Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who Said Shrubs Are Boring?

Sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus
Let's take a 'shrub walk' around my garden. I will show you that shrubs are beautiful, often exciting, and a good low-maintenance choice. A couple of posts ago, after reading Sydney Eddison's book, Gardening for a Lifetime, I discussed replacing high-maintenance perennials with shrubs. My posting, Standards of Good Behavior for a Perennial, elicited some interesting comments. I learned that some gardeners find shrubs boring, but I hope they change their opinion after our walk together.

We will start in the shade garden where the sweetshrub's buds are about to open (above). The flowers and the leaves of the sweetshrub, sometimes called Carolina allspice, are fragrant. In the picture below the sweetshrub is in the foreground, with ferns, hostas, and various groundcovers beneath.

A patchwork of plants in the shade garden.
Also in the shade garden I have hydrangea and clethra, called summer sweet, which I will photograph in the summer when they bloom. Two 'golden mound' spiraea each side of the statue brighten a shady area. They develop small, pink flowers that are unremarkable - I bought the shrubs for their chartreuse-colored leaves.

Two gold-mound spiraea Spiraea japonica anchor the statue
As we walk around the front of the house we discover a very different kind of spiraea, the lovely bridal veil, so aptly named with branches that arch gracefully to the ground.

Blossoms of the Bridal veil spiraea

Bridal veil spiraea Spiraea vanhoutte

I love white blooms and there are many in my spring garden, including the beautiful snow azalea.

Snow azalaea Rhododendron mucronulatum
I don't know the name of this variety of red azalea. I like the dramatic effect of the red blossoms against the green-textured globe arborvitae.

Azalea and globe arborvitae

The flower buds of the rhododendron are about to burst open.

Rhododendron spp.
All across the garden we can smell the sweet perfume of the Russian olive, pulling us into the Woodland Walk. We cross the bridge over bluebell creek - how happy the English bluebells make me feel - and enter the woodland garden.

Although the Russian olive and the wild honeysuckle are invasive, causing H.H. to spend many hours trying to eradicate them, for a short time in the spring we are glad they are blooming there.

Honeysuckle and Russian olive in the Woodland Walk

Bush honeysuckle Diervilla lonicera

Russian Olive
The new leaves on the andromeda are brilliant red. I am happy to grow this shrub in the Woodland Walk because the deer find it unappealing.

Japanese andromeda Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire'

Now follow me into the perennial garden where I have some evergreen, non-flowering shrubs. Their columnar and global shapes add structure where it could otherwise look 'disorganized' - the nature of the cottage-garden style. The two different views, below, of one of my biota in the spring cottage garden illustrate my point.

Golden Biota Platycladus cupressaceae

Another view of the biota.

At the end of the summer, my favorite shrub, caryopteris, blooms.

Blue Mist Shrub Caryopteris 'Dark Night'. September 2010

Caryopteris with carpenter bee. September 2010
Later in the summer, you will see two butterfly bushes, one pink and one purple. The pink one is my favorite.

Butterfly bush Buddleja davidii August 2010

Now I must show you my latest aquisition, a viburnum that we planted today. I have wanted one for a long time. The one I purchased grows quite large ( 15' high and 15' wide), so we located it in front of the ugly pasture fence, hoping it will eventually hide it. The clusters of pure white flowers, arranged in two rows above the branches, make a lovely spring display.

Maries' Viburnum Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesii'
I have other wonderful shrubs in my garden, but I hope I have shown you enough to convince you that shrubs are a suitable alternative to perennial flowers. I assure you they require less maintenance.

Below, you can see some of the flowers we saw blooming as we walked, today. Clockwise, from the top left: iris, lupine, English bluebells, chive, peony bud with bee, and snow-in-summer.

And some of the critters we saw ...

Tree Swallow

Female ruby-throated hummingbird

Three indigo buntings in the catalpa tree.

I  hope you enjoyed walking with me!

Happy Gardening, Pamela x

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.


  1. The bridal veil spiraea is so pretty. I don't think shrubs are boring at all. I love to see the different birds visiting your garden, they're so colourful compared to those we have in our gardens.

  2. Pam, great shrub choices. I love caryopteris and viburnum. My yard has many shrubs for structure and flowering. I am glad you gave shrubs the nod of approval. Invasive, yes, but honeysuckle and that fragrance... thank you for the tour of your garden today. The buntings are a pretty bird, one I rarely ever see.

