November 30th, 2012
I know, I know, we’re deep into the cold season here in Connecticut and who’s thinking about flowering shrubs? I’d venture to say that many gardeners are, especially as those tempting catalogs arrive, resplendent with photos of lush lilacs, bounteous buddleia and wondrous weigela.
Flowering shrubs fill many a bill in the garden as we mature, when fussing with fancy perennials becomes more and more difficult. If we wish to maintain a gracious garden into our dotage, one solution is to replace some swaths of perennials with flowering shrubs. If chosen carefully, these bushes offer not only color from spring to fall, but also structure, interest, and food and shelter for birds.
Here’s a few of my favorites, in order of bloom:
Witch hazel. ‘Jelena’, ‘Arnold Promise’. These large, vase-shaped hybrids desire placement at the edge of the woods and room to spread their 10-20’ wings. Their bloom, often commencing in January and February, can be quite fragrant.
PJM rhododendron. These small-leaved rhododendrons sport pretty pink flowers.
Quince has come quite a way from our grandmothers’ varieties. Try the new ‘Double Take’ cultivars, which are shorter, thornless, and whose blossoms in shades of scarlet, orange and pink resemble tiny roses.
Shade-loving Kerria possesses bright green stems year round and its chrome-yellow flowers light up the spring border.
Lilac. For continuous fragrant color, plant early varieties such as ‘Pocahontas’, mid-season such as the common Syringa vulgaris, and late cultivars such as ‘Miss Kim’ and ‘Paladin’. ’Bloomerang’ is a reliable re-bloomer.
Azalea. What Connecticut shade garden would be complete without this beauty? (Just be sure to apply deer repellent) Lovely cultivars include compact ‘Mother’s Day’ with its large red blooms, and ‘Pink Tradition’ decorated with abundant, deep rose flowers.
Old fashioned Bridal Veil spirea blooms in June, with a cascade of white flowers. Summer blooming spireas such as ‘Anthony Waterer’ and ‘Gold Mound’ are smaller and more upright and flaunt shades of mauve and pink.
Rose (of course). My favorites are the ‘Knockout’ series, which boast disease-free foliage, gorgeous colors, upright bush form, and repeat bloom. What’s not to love?
Buddleia: Also know as summer lilac, these shrubs begin flowering in July and persist until frost. But instead of the rangy big varieties, consider planting the newer dwarf cultivars, which remain small, need no deadheading and are sterile. ‘Lo and Behold’ is a fine choice
Hydrangea nowadays come in all sizes and colors. I like ‘Glowing Embers’ for its red-purple color which dries nicely, and the new cultivars such as ‘Blushing Bride’ which bloom on both new and old wood. The ‘Cityline’ series offer dwarf shrubs with full-size flower heads.
Weigela: Much hybridizing has been done with this hummingbird favorite; it’s no longer the awkward monster that grew in grandmother’s garden. Try tiny cultivars such as ‘My Monet’; mid-size ‘Fine Wine’, and one of the ‘Sonic Bloom’ rebloomers from Proven Winners; they come in red, pearl or pink.
Clethra is that rare entity, a fragrant, late-summer bloomer. Deep in August it bears its pink or white flowers, perfuming the mid-summer garden.
Rose of Sharon is a classic late bloomer, but stick to the newer cultivars such as ‘Sugar Tip’ or the dwarf ‘L’il Kim’, which aren’t as wanton with their seedlings.
Hydrangea paniculata blooms on new wood and can therefore be pruned quite hard in spring and still bear long-lasting bloom panicles. Newer cultivars such as ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ begin ivory and over the course of several months turn quite deep pink. Stunning!
Autumn is all about color, so consider itea, a native, shade-tolerant shrub whose leaves glow crimson in October and November.
Oak-leaf hydrangea is the last shrub in my garden to color up. It flaunts large leaves of purple, orange and deep bronze until almost Christmas.
Though a garden of flowering shrubs is easier than one crammed with persnickety perennials, upkeep is still essential. These babies appreciate correct placement, an occasional scattering of fertilizer and periodic pruning. But if ease of care and all-season color is your goal, select some of these charmers, and enjoy your revamped garden!