A shrub border will enhance and improve the value of a home in any season of the year. Shrubs may be planted at property lines, as screens from the street or close neighbors, as separators of various areas of the outdoor living section, or as easy-care substitutes for flower beds and borders.
Most gardeners are familiar with the beauty, color, and texture of their shrubs in the growing season. A variety can offer a continual series of flowers during the spring and summer, while in the fall there is the pleasure of a tremendous array of attractive foliage, from bronze and yellow to dark maroon and the brilliant red leaves that are provided by both common and exotic specimens alike.
But even during the winter, when the deciduous plants are devoid of foliage, there is the opportunity to examine and enjoy the color and texture of the bark of shrubs in the border.
Too often this experience is overlooked, and the gardener misses an added bonus from his shrubs. Consider the many colors that are prominent in the twigs of various kinds.
After the turn of a new year, most bark will disclose its individual color to a high degree. Variations of brown are common, but there are others to be noticed, too.
Branches of the red-twigged dogwood (Cornus) become characteristically showy with the passing of the winter months until, in early March, their presence in the shrub border will be an asset of bright color. They are particularly to be admired against a background of white snow.
Young willows are also glamorous with yellow twigs during the winter months. And as spring approaches, the yellow deepens to provide an intense glow in contrast with the colors of other shrubs nearby.
Bright green stems are found in winter if kerria is part of a border. This pretty shrub is well known for its yellow flowers and is a definite asset for winter color. Blending with other hues is the gray bark of several shrubs, notably many of the viburnums, weigela, lilacs, and bayberry. Black twigs are produced by rhodytypos which also holds its black berries well into spring. A variety of color in shrub branches helps offset the drabness of a barren, winter landscape.
Then there is the appealing interest in the closeup appearance of diverse shrub varieties. Take a nearby look at the twigs of different shrubs and an amazing contrast will be seen. Forsythia stems have ''freckles.'' Ninebark, as its name suggests, shows layers of peeling bark.
Another shrub that exfoliates in the same way is Philadelphus, sometimes known as syringa. The bark of some haws, low trees at the back of a border, will have extremely long, sharply pointed thorns. Rose stems will reveal blunt, but sharp, thorns.
Most interesting are the twigs of the winged euonymus, with their curious four ''wings'' giving the impression that the branch is square rather than round. To vie with euonymus as a diverting twig is that of ''Harry Lauder's walking stick'' (Corylus avellana). The twisted, corkscrewlike stems of this shrub form a queer novelty which is most noticable during the winter months.
Buds on winter shrubs are fascinating to examine.
Those on the forsythia will be knobby, whereas the buds on lilacs are smooth and close to the stem. Some buds are almost inconspicuous, but an amazing change in all of them can be appreciated between the first of January and the end of March.
An occasional warm day in midwinter will swell buds, and the heat of an early spring sun will cause them to crack gently.
It is at this time that twigs may be cut and brought indoors to reveal what the buds have been hiding. Forsythia branches, or the Japanese quince and pussy willows, will burst into bloom within 10 days while lilac stems will soon develop with fresh green foliage.
Some leaf buds can provide welcome greenery in February, but they will require more than 10 days to open at that stage of winter. This process of forcing early blooms is one of the benefits to be derived from a shrub border. The flowers and new greenery are a grateful preview of what will appear a few weeks later outdoors.
Should one be inclined artistically, an unusual midwinter bouquet of various shrub twigs can be arranged for indoor decoration. Such a bouquet will prove to be a real conversation piece while the twigs are dormant, as well as later when the buds start to develop.
The tips of wayward plants can be cut as a form of minor trimming and then shortened to six or eight inches in proportion to a pretty bowl or vase. It seems only sensible to admire and make use of winter shrubs in addition to having the pleasure of their company in the spring, summer, and fall.
As an afterthought, mention might be made of the broadleaf evergreen shrubs that are available. Their twigs, too, mingled in a border, may be added to a ''bouquet'' to provide further color and texture.
Some evergreen shrubs are the familiar and beautiful laurel, pieris, the Japanese andromeda, and mahonia, the holly grape.