Shrub love

When we first came to this property there was nothing here but trees. We had to clear a few acres to make a nice, open space for the house. Then I had to start planting things to make the yard not look barren.

I started with perennials, knowing they’d give me years of color for my efforts. I made it up to more than 250 varieties of perennials before my age started creeping up on me at about the same time that my available time & energy for gardening seemed to shrink. What to do now, I wondered, to keep the yard pleasing while diminishing my workload?

The answer? Shrubs!

They take up lots more room than a perennial, so a few shrubs can replace a dozen or more flowers in the same amount of space. That equates to less weeding. Plus, shrubs can create a visual barrier that most perennials can’t achieve. If you choose shrubbery with a mixture of leaf color and texture, even when they’re not in bloom they can add lots of interest to a garden.

Here are a few of my current favorites.

Grancy’s Greybeard, aka Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) up close for detail and one arm to show a bit of the shape.
grancy's greybeard closeup

grancy's greybeard arm

I planted these three shrubs for color & texture variety: doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum – it’s a poor flowering year due to the weird weather), purpleleaf ninebark (Physocarpus opulofolius “Diablo”), and tri-color Japanese willow (Salix integra “Hakuro Nishiki”). That willow is quite assertive – I have to cut it back every year, not only to keep its size in check, but also because the 3 colors (green, white, & pink) only show well on new growth.

3 shrubs

I planted this purple smoke bush (Cotinus coggygia “Royal Purple”) more than 10 years ago, but it’s never really taken off. It’s still quite small. Still, I love the color and shape of the leaves.
smoke bush

But smoke? Not so much. Here are flower buds, which is all I’ve ever seen. They’ve never once opened into the ‘smoke’ for which the plant is named.
smoke flower bud

Here’s a domestic azalea in an interesting salmon color. A bit out of focus, but I like the impressionistic nature of this photo.
domestic azalea

By contrast, taken at approximately the same distance from the plant, here’s a native azalea, commonly called Pink, known by me as The Queen.
the queen

The flowers are much smaller but more numerous. Their tongues delicately reach far out from their throats, and they have a wonderful aroma. Most domestic azaleas have no fragrance.

Also taken at a similar distance, here’s a plant that’s part perennial, part shrub – it’s a tree peony.
tree peony, 2012

You can tell it’s related to the typical peony, but sort of in the same way that a small, caged parakeet is to a large parrot in the Amazon.

My yard is best considered a zone 4, so I can’t reliably grow a Florida dogwood, which I love. Instead we planted a Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa). There are lots of varieties, and I don’t know the name of mine, but it’s more bush-like than tree-like, and the flowers are not as showy as some.
Japanese dogwood

Still, it’s amazing in that the flowers start out looking just like the leaves, and then gradually lighten up as the days pass. The center of the flower eventually grows to about an inch in diameter turns bright red.
dogwood flower

This sweet little thing is the best type of shrub ever – it’s a volunteer! No planting needed.
currant bush
It’s tripled in size in just one year. I wonder how long it will take to produce fruit?

Last, and certainly least, is this poor, sad, little sugar maple.
poor little maple tree
It’s had a rough life, suffering through 3 transplants and 3 late freezes. Intended to provide summer shade to my house, now it will never be anything more than a maple shrub. I’ve decided it’s worth it to me to talk to a landscaper and have them bring in & plant a real tree, one that will grow with some reliability. I’m going to start shopping around in the next few weeks.

Your turn: have you discovered the joy of shrubs?

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