Edit Template

Ten Best Trees & Shrubs To Create All-Season Garden Design Beauty, Privacy & Habitat

Spring is tantalizingly close. On my Wellness Walk today I saw Easter-egg colored crocus and leucojum ~ their teeny white heads hanging down like tiny umbrellas, along with  the tips of tulip bulbs peeking out.  Yayyy. The symphony of spring is tuning up.

Meanwhile, with our thoughts turning ever-more to the garden, now is almost the best time to think about the bones or the foundation of your garden. 

The bones of the garden are those permanent, structural elements that remain constant, and are most visible when there aren’t any flowers or leaves.  

We’re talking about paths or walks, benches, walls, steps, fences, rocks and stones as support and natural decor, patios, water features, and ornamental sculpture. 

Trees and Shrubs: the workhorses of the garden design

Here, I’ll focus on the trees or shrubs you can consider for privacy and for those spaces that could use a designed composition that can transform a corner pocket or border. 

Before the garden “leaves out,” take notice of your yard and gardens from inside the house and from curbside or streetside.  Take notes. Take photos.

You’ll want to consider creating what we in the garden design world refer to as a “borrowed landscape.” 

  • Do you want to frame a pretty view or create one

  • Do you want to block out the street scene 

  • Do you need to create privacy

  • What time of day do use or view the garden space

Trees and shrubs provide so many benefits, including:

  • Soil stability

  • Improved air quality ~ they filter dust and pollutants

  • Shade ~ lower energy bills (and we can all use some bill relief these days!)

  • Home for wildlife

  • Absorb and retain rainwater ~ good for the garden and keeping the water out of the house 

  • Beauty 

The trees and shrubs you ultimately choose will be the most costly plants you will add to the garden and will last the longest. So take care. Do your research. Peruse the many garden books available. I highly recommend anything written by Jan Johnsen ~ I’ve reviewed her books, most recently Gardentopia and they are terrific. 

You can also check with your local Master Gardener program, Cooperative Extensions, social media, and of course, a certified garden designer.

Here, I’ll recommend some of my tried-and-true, tree and shrub stalwarts that I’ve used over my many, wonderful years as a garden designer.

I favor Natives because they are hardy, interesting, are better suited to the look of a natural garden and benefit the pollinators and wildlife.

However, there are many trees and shrubs that have been in use so long in our local gardens that one can argue they can be considered true Natives. 


Cherry Laurel ~ Prunus laurocerasus is an evergreen shrub or small tree that grows up to 20′ tall and is dense and wide-spreading; there is a smaller cultivar ‘Otto Luyken’ or ‘Schipkaensis’ that when thoughtfully planted together makes a compelling composition. Further, the laurels bloom in the spring with a sweet, cherry fragrance!  The birds and dragonflies and grasshoppers love them almost as much as I do.


It took about six or so years to reach a walled height of approximately ten-plus feet. Here’s the before:  (see the growth of the boxwood also). Now, we have a very private area to enjoy in every season, just off our garden room. Double sliding doors make the outside a part of the indoor experience. 

Red or Yellow Twigged Dogwood ~ These beauties are deciduous but you can’t beat the showy, multi-stemmed  winter performance. They are a beautiful sight especially against the snow. (I have red twigged shrubs fronting an arbor of Coral Bark. The red bark and white snow is stunning. Both are in the Cornaceae (dogwood) and flower in the spring. The yellow Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea Is a cultivar of the red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) ~ both can grow upright to five or six feet.

Mahonia or Oregon Grape Holly ~ Berberis aquifolium is very good used in a woodland-like setting or if you are creating one. It’s an evergreen, medium shrub that can grow to 10 feet or so tall. It’s leaves are shiny like holly; it sports lovely yellow flowering racemes in the spring and lots of blue/black berries from summer through winter. Good for wildlife and easy to grow. It looks great planted in a group or border. It’s rather prickly, so I wouldn’t use it as a foundation planting even though some recommend it for that purpose. I find it good to look at but not to touch 🙂

Boxwood ~ Of course boxwoods ~ and there are many cultivars ~ is a well-loved garden shrub.

I’ve been taught that boxwood originated in the Mediterranean areas of Egypt and Turkey.  

Boxwoods were first introduced to America by way of Sylvester Manor in Long Island in 1653. I know this from my research writing my first book, The Hamptons and Long Island Homegrown Cookbook The farm there was the chef’s inspiration for Vine Street Cafe owner and chefs: Terry and Lisa Harwood, and so I came to learn about some very interesting stories. Fascinating, isn’t it? I figured most folks would guess Charleston or Virginia as boxwood’s American intro.

The American Boxwood Society calls boxwood, “man’s oldest garden ornament.” Well… of course they would (smile).  However, they may have to refer to it as “man’s most heartbreaking garden ornament” due to its propensity for “Boxwood Blight,” an untreatable fungal infection that plagued Europe and hit us around 2013.  When you have a disease named after the very shrub, you can understand the frustration.  I use boxwood sparingly and not so much for clients. I’d rather use Ilex and protect their investment. 


