The great thing about shrubs is that, having woody stems, they are remarkably resilient to the attention of dogs, once they are of a reasonable size. 

It is possible to purchase small young shrubs very cheaply, however these are frequently a false economy.  Not only will they take some time to grow and fill the desired location, but they will also be more vulnerable to canine attention.  Another option is to purchase large mature shrubs, usually from specialist nurseries, which will instantly provide structure however these are usually very expensive as you are buying the years that they have taken to get to their size.  Most people will choose to go for the middle ground and purchase shrubs that will still take a few years to grow to their mature size, but are large enough to make an impact on day one.

The downside to shrubs is if you have dogs (rather than bitches), their woody stems can prove to be a major attraction for leg lifting. Multi stemmed shrubs suffer much less damage from this as it is harder for your dog to get near to the root ball .  Possible solutions to this problem are discussed in To Grass or Not To Grass.

Shrubs provide structure to a garden as well as a foil to the more showy flowering plants. Whilst they have flowers, many are small and easily missed.

This selection is based on my own experience and therefore features plants are happy in my clay based, slightly acidic soil. There will be additional plants for you to consider if you have other soil conditions. I also have a bias against yellow in my garden.

Amelanchier – Can be grown as a tree or a multi-stemmed shrub. Is covered in beautiful white flowers in early spring. These are followed by foliage that is initially bronze before turning green. An imposing plant that is a great addition to any canine garden. Deciduous, sun or partial shade, moist well drained slightly acidic soil, hardy (H4).To see this plant in its full Spring glory – check out the video.
Buddelia – aka Butterfly Bush. So easy to grow that it has self seeded itself beside many railway lines. Great if you want to attract butterflies. Wonderful long florets in a range of colours from pinks through blue to purple. Deciduous, full sun, well drained soil, hardy (H4).
Camellia – A fabulous shrub with the most breath-taking blooms in spring. The flowers come in a range of colours from pure white, through pink to deep red and may be single, semi double or double. To ensure that the flower buds don’t drop before opening, make sure the plant doesn’t get too dry the previous year. A safe plant for dogs – after all, tea bushes are a form of camellia. Partial shade, moist well drained slightly acidic soil, most forms are hardy (H4).
Choisya – aka Mexican Orange, Mock Orange. Beautiful dark green foliage with white flowers in late spring and often again in late summer. Sundance has almost yellow foliage. Preferably full sun (particularly for Sundance), well drained, hardy (H4).
Cornus – aka Dogwood. Multi stemmed shrub grown mainly for the winter colour provided by its stems, which, depending on variety, can range from yellow through orange to red. It is necessary to prune the shrub virtually to ground level annually to encourage new stems to grow as these have the best winter colour. If you wish to maintain the structure provided by the shrub through out the year, then you may choose to only prune out 50% of the stems, which will reduce the vibrancy of winter colour to some degree. Deciduous, sun (for best winter colour) or partial shade, moist well drained slightly acidic soil, hardy (H4).
Cotinus – Available in purple and gold variants. A robust plant that provides a beautiful backdrop to your other plants. Where many shrubs have green foliage, Cotinus provides a change to tempo. Deciduous, sun or partial shade, moist well drained slightly acidic soil, hardy (H4).
Escallonia – Lovely dark green evergreen leaves. Grown for its foliage, a wonderful background shrub that needs little attention throughout the year. Full sun, fertile well drained soil, fully hardy to frost hardy.
  Hydrangea – As well as the well known mob cap hydrangeas whose colour will depend to a large extent on the acidity or alkalinity of your soil, there are also lace cap and climbing hydrangeas. You might want to consider fan pruning a shrub hydrangea against a wall. Full sun or partial shade, moist well drained soil, hardy to frost tender.
Ilex – aka Holly. Not just for Christmas (but it can be useful for free berries). Range of colours of the green hue, with a variety of leaf shapes – some are smooth sided. Very robust foliage. Full sun or partial shade, moist well drained soil, hardy to frost tender.
Laurus nobilis – Bay is a wonderful plant, not only will it give you no problems with the dogs, but also you can store your prunings for culinary use. It can be pruned as a standard (a single clean stem with a head of leaves) or left to be a large shrub. I prune mine annualy to a height of about eight feet, or as high as I can reach standing on my step ladder. It has these tiny yellow flowers in Spring. Can suffer from wind damamge, but that can just be pruned out. Full sun or partial shade, moist well drained soil, hardy (H4).
Lavetera – This genus has members which fall into a number of groups including annuals, herbaceous as well as shrubs. However, it is as a shrub that it can be most useful to canine garden owners. It grows quickly and can easily reach 6ft in one season. Despite this vigorous nature, it is a plant which can easily be pruned and kept within the desired space. Full sun, well drained soil, hardy (H4).
Nandina domestica – aka Heavenly Bamboo. Evergreen plant with autumn colour. Delicate white flowers followed by bright red autumn berries. Sheltered site in moist well drained soil, preferably in full sun for best colour, frost hardy.
Pittosporum – Grown for its leaves, though it has very small purple flowers. The leaves can be green with some variagation around the edges or, as in this case purple, where the new green growth adds interest in the spring. Full sun or partial shade, moist well drained soil, hardy or frost hardy (H4).
Philadelphus – aka Mock Orange. Beautiful white flowers which come in a wide variety – some larger, some double and even quill-like petals. This one is one of the most frequently found – Belle Etoile. Deciduous, full sun or partial shade, moist well drained soil, hardy or half hardy (H4).
Photinia – This plant is at its best in spring when the sun shines through its young leaves. It does have very small white flowers, but these are barely noticed. This plant can get very leggy and untidy – to avoid this happening, pinch out all the tips of new shoots in spring. Full sun or partial shade, moist well drained soil, hardy(H4).

For more info, see my post on Photinias

Prunus lusitanica – aka Portugual Laurel. Actually a cherry rather than a laurel, but it holds its leaves year round like a laurel. Has beautiful racemes of white flowers, for me twice a year – around Christmas and then in late spring, small black berries then follow. Full sun or partial shade, moist well drained soil, hardy (H4).
Viburnum – There is a very good reason that viburnum is found everywhere – it is a really “good doer”. It needs little pruning and looks good, even when not in flower. There are a wide variety of plants in this genus, some have more spectacular flowers (like “Snowball“), some autumn leaf interest. Sun or light shade, moist or well drained soil, hardy (H4).

2 Responses to “Shrubs”

  1. LBAKER Says:

    Good suggestions, although I saw Hydrangea on here and I know that its toxic to dogs and cats, (ASPCA.org has a good plant list). My dogs can be a little “chewy” and I don’t want them to get sick!!!

    1. Barhi Says:

      Thanks for that info. Luckily, my dogs don’t chew plants as I have trained them with the “Ouch” command :).

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