Shrubs – The Backbone of Floral Design

There is a lot of attention and excitement in American grown flowers. Flower farmers are pushing hard and working long hours to grow and supply gorgeous designer flowers to the markets and florists in their community. But having gorgeous blooms to work with is not all a floral designer needs if they desire to create organic, garden styled bouquets and arrangements. We need a strong backbone and supply of greens and shrubs can be the answer.

Almost twenty-five years ago I took a flower arranging class at the Biltmore Estate. As I look back on that day the highlight for me was walking around the shrub and walled garden. Our discussion centered on what things could be used for structure and greens in flower arranging. We even got to cut a few things to add to the flowers we were supplied. I made a pretty arrangement that day and came home excited and inspired to build the backbone of my garden with a wonderful variety of shrubs.

Hummingbird summersweet clethra

This experience was defining and timely for me as we had purchased our first home in North Asheville. I was beginning to plan and plant my own flower garden. I determined to put in my shrubs first and considered the usefulness  of each thru every season. The shrubs would be the backbone of our landscape and guide the shape and structure of all the flower arranging that would come out of my garden. I would hear from time to time, “Your arrangements look so natural and unique.” I recognized that the difference was the shrubs and other things I cut from my garden.

The Biltmore does not do this type of  workshop anymore…..maybe I will work on that! But for now I would love to share my top 10 favorite shrubs with you.   I welcome you to contact me with any comments or questions. I do not know all the technical Latin names of each shrub but can share what I do know. Find a good garden center and wander around in the shrub section. When possible buy native plants and don’t fuss over the ones that just don’t like your climate. My husband teases me when I talk to my plants and try to make them happy. Plant each shrub where they can do their thing and be the size and shape they were meant to be and you will both be happy. When cutting, only use about 1/3 of the plant and give them plenty of time to get established.

Boxwood is such a good filler. The woody stems are great for making grids and covering chicken wire. There are many cultivars so pick the one that fits your space and needs.

Camellia shrubs produce gorgeous dark green leaves. I suggest planting both Japonica and Sasanqua camellias. They bloom at different times and the leaves have various shapes and sizes.

Forsythia is such a great woody shrub and holds up in the heat out of water on arbors. I love to use it to give shape and size to my large arrangements. There is a new variety that remains low and the leaf structure is closer together and smaller. Plant both if you have space!

Hummingbird summersweet clethra is striking when planted in mass and has very fragrant blooms that attract butterflies. I love to use even in the fall when the blooms go to seed and add a textural element!


Leucothoe – Girard’s Rainbow

Leucothoe is a wonderful evergreen that is graceful and adds beauty to my garden year-round. I have Girard’s Rainbow variety which has a green and rosy pink to burgundy variation. In the spring it has a small white flower.

Nandina is tough. I use for greening containers and has a similar look to ruskus. It is also great for bouquet and bout work. Plant several varieties in various places so they turn color throughout the season. This shrub also has a wonderful berry.

Otto luyken English laurel has a dark green leaf that I use year-round. In the spring it becomes covered in white flowers which  bees love.

Spireas of any type are a must for your shrub collection. I have a low spreading type – Gold Mound Spirea – that blooms early summer and has a bright yellow/green leaf. I also love a sprawling old-fashioned variety that blooms white in the spring.

Virginia sweetspire has bright green leaves that turn a deep scarlet in the fall. It has arching branches that produce a long white tassel type cluster of fragrant flowers in early summer. This shrub can be a nuisance in that it sends out runners and takes over….so plant accordingly!


Weigela – Wine & Roses

Weigela is an old-fashioned shrub yet recetnly some new and amazing varieties have come into the nursery centers. I have Wine & Roses which has a dark burgundy foliage with deep fuchsia trumpet like blooms and grows to around 4”. Weigelas can get very large so pick the one that fits your space and needs.

Hope this is helpful and gets you started thinking about which shrubs to add to your garden. You’ll be adding the structural bones to your landscape and growing an endless supply of greenery for your floral design. (Actually I’ve got more than 10 favorites.  I’ll share more in a future post including my favorite hydrangeas.)