is a slow-growing plant with small, dark leaves. It is perennial, or hardy, in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.
English yew (Taxus baccata, USDA zones 6 through 7) is favored for larger topiaries. In the wild, the English yew can grow 60 feet in height with a 20-foot spread. It has dark-green needles with a glossy appearance. The topiary clipping process stimulates an English yew, causing a thick, dense growth that holds the shape of the sculpture. Early shaping keeps the plant more shrublike and its size in check.
Create a Zen Meditation Garden
One minimalistic form of Japanese garden is the Karesansui dry garden. Buddhist monks built them next to their temples, creating quiet oases for meditation. Traditionally, these gardens include only sand, rocks and gravel, used to create the illusion of water, mountains and islands. The karikomi version of a dry garden has trimmed shrubs such as boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) to give the space a sense of depth. The boxwood cultivar 'Variegata' (Buxus sempervirens 'Variegata,' USDA zones 6 through 8) has inconspicuous flowers, but the edges of its leaves change from white to cream to yellow throughout the year.
Naturalize Your Waterfall Oasis
Using shrubs to create a waterfall oasis gives a peaceful retreat a more natural look. The contrast of earth-colored stones, frothy, cascading water and evergreens -- such as the common juniper cultivar 'Blue Stripe' (Juniperus communis 'Blue Stripe,' USDA zones 3 through 7) and the American holly (Ilex opaca, USDA zones 5 through 9) -- can be enjoyed year-round.
If you have limited space, consider including bonsai plants. They are actually trees or shrubs trimmed and trained to prevent them from reaching normal size. Imagine having a tiny 'Autumnalis' higan cherry tree (Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis,' USDA zones 4 through 8) in an ornate pot sitting next to a patio-size waterfall. Potted bonsai plants easily can be taken indoors for winter.
Pretty Up a Pergola
Shrubs along the perimeter of a pergola provide privacy and add color to the backyard space designed for relaxation. A pergola usually has four posts that support the latticelike roof of the outdoor seating area. One perimeter shrub option is weigela (Weigela florida, USDA zones 4 through 8), with its pink flowers that bloom in spring and in some cases during late summer or fall. Another option is a common lilac cultivar such as 'Sensation' (Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation,' USDA zones 3 through 7), prized for its fragrant, purple flowers. The cultivar can grow up to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. If you choose lilac, keep it trimmed to control its size.
Pot Shrubs for Flexibility
Growing shrubs in containers allows you the flexibility to "change the view" of your backyard or front-yard greenery easily. For example, potted shrubs can act as backdrops for flowering plants during summer. Some evergreens have deep-green foliage that contrasts with bold-colored flowers. Junipers (Juniperus communis) are often used to create lollipop trees, potted shrubs trimmed to produce a spherical head sitting on the end of a long trunk. The "poodle cut" is a variation, with one sphere on the top of the trunk and another near the bottom.
Jazz Up Your Entryway
Make a good impression by using shrubs to jazz up your home's entryway. Place potted shrubs, such as lollipop trees, on each side of the front door, or line up several potted shrubs along the walkway to the front door to create a more finished look. Choose whatever shrubs appeal to you and are suited for the light conditions. If, for example, your walkway is covered, the shrubs need to tolerate a bit of shade. If the walkway is constantly bathed in sunshine, use heat-tolerant shrubs, such as the spirea cultivar 'Ogon' (Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon,' USDA zones 4 through 8). It produces white flowers in spring, and its foliage turns from yellow to medium green in summer to an orange-yellow in fall.