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Shrubs are the `new' perennials.

Byline: Paul Rogers


Knowledgeable gardeners consider shrubs to be the most versatile of any category of plants. Some shrubs are treelike, others are creeping, spreading, weeping or globose. Some of our hardiest shrubs are native-born, others have come to our gardens from Eurasia, Australia, Japan, China, Korea or Russia.

Shrubs may be evergreen or deciduous. They may be selected for their ornamental characteristics - form, foliage, flowers or fruit - or some utilitarian function - edible fruit production, screening, noise reduction, as a bird sanctuary or to satisfy multiple additional uses. Large or small, shrubs are essential in the landscape.

Homeowners are discovering that shrubs are the "new" perennials. Among the newly introduced shrubs are ones that remain dwarf, thus providing color and form season-long with only minimum care requirements. Each year we are exposed to an expanded offering of hdrangeas, hypericum (when was the last time that you considered a hypericum for inclusion into your landscape?), kolkwitzia, physocarpus, spireas, viburnums, ilex and lilacs.

Add to the newbies, the standbys of proven reliability like abeliophyllum, the white flowering forsythia, the shrub forms of horse chestnut (bottlebrush buckeye), the native, spring flowering shadbush (Amelanchier) that, together with the too-little used aronia, provide fruit for the birds and glorious fall foliage.

The buddleia (butterfly bush) never severely suffers from winter damage as they need spring pruning and form their summer flowers from buds produced in late spring. Try the new "Blue Chip," a dwarf butterfly bush, a purplish-blue flowered, compact plant that will not out-grow its place in the garden.

The flowering quinces were introduced into this country from China in late 19th century and quickly found a home in our gardens. Flowers of pink, red, or white appear early in the season on shrubs that rarely exceed three feet tall and wide. Calycanthus (sweetshrub), cephalanthus (buttonbush), and clethra (summersweet) are all natives. The latter two like wet feet. If you can offer boggy soil, round out this planting with winterberry (ilex). Plant one male like "Raritan Chief" with groupings of "Red Sprite," "Sparkleberry," and "Winter Red" for a visual treat for you and tasty meals for the birds.

The flowering dogwood trees offer so much beauty in our landscapes that we tend to overlook the shrubby dogwoods that should be included in our planting for colored bark - "Bud's Yellow" for yellow stems and any of the "Bloodtwig" dogwood for red to orange stems. Add to that, any of the green and white foliage types, and you have added year-round color to your garden.

Does this seem to be an overpowering list of usable plants for your consideration? It hardly extends botanically beyond the "C's"! The idea is to indicate the breath of potential for the extensive use of versatile shrubs for your landscape.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 3, 2011
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