  3. I love shrubs! They are low maintenence and add height to my garden. I also like the red barberry even though it is considered invasive. If trimmed ocasionally I find it a colorful addition (very thorny).
    Pam, the articles are very informative. Keep them coming!

  4. Pam, the walk was very enjoyable! Your shrubs are lovely. I especially love that little walkway over the English bluebells.

    I'm pretty new to shrubs and planted some last spring. I didn't do any trimming in the fall and one of them has some branches that don't have any leaves coming out. I guess I should just cut them off above a leaf node? The one I'm talking about is a mock orange. What do you think?


  5. Very pretty, Pam--the Carolina allspice sounds lovely and the indigo buntings are gorgeous!

  6. I use a lot of shrubs, and do think they are much less maintenance than perennials. Great choices. I have never seen anything like those indigo buntings! How colorful! Thanks for a great post.

  7. Dear Diane, It is best to prune mock orange immediately after flowering. However, pruning mock orange in early spring, before growth begins, will force the stored carbohydrates from the previous season into the surging new growth. You won’t have flowers for a year, but you will have a handsome shrub. If flowering is an absolute necessity in your life, then allow what is there to flower. You can prune the canes back to the ground immediately after flowering. I hope this helps. P. x

  8. Well sure, you can make anything look great in a garden. Wow.

  9. I loved my walk through your shrubs this morning,Pam. I think you've set everyone straight now. I personally love the structure that shrubs bring to a garden and the beautiful blooms!

  10. Hi Pam,

    So beautiful, there's so much going on there!

    I hope things are catching up in your garden after the long winter :)

  11. Your bluebells are coming on! I can't live without bulbs, but the structure of my garden is shrubs and small trees. There is something comforting about plants that are scaled to people size. Enfolding you as you walk along the path.

  12. I love shrubs and yours are beautiful--I can't imagine a gardener thinking shrubs are boring--but what I really want is your indigo buntings. They would just have to fly a little south to get here. Could you give them directions?

  13. I'll have to go on a shrub walk sometime soon also! I added caryopteris to my butterfly garden last year and I agree,--I loved seeing the color in the late summer when everything else had finished its blooming. Thanks for the tour of your gardens!

  14. No one could say shrubs are boring after seeing the array of forms in your garden, Pam. I need more of them as the garden lacks what yours has, - structure and anchor points. Last week I nearly bought a Spirea bridal veil and now I wish I had. Caryopteris on my shopping list too. Loved the tour and felt I was walking right alonside you, especially past the bluebells and into the woodland garden.
    Laura x

  15. Pam, your garden is so lovely with various garden rooms to visit. As you walked us through each room, I could see, smell, and touch the various nice.

  16. Pam, I just loved this post! It's so inspirational for me to see other plants I can add to the gardens that don't require as much maintenance as we age. Small trees and shrubs have just piqued my interest lately, along with the dwarf conifers. Since we're trying to downsize, this is a wonderful post full of ideas, thank you!

  17. You are so right Pam about the shrubs, they are not only low-maintenance but add texture to the garden as well..I love your choices, You have done a lovely job..Thanks for sharing.

  18. I learned kinda late about shrubs, so I had to add them in after a bunch of other things were already growing, sort of like carpeting a room full of furniture. Every spring I am thankful for their almost careless performances and the structure they add. Love the vertical ones-- such good advice. Great post. Would like an image of your historic house sometime...

  19. Hello Pam! I was sent over by Carolyn from C.'s Shade Gardens. She recommended you as a fellow PA gardener.

    I garden in western PA. Gardening is much "bigger" in the eastern side of the state. Luckily, my sister lives in Kennett Square, home to Longwood Gardens, so I have enjoyed a few visits there.

    I think shrubs are an essential part of the mixed garden (boarder seems rather confining to me). Though since their season is short, I suppose it takes a bit more thought to work them into succession. I have read Sydney Eddison's articles and I think she has found a great way to make her garden grow with her.

    I just featured Sweetshrub in my wild flower post this week.

    Looking forward to reading more about your wonderful English garden this season.

  20. I really enjoyed my walk today Pam. Your garden is lovely and the shrubs are not at all boring. I'm envious of your woodland walk!

  21. I find that the gardens I see that are the most beautiful to me effectively use shrubs. They have it all, size, ease, color, and tend to mix well with others.