Climbing shrubs add zest to bare walls

Some friends of mine recently moved into a new home built on land that sloped away gently from front to back. This meant that there was a fairly large expanse of bare brick at the rear of the home that needed something to soften it up.
He asked my opinion and I had several ideas, some more obvious than others. Here is one of my suggestions that might not immediately spring to mind.
Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)
This is a climber that seems to think it's capable of scaling Mount Everest, if it wasn't for the Nepalese climate. Yes, I'm exaggerating but this climbing hydrangea can grow to around 50 or 80 feet, so covering an expanse of wall shouldn't be too tough an assignment.
It sports a rich, dense green foliage, and between May and July erupts in a mass of creamy white flowers. In the winter, the reddish-brown peeling bark is very attractive and the dried flower heads make attractive additions to seasonal floral arrangements.
In addition to bare brick walls, it works well on a trellis, a fence or a pergola and can make a very attractive groundcover, "climbing" horizontally.
I had some suggestions for my friends that would work well in other areas of their new landscape.
Grass Dallas Blues (Panicum vigatum Dallas Blues)
Fans of Dallas Blues consider it to be among the finest of our native grasses, and for good reason. In addition to the powder blue foliage found in Panicums, Dallas Blues has a trick up its sleeve for the early fall. In September you'll suddenly notice large, finely textured, purple-tinged flower panicles that seem to hover over the plant like a cloud. It makes a nice addition to the traditional fall palette of red, orange and gold.
In the winter, the brown stems add movement to an otherwise static landscape as they sway gently with the wind. The seed plumes last well into the winter, too, providing food for visiting birds.
I suggested Dallas Blues to my friends for use as a perennial border, but it would also work well as part of a wild garden or adjacent to a water feature. It grows to around 5 feet tall and can make an effective screen when a row of Blues are planted about 4 feet apart.
Magic Carpet Spiraea (Spiraea japonica Magic Carpet)
In the summer, this is a real dazzler. In full bloom, deep pink flowers cover the bronze to light green red-tipped foliage. In the spring, vibrant red shoots begin to emerge before assuming their bronze-green summer hues. In the fall, Magic Carpet's russet tones will last well into November in most climates.
Magic Carpet is a deciduous dwarf shrub with a mature height between one and two feet, and makes an ideal three-season groundcover or a colorful filler.
For a slightly larger version, you could take a look at Dart's Red Spiraea (Spiraea x bumalda dart's red) that grows to about two or three feet tall with a spread of up to four or five feet. The pinkish spring foliage turns to a dark bluish-green at maturity.
At my friends' home, the newly constructed wood fence was pleasant but not too inviting. I had a suggestion for the gate area leading from the driveway to the fenced back yard...
Mock Orange hedge form (Philadelphus virginalis mock orange)
Several hedge form Mock Orange shrubs planted two feet apart on both sides of the gate area would make an inviting entryway to the yard beyond.
This is one of the most popular of the mock oranges due to its remarkably powerful fragrance and pure white flowers that are evident from late spring to early summer. With a mature height of six to ten feet, the scale is ideal for entryways or lining a driveway.
Drop me a line if you want to know more about any of these plants or if you need some inspiration for your own landscape.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org
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