Posts Tagged ‘Shrubs’

If you read a lot of gardening books and magazines you’re probably familiar with the term mixed border. If not, don’t despair, it’s simply a term used to describe an elongated plot of land filled with flowering plants mixed with shrubs, possibly grasses and maybe small trees.

The issue of Fine Gardening magazine published several years ago featured the article Design a Border with Strong Plant Shapes by Sydney Eddison, that I think does a nice job explaining the visual impact of combining these plants and how one might begin go about putting together a mixed border.

The interspersing of shrubs and grasses among the flowers adds more than texture and color. Shrubs come in a variety of interesting shapes – cones, globes, mounds, spikes and fountains that add substance, depth and structure to the garden.

A before photo of the author’s garden depicts a sea of daylilies in full bloom. Though the area is awash with color, the garden lacks definition. And what will that space look like a month later when the lilies have bloomed out?

The after photos show a far more interesting scene, a garden packed with glorious blooming flowers framed with fountains of grasses, mounds and pillars of purple foliaged shrubs and a variety of interesting shaped evergreens. The added contrast of these strong shapes and lines turned a pretty garden into a fabulous garden that will carry the landscape through the four seasons

As I looked over the plant list Sydney Eddison provided I realized that, as is often the case, some of the recommended varieties will not work in many Michigan landscapes.

The gorgeous thread leaf Japanese Maple that thrives in Eddison’s Long Island, New York full sun border, that provides a large and graceful mound of mahogany colored foliage, could not handle that kind of exposure here in Michigan. And even if it could, it’s far too large for most yards. Flower lovers tight on space are not about to give up large chunks of plantable land to a tree, no matter how lovely it is.

But all is not lost. With a little detective work it’s not hard to come up with substitutes, downsized shrubs that are hardy and offer a stunning array of shapes, textures and colors for use in mixed borders.

For instance, let’s just take a look at some possibilities for globe and mound shaped shrubs.

When we think of globes, Arborvitaes quickly come to mind. But common varieties burgeon to 5 to 6 feet in but a few years. However, Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica is a true dwarf Arb that grows to only ten to fifteen-inches in height. ‘Golden Glove’, with its soft yellow foliage will stay within the 2 to 3-foot range and is hardy to a frigid zone 3.

Boxwoods are another classic choice for evergreen globes and they are on the list of deer resistant shrubs. Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ at 2 to 3-feet in height won’t require shearing to keep it from overtaking the garden.

Repetition of shape and color provide continuity that helps tie the mixed border together. And there are many deciduous shrubs that will not only repeat the globe or mound shapes, while adding season long color and interesting texture as well. The deer resistant Barberry ‘Rose Glow” with its lovely rose and pink mottled foliage that matures to a deep purple, is a colorful choice that might be used like book ends to anchor at the ends of the border. If you prefer green go with the 3 to 4-foot ‘Lime Glow’ Barberry. Burgundy colored Barberry ‘Crimson Pigmy’ will only rise to 18 to 24-inches. At the rear of the border repeat that globe shape and color with deep purple-leafed Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’. As a bonus, this stunner will produce oodles of intense rosy-pink flowers in June and flower sporadically on current season’s growth. At maturity ‘Wine and Roses’ will reach 4 to 5-feet in height, but it can be easily pruned to reduce its size after the initial blooming. And those prunings make fabulous foliage fillers for your cut flower arrangements. If you’ve a passion for purple, repeat that shape and yummy color in the front of the border with the low growing Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’.

Shrub roses also fall into the roundy moundy category. Conard-Pyle’s brilliant red ‘Kockout’ will flower non-stop from June through frost and make a stunning companion to those burgundy leafed plants.  The dainty pink polyanthus ‘Fairy’ rose is another possibility.

If bright lights turn you on, the glowing golden thread like foliage of Chamaecyparis ‘Sungold’ at a mature height of about 3-feet will give the garden a year-around shot of color. Bright yellow C. ‘Vintage Gold’ that holds to a height of 18 to 30 inches is another little treasure that will color up a full sun or part-sun border.

If you think of Spireas only in terms of the brilliant yellow harbingers of spring, get thee to a good garden center. ‘Dakota Goldcharm’ is a 12 to 15-inch dwarf gold leaf with bronze tips and pink flowers. ‘Pink Parasol’, topping out at 3-feet combines blue green leaves with big fluffy pink umbrella-like blossoms. Than there’s the vivid red 3-foot Spiraea ‘Neon Flash’. Keep these pretties dead headed and they too should re-bloom sporadically through out the summer.

When planning your new scheme, be sure to leave room for the vertical shapes in the form of grasses and shrubs.


