Ask a Designer: Favorite Shrubs by Susan Harris

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Posted on: April 22, 2017

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Cotinus ‘Royal Robe.’ Photo by Barbara Katz.

For my first Ask a Designer post the question targeted groundcovers. This time it’s shrubs and I asked another fabulous designer about her favorites. Barbara Katz of London Landscapes in Bethesda, Maryland responded that she has “great respect” for these shrubs. (Here’s some of Barbara’s work.)

With deciduous shrubs there are so many to love, Barbara found it a bit hard to choose. So let’s see what made the cut, and I’ll comment when I can’t resist. I’m using marketing photos of the plants only because they’re what’s available.

Hydrangea ‘Little Lime.‘ This is the little brother of ‘Limelight’ and is very well behaved. It flowers prolifically and is totally manageable in your average residential garden. Prune to shape it in the spring, and then just let it do its thing – truly, a fantastic plant everyone can enjoy. Sun/part shade.  [I love it, too!]

Cotinus ‘Royal Purple.’  The foliage color on cotinus is gorgeous, especially in the spring. I prune mine to keep it in shape and not too big, so I never get flowers. But it doesn’t matter – this is a marvelous foliage shrub and adds color and texture through its leaves, all season long.  Sun. [My local nurseryman told me this is the fastest-growing shrub he’d ever seen. I bought one and it immediately took off in my garden, with less than ideal conditions. It’ll soon be a large and dramatic focal point. Here on Pinterest you can see images of the whole plant.]

Weigela ‘Variegata.  This shrub gives you a lot of bang for your buck: a good strong flush of pink flowers in the spring, and lovely variegated leaves (green with a subtle yellow edge) all season long. It can brighten up a partly shade corner, but will be happier with more sun.  I use this plant in just about every garden, and my customers love it. You can also cut the branches and use them in flower arrangements. Sun/part shade.

Aralia ‘Sun King.’  The chartreuse foliage of this shrub will light up shady spots in your garden, and it asks for nothing. Just plant it and let it go. If it gets too big, it’s easy to prune. It will be happiest in part shade/shade. [I want to see this! I’m using ‘Ogon’ Spirea for the same effect – large blocks of chartreuse foliage that pack a punch in the garden – but it needs sun and Aralia apparently doesn’t.]

Dwarf Crape Myrtles. There are a lot of new, truly dwarf crape myrtles are on the market, so in a small garden, you can get this summer/late summer interest on your terms. They flower for weeks and weeks and come in a variety of colors. All they need is good sun.

Picea ‘Montgomery.’ Photo by Barbara Katz.

With evergreen shrubs, Barbara says “We’re a bit short on really interesting moderately sized evergreens for this area.” So let’s see what she came up with.

Nandina ‘Firepower.’ This little 2′ shrub packs a punch. Lime green new foliage in the spring and flame red in the winter, if given some sun.  It can defoliate after a harsh winter, but patience is a virtue – it will flush out with new growth and be fine. You can also prune these however you want. With no berries, there is no chance of this one spreading around.
[I’ll add a plug for another dwarf Nandina, the 2-3′ tall ‘Burgundy Wine,’ also berry-less. Here it is on the northwest side of my house.]

Prunus ‘Mount Vernon.’  This is a groundcover laurel, maxing out (so far) at about 18″ in height. I love the big leaves on the short plant. In gardens that are irrigated, shot hole disease can be a problem, but I don’t mind a few holes in leaves. It takes a lot of shade and some sun.

Fatsia japonica. A great, tropical looking shrub. I’ve had them in various gardens for years now and they’re proving to be hardy for our [Mid-Atlantic] region. The large glossy leaves add punch to any area and are a great foil for smaller leaved plants.

Dwarf Conifers in general. Where there is sufficient sun, the Birds Nest spruces and Dwarf Blue spruces are wonderful garden accents. I would not be without them.

Photo credits:  Firepower Nandina, Prunus Mt. Vernon,  fatsia japonica,  fatsia japonica,  birds nest spruce, Little Lime hydrangea, Cotinus closeup,  Weigela variegata (dwarf version) Aralia Sun King,and dwarf crapemyrtles.

Ask a Designer: Favorite Shrubs originally appeared on Garden Rant on July 6, 2016.

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