Shrubs are valuable in a large garden bed, especially because they offer a variation in shapes which adds visual drama to your garden. Recently I have been experimenting with shrubs that can be trained to grow in different forms or shapes.
The most common form of a weigela is the rounded, shrub form…
This weigela was purchased as a standard, which some call a “ball on a stick.” This shape variation makes a great accent in a small garden or in a tight corner of a larger garden as it is here …
This weigela was purchased and planted in a shrub form. Upon maturity, it was an overgrown, unpruned shrub that was crowded into a corner of an entrance to a backyard. I removed most of the lower branches, so it now looks more like a tree and suits the location much better…
These are great examples of a weigela shrub grown in three different forms to add variation in the plant shapes in your gardens. I love the tree-like shapes because you can add some low growing at the base for additional color and texture.
Hopefully, I have inspired you to experiment with your own shrubs.
Traditional Perennials: Roses, roses and more roses…because, in my opinion, you can never have too many roses…
pink climbing rose
Roses come in many colors and growth habits; climbers, shrubs, bushes and even trees. They look awesome climbing a wall or fence, at the front of a perennial border, or towards the back of a large bed. Although I have them under the traditional perennial category, the modern versions are much hardier and require less maintenance to keep them looking beautiful year after year. With the exception of the yellow shrub rose pictured that only blooms for about one week, the other roses, especially the shrubs, in my garden bloom from June right through to a hard frost. A few years ago the white one was still blooming in November!
Modern Perennials: Goats Beard or Aruncus or Wild Spirea…
I have only seen Goat’s Beard with white blooms, it is new to my knowledge base. Please let me know if it comes in other colors too, it is absolutely striking! In addition to the towering version shown here, it apparently comes in a dwarf variety as well.
The weigela in my garden is in tree form (right), although the bush form is much more common. The tree form fits into the back of a border, especially in front of a fence, or veranda in this case. One of my clients once talked me into cutting his weigela bush right back to about one foot tall because a backhoe was scheduled to work on his pool area and he thought the bush would get ruined. I did cut it back, but was worried as the bush must have been six feet in diameter and five feet in height: spectacular. I wish I had taken a picture of it to show you before and after the pruning. It did survive the drastic hair cut, but is not quite as large yet two years later.
early blooming clematis x2
late blooming clematis
Clematis vines come in many colours too, from white to yellow to pink or blue and many shades of purple; all are beautiful ways to cover a wall or fence. Some blooms are flat, singles and others have raised centers (doubles) I have two that climb through a tree. Unlike other vines, they will not damage a tree as their stems are very light, almost fragile.
Pansies look like tiny, cheerful faces to me; I love them in containers of any kind. They too come in many colors, although I do tend to go for the purple ones.
As a professional gardener, I often get asked what my favorite plants are. I have favorites of both the perennial (they come back every year) and annual (plant new ones each year after the danger of frost has passed in the spring) variety, for different conditions in my garden…
For full sun, hot and dry conditions, I am very fond of ornamental grasses; there are many varieties, both annual and perennial, that range from short to very tall in height, all with different seed heads, colors, and leaf shapes:
Most require very little care, simply cut back the perennial ones to a few inches early in the spring, before new growth appears. If you don’t like the appearance of the brown, dead-looking grass in the off-season, you can cut the plant back in the fall instead, but I like the look of the grass in the winter landscape. The annual variety dies as soon as frost arrives in the fall/winter, simply pull it out and discard it.
My new favorite perennial this summer is Russian Sage. It blooms from July to October, with wispy pale purple flower stalks and fine, lacy leaves: gorgeous!
Russian Sage is also very easy to care for in your garden, in fact pruning is only necessary if the plant gets out of shape, which it rarely does. If you do wish to cut it back, do so in spring, but wait until the new growth greens up. Russian Sage, like the ornamental grasses, also likes full sun and hot, dry conditions.
In part sun areas of your garden, my favorite perennial plant would be a geranium. Not the annual red or white geraniums of your grandmother’s day that you put in planters each spring (these are my least favorite annuals) but the hardy perennial variety. They come in many sizes and colors including blue, pink, purple, white, and magenta; all do well in part sun and part shade, some even tolerate full shade. This picture shows only a few of the many varieties available:
Another favorite part sun to shade perennial plant is sedge, which looks like a short version of the ornamental grasses mentioned above, but prefers moist soil and tolerate part to full shade.
My favorite annual plant continues to be Allium. Alliums are bulbs, to be planted in the fall for a spectacular display in the spring and early summer. They too like hot dry conditions in the garden. To keep the squirrels from eating them on you, plant daffodil bulbs around the allium bulbs; squirrels hate daffodils! Alliums come in blue, white, and my all time favorite, purple:
Although I have not met many plants I do not like, i have decided recently that my least favorite is the purple sand cherry, known for its deep red/purple colored leaves. It tends to look good for a few years, after which it tends to become leggy and out of control if not pruned hard and often. I have encountered quite a few in the overgrown, neglected gardens I have restored this season; all were difficult to restore. An easier alternative to the purple sand cherry would be a ninebark, weigela, barberry or black lace elderberry, pictured below in that order, all available in many varieties, and all with that nice, deep red coloring to contrast with all the green in your garden:
Of course, these are MY favorites, I’m sure you all have your own. Please feel free to share!