Before border after ripping out the honeysuckle 

After. Ahhhh… 

Holly ~ Ilex crenata ‘Compacta’ is a  Box Leaved Holly that is smallish, needs little to no pruning or maintenance. In spring, the new, young stems are a dark purple and mature to flossy green. I used it to replace invasive Chinese honeysuckle and create a neat, robust border.  Compacta, as well as Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’, are deer resistant just like boxwood. These Ilex also look great massed for corner spots or parterres used in a more designed garden.

Deutzia ~ Deutzia gracilis Chardonnay Pearls® is a shrub that puts out a spring show like no other. It’s abundant fragrant, white flowers are other-wordly; heartstopping.  I pair it with white azalea and white double-blooming daffodils. It’s heavenly… 

Little Mugo Pine / Conifer ~ Pinus mugo pumilio is a terrific backdrop for the garden offering year-round interest.

This cultivar is a mounded dwarf variety, growing three to five feet tall and up to ten feet wide (over ten years). Don’t let the maximum scare you as this one is ideal for smaller spaces, rock gardens and even containers. And it’s worth pointing out that conifers do need appropriate pruning – as all plants do. Too often I see trees and shrubs that have never been pruned… 

I love this pinus’ candle-like buds and their glossy green needles. A bonus: this plant supports Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) larvae which is one of the most beautiful and largest moths.

I also love Cypress Lutea nana, blue Spruce ~ here is Montgomery, and Cryptomeria Mushroom.  I paired these conifers with indegenous rock, hakonechloa macra), and Japanese Forest Grass. The client needed a good-looking composition to view from their kitchen, along a narrow strip of a border, and to also help block a neighbor’s blah/empty space.  It is a dramatic, yet somewhat diminutive design but it packs a distinguished style.  (This is a view from the top down.) 

My favorite conifer: the elegant Cephalotaxus (Plum Yew or Cowtail Pine). Why? The Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’ is a low-growing, spreading mounding beauty with needles that are ethereal, delicate but strong. According to the NC Extension, it can be used as a specimen plant, used along a foundation, as a low hedge, planted under the canopy of trees, or mass planted along a border.  Plant it in a woodland setting or in a shade or winter garden.”  

I used the Harringtonia in a client’s border where it is so graceful looking all year; in winter, it looks like a ballerina skirt with snow cascading from its needles when the wind moves it… 


In addition, I thought I’d share this fascinating little video of the spring pollen fairy dust!  Magic. 

Native Trees

Allegheny Serviceberry ~ Amelanchier laevis is a fantastic replacement for the Callery Pear tree. It’s a medium sized tree, has gorgeous silver-gray bark, white flowers in spring, gray-green leaves, orange autumn foliage, and red to purple edible fruit ~ for you and/or the birds. This tree has a four-season performance. 

I’ve used them next to a client’s elevated steps to a front door ~ meaning they can walk out and readily harvest the berries and enjoy the flowers.

Green Hawthorn ~ Crataegus viridis is a small to medium-sized native that has white flowers in spring,  red autumn leaf color and red berries in winter.

Redbay ~ Persea borbonia is an evergreen, fragrant, medium-sized tree that is charming near walkways, patios, or places where you can enjoy the scent. It boasts yellowish flowers in June, followed by blue-black fruit. 

You can also consider the Bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica. I use it at my clients’ for a fragrant border. I have a specimen Bayberry in the center of my driveway ~ it offers year-round interest. It’s practically carefree. The roots are used in medicine; leaves are edible herbs that you can use in cooking and cocktailing, tea ~ and also for beauty. Think after-shave and soap!

Ornamental Grasses 

I will explore in more detail in a next post, but for now, please consider these all-season beauties. They are available in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and textures to add beauty to almost every garden composition and container. They add character and charm to the garden’s bones. 

One other tip or suggestion I’ll add here is to also perhaps rethink your winter garden viewing aesthetic. Rather than go for the all-too-neat look of having the ornamental grasses and hydrangea heads cut as winter approaches, leave them. 

The plants are beautiful with their seed heads or inflorescence shining in the winter light; made even more so by snow that seems to embrace the plants as a kind of lattice-work for a winter art display.

Plus, they are a home for over-wintering critters and pollinators too. They’ll thank you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Trending Posts


"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

Join me to celebrate a romantic, garden-infused, entertaining lifestyle filled with artful design, sparkling dinner parties, peerless martinis, and copious magnums of champagne!





Edit Template

Engage & Inspire

Join Ladies Who Lunch Conversations

Join me & my artful guests to explore the captivating, candid, & inspiring stories about their extraordinary lives, passions, careers; their meditation on life~that is sure to enrich ours. These inspiring women share challenges & tips on how to turn a dream into a well-lived life.

Copyright © 2024 Garden Glamour by Duchess Designs

Website Development by Literary Inspired