Choosing and Using Shrubs in Garden Design
I have just spend a month following Andy McIndoe’s course on shrubs at MyGardenSchool, the online intensive training for keen gardeners and landscape professionals.
As one of the tutors myself, I was interested to see how it worked in one of my colleague’s classrooms, but also I have been puzzling with shrubs in my designs for some time and this course was hopefully a place where I could enter into a debate with a leading expert on the subject.
Each week for a month I was able to download a new video lesson, an illustrated transcript of the lesson and an assignment to be completed during the following week.
Four lessons of around half an hour do not give space to cover the subject of shrubs in great detail, but because of this there was only time to focus on the most important aspects. The first two lessons looked in general terms at the role of shrubs in a garden and how best to use them together with practical aspects of planting and pruning. Lesson Three looked at foliage shrubs as the foundation of good planting and finally, Lesson Four went in search of shrubs with a long season of interest as opposed to those that have just one moment of glory.
When I was first approached to create a course for MyGardenSchool it was quite an honour to be included among their list of recognised expert tutors all of whom have had books published on their particular specialisms. However, I did wonder if I personnaly would ever find following such a course worthwhile – wouldn’t it simply be easier to buy a few books on the subject and read them in my spare time?
Well, having now gone through the process myself the conclusion is a definite no.
Winter is a time for study, writing and reading for me and over these past four weeks I have not only engaged with Andy McIndoe and the other classroom members, but I have steadily worked through my shelf of books on shrubs. As designers it is too easy to fall back on tried and tested plants that we know we can trust. Now, I feel my knowledge has grown and has been brought right up to date.
The weekly assignments are not meant to test your progress, but rather serve as a basis for discussion in the virtual classroom. For example, the first week we were required to take three photographs of shrubs in a garden setting and discuss their use and possible companions to strengthen their role in the design. Week two we all argued about pruning which is a subject that leaves everyone confused; logic and practice often seem diametrically opposed. And in weeks three and four we started designing with shrubs and looking for good companions. As someone who works mainly with perennials this was the most challenging part of the course – but it made me think really hard about why and how I should be using shrubs in my designs.
Now that I know what it is like to be a student with MyGardenSchool and appreciate the benefits it can bring, I would advise anyone joining a class to take full advantage of the virtual classroom and to complete the weekly assignments as it is these that help you learn. I have had some students on my own courses who have simple watched the videos, but for them, I suspect, the benefits were limited.
My own courses at the school cover the ideas on planting design I have been writing about both here on this web site and in my various books and magazine articles over many years, and some people will get all they need by simply reading these carefully. For most of us, however, it is only by actually engaging with problems and asking questions that we really make progress as designers and plants-people.
My own courses at MyGardenSchool are:
My recent posts about this course and the use of shrubs in perennial meadows can be found via this link.
This post has recently appeared on the MyGardenSchool web blog as it was seen as very useful for new students to read how much importance I attached to the activity within the virtual classroom.
Training on offer has, this month, been extended with the arrival of Noel Kingsbury as one of the tutors with his “Planting Design with Perennials” course that together with the courses by John Brooks’ on garden design and also Hilary Thomas on planting design form a comprehensive portfolio for serious study.