Why Not Plant a Flowering Shrub Garden?
Terry L. Yockey
A friend asked me the other day if I thought it would be a good idea to turn her terraced backyard into a shrub garden. Rather than planting perennial and annual flowers, she thought she would instead plant all flowering shrubs. Her rationale was that even though she would love to have the time to garden, her job didn’t afford her that luxury and shrubs would be much easier to maintain.
I heartily agreed. In fact, even though I love to be out in my gardens all day—everyday—over half of my gardens are shrub gardens. For me it is a no-brainer. I would have to plant a whole lot of flowering plants to equal just one mature shrub that is in full bloom. And even better, after they bloom they usually sport berries all summer and then turn vivid reds, oranges and yellows when fall arrives.
I challenge you to find many other flowering plants that will do all that.
I try to group my shrubs into different garden spaces where they all have the same function. For instance, I have a wildlife and fall color shrub garden. The shrubs I have planted there have spectacular autumn foliage, and all have berries that the birds like to eat. Some of the shrubs included in that grouping are Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), American Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), European Cranberry (Viburnum opulus), Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima') and my favorite, Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.).
Next to the wildlife/fall color grouping are the winter interest shrubs. These shrubs either have attractive colored bark such as the ‘Cardinal’, ‘Bud’s Yellow’ and red-osier dogwood, which have orange, bright yellow and dark red stems respectively or else retain their bright berries most of the winter like the winterberries. Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a deciduous holly so they lose all their leaves, but the bright red berries remain on the woody stems to brighten the winter landscape.
Then comes my favorite area...the fragrant shrubs. This would be where I have my fragrant shrub roses including The Pavement series, ‘Therese Bugnet’ (the red stems are also good for winter interest), ‘Jens Munk’, ‘Cuthbert Grant’, and ‘Delicata’. I also have several Clethra anifolia, a golden mock orange (‘Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus'), lilacs, Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ and a new shrub to the garden named the clove currant (Ribes odoratum). Just as the name implies it is covered in early summer with yellow flowers that smell just like cloves.
The last area includes my other shrub roses. These are the newer landscape roses that are gorgeous, but don’t have much fragrance. Here I have placed my ‘Snowbeauty’ and ‘Hope for Humanity’ (Parkland roses), ‘The Fairy’, and all my new landscape roses from Bailey Nurseries in Newport. If you haven’t heard about the new Easy Elegance® Rose Collection from Baileys here is the scoop: Ping Lim, an internationally recognized rose hybridizer, crossed over 25,000 plants to come up with roses that are hardy, disease resistant, and best of all bloom all season long. My favorite so far is ‘Sunrise Sunset’ which has fuchsia-pink blooms that fade to apricot in the center, but I also like ‘Great Wall’ with its masses of hot pink blossoms. They have come back after two winters, but they do seem to die back to the crown, which means you may need to cut them down to a few inches high every spring.
So those are all of my shrub gardens, and that doesn’t even include the several varieties of hydrangea that I have scattered here, there and everywhere in my other garden spaces. I can’t help it—I like flowering shrubs. If you would like to have a lower-maintenance garden or landscape, try one or two yourself. Or maybe three, or four, or…
Most of the shrubs mentioned above are available from
& Shrub Gardening for Minnesota and Wisconsin,"
by Don Engebretson and Don Williamson, Lone Pine Publishing. Coated paperback -
360 pages (October 2005) Profiles for 75 woody plants
that are hardy in zones 4 and 5. For each plant there is info about its special
features, height and spread ranges. The handy reference charts give you all the
pertinent details you need when you are at the nursery choosing a new tree or
shrub for your cold-climate landscape.
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