Years ago, as a beginning gardener, I visited a British friend in northern California. Her country garden surrounded her house, a symphony of color and texture. I knew she took care of it herself. What was her secret? She leaned toward me, and in her terrific accent whispered, “Shrubbery.” I’ve never forgotten. Now, any time a perennial dies, or doesn’t live up to its promise, I replace it with “shrubbery.”
The gardening industry is helping me. Wholesale nurseries are introducing more woody plants—the right size, easy care, and great bang for your buck in both foliage and flowers. At this years’ annual meeting of GWA—The Association of Garden Communicators, I saw a presentation on new varieties by Kelly Norris, Director of Horticulture at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, and Maria Zampini, President of Upshoot LLC.
Shrub names might be less familiar than your old perennial favorites, but if you want your plants to work harder than you do, give shrubs a try next year. Here are some choices I’m including on my 2017 wish list.
Coprosma Pacific Sunrise™ (Coprosma repens) – This dramatic three-foot evergreen would be at home in my British friend’s California garden. It features chocolate-brown tiny-leafed foliage with striking bright maroon margins. In Zones 9 and up it’s a brilliant boxwood substitute. For colder zones, it would look great in a container overwintering in a greenhouse.
Diervilla Firefly™ Nightglow™ (Diervilla splendens ‘El Madrigal’) – The compact three-foot maroon-leafed shrub lives up to its name with small summer-long bright yellow flowers. In fall the leaf color deepens. Grows well down to Zone 4.
Distylium Emerald Heights® – This six-by-six-foot evergreen shows off small glossy green leaves and springtime red-maroon flowers. Tough and disease-resistant, this one would make a great privacy hedge in Zones 7-9. Hybridized distyliums vary in size, from three-foot D. ‘Vintage Jade’ to ten-foot D. Linebacker.™
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Miss Saori’ – Named 2014 Plant of the year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, this three- to four-foot fully double mop-head hydrangea features long-blooming (June-September) white flowers edged in pink in Zones 5-11.
Potentilla Bella Bellissima™ (Potentilla fruiticosa ‘Hachliss’) – Talk about a tough beauty—this plant thrives down to Zone 2. It forms a three-foot mound with longer-blooming vibrant pink blossoms that appear from top to bottom and would look terrific in groupings of three to five.