Have enough Azaleas? Roses? Bored with yews? I always yearn for the different when it comes to my garden, and these shrubs are some of my favorites.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
I love this shrub! It’s native (they pop up from between the rocks at Great Falls), attractive to pollinators (wow! lots of Red Admiral butterflies on them this year both at home and at the nursery) and has multi-season interest. Leaves are either mahogany or gold and flowers are white. Older wood has peeling bark (probably why its named nine-bark) and the seed pods are bright red before they mature to dry brown. I have had one in my yard for ten years now with no problems – and plenty of “benign neglect” the whole time. My deer leave it alone, though I have heard of some snacking on it.
Sweetspire (Itea virginica)
Another native, this is one of my top ten shrubs for fall color. White spring flowers, dark red winter stems, and fall colors ranging through burgundy, red, orange and yellow. They tolerate wet areas, shade and deer, and stay relatively short. And while not evergreen, I do often see plants arrive on the nursery in early spring with several burgundy leaves from last fall still hanging on. Neat!
Summersweet (Clethra anifolia))
For in-your-face summer fragrance, you can’t beat this. Deer-resistant, wet-soil-tolerant, butterfly-drawing goodness. They’re native too, and in the wild I see them in sunny wood’s-edge ditches and under the canopy itself. Flowers are white (sometimes pink) and can start in late June and end in early September.
Part of the large Azalea/Andromeda/Blueberry/Heath family, these low-growers are great evergreens for those pesky deer-infused yards and shady spots. Two cream-splashed plants (the variety ‘Girard’s Rainbow’) that I have in my back yard are content under tall shade trees, not bothered deer or neglect for going on ten years now.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
Okay, we ecology-minded gardeners know to keep an eye on this one; they can escape via seed into wild areas. However, there are several new series that are both compact growers (the better to reach the seed heads for trimming) and/or don’t even set seed. I happen to LOVE the fragrance, and I’m one of those people who can’t stand the overly-sweet scents of Wisteria and Gardenia. Butterfly bush fragrance reminds me of something like a floral vanilla, if that makes any sense. In either case, it’s one of the few shrubs that blooms from June to October; it also takes hot sun well and rebuffs the deer. Plus, it certainly lives up to its name as a butterfly magnet. Blue-violet, purple, pink, magenta, white or yellow flowers let you match it up to just about anything.
This is a catch-all group, but I just can’t skip over these neat natives that can be hard to find. We have all of these now, but once they’re gone, they’re gone until next spring.
Sweetfern (Comptonia peregina) is a toughie that looks like a coarse fern and has nice fall color.
Dusty Zenobia (Zenobia pulverulenta) as bluish leaves and nice fall colors.
Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissimi) has chains of tiny maroon stars when they flower.
Pipevine (Aristolochia tomentosa) has velvety heart-shaped leaves that feed pipevine swallowtail butterflies and clothe a fence, trellis or arbor.
New Jersey Tea (Ceanthus americanus) and its new hyrbid with the western native California Lilac (Look ma, blue!) that also attracts butterflies.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) has white starburst flowers in summer that are very popular with butterflies.
Finally, there are several deciduous azaleas that I love. They have fragrant flowers in white, pink or yellow and fantastic fall color.
by Behnkes Woodies Buyer Miri Talabac
Sweetfern photo credit. All other photos by Miri Talabac.