Not as commonly used as they once were, these small-leaved shrubs deserve to be rediscovered. From the arching cascades to tidy mounds and flat carpets, they are very useful as groundcovers and fillers among more brightly-colored, bold-leaved shrubs and perennials. Small white flowers in spring draw bees and some butterflies, and red berries in autumn persist well and are a nice ornament for the “off-season.” While most are not evergreen, their autumn color changes bring a welcome burst of color – scarlet, burgundy, orange – and allows for layered plantings, such as the emergence of early spring bulbs or the weaving of different groundcovers together for a pretty patchwork. Spreading forms provide effective erosion control and look fabulous as a wall or stairway cascade (or spilling out of a large mixed container), and mounding forms allow your showier plants to really pop and offer more subtle seasonal interest and reliability. Try them with grasses and yuccas, among short shrubs in yellow, blue, or purple, or in rock gardens with dwarf conifers and creeping perennials.
You know beautyberry when you see it – not many shrubs have such vibrantly-colored berries. Neon purple and deep reddish-purple are the hallmark colors for the fall-ripening fruits. Flowers are small and a light pinkish-purple in midsummer, but the main show is autumn when all sorts of ornamental berries are ripening. Native and Asian Beautyberries look almost identical and make decent bird food. They don’t strip plants right away, though, so try some stellar combinations with Goldenrod and other late-blooming perennials (Asters come in vibrant purples, magentas, and lavenders if you want to really kick things up a notch) and fall-fruiting shrubs such as Viburnum and Winterberry Holly. Show Beautyberries off further by using dark evergreens behind them or planting beneath them with groundcover Junipers or low grasses.