Two weeks ago, I shared the Top 10 perennials as chosen by 10 of my gardening friends. This week, another group of gardeners share their favorite shrubs and small trees.
Bev Vonfeld saw her first “Black Lace” Elderberry in LaVonne Benner’s exquisite garden, and it made quite an impression. She now has nine of her own. Lacy foliage of the deepest purple is smothered by huge pink flower clusters in early summer. Vonfeld prunes “Black Lace” after flowering if it gets too big, “and it grows back big and bushy every year.” If you leave the flowers, they become berries that birds love. Vonfeld’s are on drip irrigation in full sun.
Nancy Probst loves oak leaf hydrangeas. Large, cone-shaped white blossoms in the spring turn pink in late summer and then morph to deepest red before fading at the first freeze. After that, cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark to adds winter interest.
“If you need to keep the size controlled (dwarf forms are available), don’t cut this shrub all the way to the ground, as my husband once did,” Probst said. “It grew back just as big, but didn’t produce any blooms that year. I have to remind him that this hydrangea blooms on second-year wood.”
One of Sally Simon’s favorite shrubs is the flowering quince.
“We had a beauty in our back yard growing up and I loved the early spring, tangerine-coral blooms and the way the leaves and flowers were arranged on the spiny twigs,” Simon said.
She’s had a hard time growing this shrub, but even after losing a few, she refuses to give up.
“I’ll keep trying to grow this thorny shrub with its messy growing habit because it is a favorite,” she said.
When Diana Pieti moved from a country garden with acres of space to a small city yard and metered irrigation water, she decided that everything she planted now, “had to do double-duty.” She loves all four of her dwarf fruit trees, “but that peach has given me the most fruit, with beautiful blossoms, and even provides a bit of shade,” she said. “In the winter, the bare branches are lovely.”
Renee Holwegner had to have Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica) in her new garden after leaving behind a giant specimen at her old house when she moved.
“I found one on clearance, but my husband thought it should’ve been free as it had few signs of life,” she recalled.
It recovered nicely, and is set to bloom again in just a few weeks, producing bright, golden-yellow flowers. Plant it in shade and, once established, water it deeply once a week.
Becky Lang-Boyd chose the Paperbark Maple, an easy-to-grow ornamental tree. With a graceful open, upright habit, plant it where you can appreciate the flashy, exfoliating bark. Paper-like curls of copper-orange peel to reveal the smooth cinnamon brown bark beneath. Its fall foliage is impressive, but for Becky, it’s all about the bark.
“In full sun and wind, the leaves will scorch, but nothing is perfect,” she said.
With 300 species and over a thousand cultivars to choose from, it’s all about roses for Sara Holtzinger. The wild Rosa rugosas, sprawling antiques, stately upright teas, floribundas, grandifloras, miniatures, climbers, roses for groundcover, roses shaped like trees, and the newly developed shrub roses.
“One can never have enough room in their garden to have enough roses ... all so different in floral, citrus and spicy fragrances,” she said.
Terri Schaake loves Hydrangea Paniculata Grandiflora. She has two in tree form, and they never disappoint. They first bloom white with a touch of light pink, which deepens as summer heats up. By fall, the blooms turn lime green with tinges of pink.
“I know you asked for just one, but Blue False Indigo is another favorite,” Schaake said. “This sturdy shrub blooms early in deep blue. That’s when I cut it to the ground. It will send up new stems of fresh foliage that stand up until frost.”
Delma Tayer’s training and experience as an artist helps in selecting plants for her garden, and trips to Hawaii and Japan “helped customize my oriental and exotic preferences, especially in flowers,” she said.
A shrub that checks all the boxes is the hardy hibiscus. Every year she adds a few new varieties. Since her garden is walled, she has many trellises for clematis of all forms and colors.
“They give a third dimension to the garden, and fill in the gaps,” Tayer said.
After 50 years of tending this garden, she reflects that, “I’m not terribly concerned when a plant dies, as it leaves a space for a new one.”
While every gardener I asked deliberated long and hard before coming up with their favorite perennial, small tree or shrub, they could name their “worst nightmare” in a heartbeat. Want to know what NOT to plant? I’ll ask 10 more great gardeners. Look for their responses in this column on March 8.