For me, and for many other garden lovers, this is one of the most enjoyable times of the year. Rather like small children imagining the pile of colorfully-wrapped gifts they'll find under the tree on Christmas morning, we look through catalogs or browse online and visualize vibrant clusters of showy shrubs that will burst forth next spring as a result of our fall planting.
But where do you begin?
Much as it's fun to do your own detective work as you begin the hunt for the perfect landscape, it sometimes helps to have a few pointers to get your creative juices flowing. So here are some ideas for you. Some might be familiar, some might be quite new to you. But even if they aren't quite your horticultural cup of tea, they might spark a few ideas of your own.
Physocarpus Summer Wine Cheryl and I saw this plant at a nursery and went straight over to get an up-close look. It has deeply cut, dark red/crimson leaves, and we both agreed this would be an excellent deciduous shrub to place around yellow or bright green plants to provide dramatic contrast to their color. It creates its own contrast in the spring, however, when it bursts forth with sprays of white, button-like blooms.
Summer Wine is a relatively new Ninebark hybrid and we've found that it's a strong grower but never leggy or out of control. Extremely hardy (to zone 3), it will reach a mature height of 4 to 6 feet and about the same width.
Spiraea Snow Storm If you would enjoy the sight of brilliant white, closely-packed white blooms, akin to a snow storm in summer, this could be the shrub for you. The snow-white blooms with tiny pink centers appear from early to mid summer and make a nice contrast with the large, deep blue-green leaves that turn to a blazing orange red in the fall.
Snow Storm tops out at around 4 feet and prefers medium-moisture, well- drained soil.
Spiraea Magic Carpet Sticking with the Spiraea family, consider Magic Carpet if you'd like to see deep pink flowers over bronze to light green foliage that is delicately tipped with red. This is a relatively small plant, reaching to a height of maybe 12 to 18 inches with a spread of about 24 inches, so you could also consider it for a ground cover that will reward you with colorful blooms from early to mid-summer. The foliage will turn to a russet brown that usually lasts until mid-November.
Magic Carpet produces the most vibrant color when exposed to full sun and is drought tolerant.
Abelia Silver Anniversary This is a colorful deciduous shrub that is easy to grow and was a New National plant release for 2006. I particularly like this one because of its distinct silver to cream margined variegated foliage that form tight, neat groupings around the reddish-brown stems.
Blooming from late spring to early fall, Silver Anniversary will grow to about 1 to 3 feet in height, does just fine in full sun to moderate shade and is adaptable to many soil types with moderate moisture.
Climbing Hydrangea If you're looking for a climbing plant to enhance a large fence or pergola or to cover a less-than-beautiful wall, consider the Hydrangea petiolaris. It's easy to grow, virtually care-free and long-lived, reaching heights (or lengths) of 60 to 80 feet.
Between May and July, it provides a show of creamy white flowers against a backdrop of rich green foliage and peeling bark. You might also use it as a ground cover or let it snake across and around the rocks of a rustic stone wall beside a garden pathway.
I hope I have given you food for thought. In the weeks ahead, I'll come up with more suggestions, but if you'd like some personal help, e- mail me a few details about your landscape and what you hope to achieve and I'll do my best to come up some ideas for you.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org