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It seems that as you grow older, the winters grow longer. So whenever I shop for new plants, winter interest is high on my priority list.

For winter interest, you can’t beat Sedum “Metrona.” It stands straight and is about 3 feet tall throughout the winter. It turns magical when coated with frost or snow. I plan to spray-paint the stalks and flowers heads of my “Metrona” blue to herald the arrival of spring. It’s good to introduce a sense of humor into the garden.

Hydrangea “White Dome” is another star in my winter garden. It is just outside my first-floor office window, and in the summer the shrub rose to over 4 feet tall, reaching just above my windowsill. The blossoms bunched together to form flat 3- to 4-inch umbel-like clusters, made up of dozens of green buds that produce fertile flowers.

Around the edge are a number of white sterile flowers sporting large white petals. They are often referred to as ray flowers. The blossoms age slowly and, like other hydrangeas, the petals both large and small remain intact throughout the winter.

When viewed from a distance, the delicate flower clusters lack the flash of the bodacious blooms of Hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” or H. arborescence “Annabelle.” But the close-up view of them out my window is stunning. And the continuous buzz of tiny bees feasting on their nectar was a delightful summer song I long for in these cold, gray days of winter.

Those lovely blossoms persist today, the tiny flowers having turned dark brown, accented by the larger ray flowers of tan — a promise of things to come. I may spray them in spring, too.

I’ve chosen to leave the faded flowers on all my hydrangeas as they deter deer from nibbling the flower buds. In early spring, I’ll carefully snap them off, exposing the tender flower buds on those hydrangeas that bloom on last year’s wood.

My variegated willow
,” a dwarf shrub grafted as a small tree, produces stunning green, cream and pink leaves on new wood in spring. In winter, the branches turn a gorgeous orange-tan that light up a gray day and glow when the sun strikes them. In early spring, I prune the branches of this little 8-footer quite hard to induce that wonderful variegated foliage that springs forth on new wood.

Many grasses also provide a great show in the winter garden, and in the spring I plan to introduce several varieties into my meadow.

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Summer Sweet

Just because winter has just arrived, that doesn’t mean we can’t start day dreaming about things we want to change in our landscape next spring; like some new shrubs. One of the big mistakes a lot of homeowners make when choosing shrubs is the failure to check the mature size of the plant to be sure it will fit the space allotted.  Small shrubs planted in a two or three gallon bucket may balloon to a monstrous size in four to five years requiring an annual haircut to keep them contained.   And once overgrown, more often than not, they are sheared into meatballs and boxes that totally distort Mother Nature’s beautiful handiwork.



Take the lovely Summersweet Clethera alnifolia for instance.  It’s one of the few shrubs that bloom in summer in relatively heavy shade.  But in its native form this fragrant summer flowering shade lover can be expected to climb as high as eight feet when grown under the right cultural conditions. In a small landscape a plant of this size will need regular pruning to keep it from over running the place. However, the selection of a dwarf hybrid, such as ‘Hummingbird’, that maxes out at 3 feet or ‘Sixteen Candles’ with a tidy compact form that grows just to just 24inches in height, will do away with the need of pruning for reduction in height.


Left to its own devices, the glowing harbinger of spring, Forsythia intermedia, will burgeon to the 10 feet high and a width of 12 feet. But the cultivated variety ‘Golden Peep’ forms a 30-inch glowing ball in spring.  ‘Gold Tide’ rises to 30 inches with a 4-foot spread and makes a nice easy care ground cover for large areas that get full sun.

Looking for something unusual? After a the golden flush of flowers in spring, Forsythia ‘Kumson’ produces incredible variegated foliage – dark green background highlighted with a pure white tracery of white veining.   A stunning addition that will top out at about 4 feet in a shaded garden and possibly 6 feet in full sun.  See the forsythia file in yarderner website for much more on this popular shrub.

The fabulous flowering oak leaf hydrangeas Hydrangeas quercifolia may reach 10 feet with an 8 foot spread when mature. However, the dwarf cultivated variety  ‘Little Honey’ which sports bright golden yellow foliage matures to a manageable 3 to 4 feet in height and width, making it a perfect for brightening up shade gardens.  Another handsome dwarf oak leaf Hydrangea, with an upright habit and elegant green leaves that stays in the 3 to 4 foot range is ‘Sikes Dwarf’.

Woody plant guru Michael Dirr’s illustrated encyclopedia Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs (Timber Press $69.95), which includes more then 500 species and over 700 cultivated varieties recommended for use in cold climates ranging from Zone 3 to Zone 6 is a great resource when searching for great landscape plants.

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