What’s one of the best ways to improve your outdoor environment? Plant some shrubs! They provide variety, shape, form and balance—all elements of good landscape design. If you stick to annuals and perennials alone, you’ll be missing out, and so will your garden.

A recommendation I’ve read is to buy one shrub for every five perennials. The gardens at T.C. Steele State Historic Site suggest that Selma Steele followed this formula, then doubled it. Leaving aside identification, just taking an inventory of the number of different shrubs planted here would be quite an undertaking. Any volunteers?

shrub_deutziaIn full flower this week is another shrub that I was unfamiliar with, and I wanted to I.D. it before someone asked me about it. Fortunately my book had a good picture, so now Deutzia and I are on a first name (Genus) basis. We’ll have to get better acquainted before I know its species.

Forsythia, Flowering Quince, Lilac, Wisteria (pruned into a bush form), Mock Orange, Carolina Allspice, and now Deutzia—with Rose of Sharon and Hydrangea yet to follow. I’ve already lost count of all the bushes that have bloomed and it’s not even June. The site lacks only identifying tags to make it a botanical garden.

Why did Selma Steele include so many shrubs in her landscape? Was she inspired by one of the many Purdue publications she ordered to help her plan her gardens? Did her art background and training tell her that a shrub would make a great focal point? Perhaps she wanted to introduce fragrance into her garden. She may have appreciated the combination of native wildflowers and understory shrubs in the nearby woods. Likely all of these reasons played a part.

Shrubs are not for those wanting instant gratification. They are a long term investment, one that grows over time. Selma understood this. Always with an eye to the future, she planned it so that not only the shrubs, but her husband’s paintings, would be around for others to enjoy for many years (64 so far).

Buying a T.C. Steele landscape is out of the question for most of us, but there’s no question that our own landscapes would benefit from adding a few shrubs — it worked for Selma.

Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

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