Confessions of a Shrub-aholic

‘Canyon Creek’ abelia, planted along a path leading to my woodland garden. One of my favorite shrub groups for butterflies and hummingbirds, abelias bloom for months in summer. You may have only seen these used in the landscape as foliage ‘balls’, which makes me weep. They are lovely when allowed to grow as upright shrubs.

I can’t help myself. Woody ornamentals are my weakness. They are the biggest temptation for me lately, and in a weak moment I will buy a shrub, or small tree, with no real consideration what I’m going to do with it. This is bad. Very bad. This is exactly what I tell people not to do in my book.

Beautyberry, or callicarpa, has vibrant clusters of berries in early fall. Native beautyberry looks perfect at the edge of woodland in at least half a day of sun, but showier cultivars such as ‘Pearl Glam’ may be more your cup of tea. They are all winners.

I wasn’t always this way. Many years ago, pots of elegant Japanese anemones on display at the very posh garden center in town gave me heart palpitations. Back then, as a new gardener, I was obsessed with blooms, and there were so many things to love. Today, with several types of Japanese anemones growing happily in my garden, my thoughts have turned to other delights.

I’m not sure when this shrub love affair began, but I hear from other gardeners this is just the way it goes. Growing flowers makes you so very happy, so you think, and then years later you realize that shrubs are the long-term relationship you’ve been longing for.

The banana shrub is such a wonderful evergreen shrub that I can’t figure out why I had never seen it anywhere. It immediately went into my shopping cart a few years ago when I found it at my favorite Atlanta independent nursery, Garden*Hood. Though it was technically an impulse purchase, I bought it in the early stages of my garden and I quickly found a home for it outside my back door, where I can enjoy the tropical-looking blooms in late spring.

Don’t get me wrong, I grow many types of flowering plants from seed, and I buy pots of annuals and perennials when they meet the criteria of being (a) deer resistant and (b) having blooms and/or foliage that fit with the color schemes in various parts of my garden.  After all, I need the flowers to complete the picture I’m creating with the shrubs…well, you can see the slippery slope I’m on.

Flowers are wonderful, but shrubs and trees give your garden a soul.

Illicium ‘Pink Frost’ looks elegant no matter the season. The leaves will turn down a bit if temps fall into the twenties (much like a rhododendron would), but it is consistently attractive, with magenta blooms in late spring. If you need a plant for moist, part-shade, this one is perfect. I planted it at the corner of a carriage house on our property where it can get as tall as it likes. (This is not a foundation plant!)

If you’re planning a new landscape, follow my advice and do work out the structure of your garden with shrubs and trees before you get too far down the road with perennials. You’ll be glad you did. Shrubs and small-scale trees will give your garden the good bones that will give you pleasure for years and years to come. (If you need a bit of help, my book, Color-Rich Gardening for the South, a primer for new gardeners who love color, will help you plan and make good decisions.)

Loropetalum ‘Snow Emerald’ is best in part-shade, not full sun in the South. It has gorgeous ribbons of bloom in spring and reblooms a bit in fall. It is a wonderful plant for the transition from sun to shade in the garden.

Here are some of my favorites for Southern gardens with notes on light requirements:

Shade = SH

Part Shade = PTSH

Sun = S

Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ , serviceberry (S)

Amelanchier spp, the native juneberry (S)

Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Mount Airy’ (S or PTSH)

Aronia melanocarpa, the native black chokeberry (S or PTSH)

Aronia melanocarpa ‘Low Scape Mound’ (S or PTSH)

Illicium floridanum ‘Pink Frost’, anise (PTSH or S)

Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Emerald’ (PTSH)

Osmanthus fragrans, tea olive (PTSH or SH)

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ (PTSH or SH)

Camellia japonica ‘Shi shi gashira’ (PTSH or SH)

Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’, Coral bark maple (PTSH)

Halesia carolina, native Carolina Silverbell (S or PTSH)

Chionanthus virginicus, native fringe tree, (S or PTSH)

Ecualyptus parvula ‘Funky Monkey’, eucalyptus (S)

Abelia x chinensis ‘Rose Creek’, abelia (S or PTSH)

Michelia figo, Banana Shrub (S)

Callicarpa americana, beautyberry (S)

Callicarpa ‘Pearl Glam’, beautyberry cultivar (S)

Vaccinium darrowii ‘Rosa’, Rosa’s Blush Dwarf Blueberry, native (PTSH or S)

Malus x ‘Pink Princess’, crabapple (S)

Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’, viburnum (S)

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’, dwarf native oakleaf hydrangea (PTSH)

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