In my last post I began a multi-part discussion of low maintenance and hardy but not necessarily run-of-the-mill plants for friends and clients who need help with their landscapes. Most of my time as a garden professional has been devoted to making landscapes as beautiful and unusual as possible with less concern for how much maintenance was required. My goal in writing these posts is to provide suggestions to create attractive landscape solutions that have lower maintenance requirements. Most of these plants should not be very difficult to find in your local nurseries. Even some of the bigger chain home centers seem to have vastly expanded their selections and at hard to beat prices.
In my previous post I focused on dwarf conifers. In this post I will discuss some small evergreen shrubs that are not conifers and hardy flowering shrubs.
Boxwood…oh dear. Boxwood have provided gardeners with a beautiful and often low maintenance evergreen shrub that has been virtually indispensable. Their evergreen beauty and wonderful range of species available from the little dwarf ‘Wee Willie’ to upright and stalwart ‘Dee Runk’, make it suitable for many different design styles. Who doesn’t like it? But… then came Boxwood Blight.
Boxwood blight is a fungal infection that has been wiping out boxwood gardens in Europe since the early 1990’s. Unfortunately it has made its way to U.S. gardens primarily in the eastern states, for the time being. Here in Ohio Boxwood Blight was detected in the Lake District in March of 2012 but it is by no means rampant in the state.
My approach to planting boxwood is to continue to use it as an accent plant or for smaller foundation plantings. I suggest for the time being it is probably unwise to use boxwood to edge large formal bedding areas or in knot gardens where one could incur fairly high financial losses and frustration.
There are certain varieties that are considered more resistant to the blight than others.
Buxus ‘Vardar Valley’ is a very cold hardy and resistant variety that happens to be one of my favorites. It has a low and mounded growth habit and beautiful dark blue/green leaves. The picture below is of a very established plant that I would guess has been in the ground 20 years or more at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Buxus ‘Dee Runk’ shown below is a good performing upright boxwood for use as an accent plant. It is much hardier than ‘Graham Blandy’, the variety that is sadly and usually offered as an upright form.
‘Green Mountain’ can be trained and sheared as an upright shrub. Over time it takes on more of a Christmas Tree shape where as ‘Dee Runk’ is a thinner, taller, and truly upright form.
In this one year old garden I used Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ as a sheared, clean look to contrast with the more loose flowering perennials surrounding it.
There is a small little guy called ‘Wee Willie’ that showed up recently at my local nursery and I tried him out last fall. He came through the winter perfectly. This is a very small shrub with maximum growth of 18″ height and 18″ width and exhibiting vertical, tidy little branches. He has quite a nice formal look and perfect for evergreen effect along a border in a small garden.
Inkberry or Ilex glabra is an old favorite of mine. This is a wonderful native shrub that many people know as ‘that evergreen that gets bare underneath’. After 15 years of using this shrub and being satisfied, but a little frustrated with its performance over the long-term, I finally found the solution to its unattractive trait of dropping the lower leaves. Every few years, or as necessary, you hard prune this shrub down to about 18″ during the early spring before things start leafing out. It will be slow to show life but when it does you will not be disappointed.
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’
I am a little obsessed with this shrub. It seems to perform well no matter where I put it except for total shade. It handles fairly wet and dry conditions. This past winter did not phase it. It can be selectively pruned back to control its size mid season and it will still look fantastic! When I say ‘selectively pruned’ I mean that some branches may shoot up taller than is desirable in a smaller garden. I just prune those branches back about halfway. The branches will leaf out again and all of the surrounding canes will just bloom and fill around the cut ones.
Here is “Little Lime’ showing its fall colors
Get the Drift! Drift Roses are great performers in low maintenance gardens! This is in response to some negative blogging given to the somewhat recently introduced Drift Roses. Now, if you are a rose aficionado then this is not the rose for you. They are not particularly special in form , color or their perfume. They do however blooms their little heads off for the entire season. They flush out nicely in early summer and then have a peak, lull, and then peak again pattern til hard frost. The colors that performed the best for me were ‘Pink’, ‘Sweet’, and ‘Popcorn’ with the other colors doing fairly well too. They are disease resistant but will not stand up to Rose Rosette Disease. They are hardy but they do require that the crown be somewhat protected with mulch in zone 5 or colder.
This is the Pink Drift with some ‘Concorde’ Barberry and ‘Little Lime’ Hydrangea. When you are actually standing and looking down on it it is over 3 feet in diameter and I couldn’t be happier with its performance since planting it less than a year ago.
Below is the ‘Sweet’ Drift. As you can see it has a nice double flower and tends to be more upright than the others. The leaves and branches of ‘Sweet’ have a nice purple edging to them that is very pretty against the soft pink bloom.
Here are some blooms on a ‘Popcorn’ Drift growing in front of my house. It was October 14 and they are fully loaded with new buds!
Barberry is a shrub I used to despise but over the last couple of years I have developed an appreciation for a few of the less common but still easy to find varieties.
Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’ offers a particularly gorgeous, deep plum color. This variety maintains a much more attractive low mounding shape than the straight Berberis thunbergii that you typically see growing out of control in too many landscapes. In this picture ‘Concorde’ is the perfect accent to blend with the Pink Drift rose, ‘Little Lime’ hydrangea and other evergreens.
Berberis thunbergii ‘Golden Pillar’ is an upright growing barberry with that ever sought after glowing lime-green color that can really set things off.
In this picture it has only just been planted and it still immediately reflects so much light you can not help but notice it.
Barberry ‘Orange Rocket’ is another upright form with an eye-catching reddish orange color that will set off other hot colors in your garden.
Hypericum or St. Johnswort is one of my favorite filler shrubs. There are some wonderful new varieties on the market my favorite being the Ignite Series. These grow to about 3 feet wide and tall. They start blooming with little yellow flowers in June and begin making gorgeous berries in July. They do not stop blooming and making berries for the whole season. This is a really outstanding performance for a plant to pull off. Below is Hypericum Ignite Series ‘Scarlet’.
I love how it unexpectedly blended so well with these ‘Flame’ Dahlias.
Hypericum can be a little deceiving to over-winter. The Ignite Series is hardy to zone 4 but it will often die back to as low as 6 inches or even to the ground. In the spring it often appears to be barely alive but I usually find that if you just prune back the dead and have some patience it will be back in full force.
‘Lo and Behold’ Dwarf Butterfly Bush is one of the hardiest, best performing, low maintenance, small shrubs I know that just doesn’t quit. It is loaded with lavender/blue flowers from mid-summer til late frost. I find that when I suggest this plant I spend a lot of time convincing clients that it does not get out of control like the more familiar and sprawling Buddleia davidii varieties that can grow to 8 feet wide and high no matter how hard you prune them. ‘Lo and Behold’ and some of the other dwarfs like ‘Purple Rain’ DO NOT get bigger that about 2 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. These thrive in dry conditions full sun conditions. They can die back quite far in a zone 5 winter but just prune back to live wood and it should recover fine. Below is a picture of ‘Lo and Behold’ at the front edge of a mixed border at our Rogge Pavilion located at Ohio University Zanesville.
Spirea ‘Little Princess’ is an old stand-by. Almost everyone knows of it and really it is a bit boring. But I still love using it as a filler. It is just a nice, low-maintenance, hardy shrub that never dies and never gets out of control. You can find it at just about any nursery and it is usually very inexpensive. I love how it was used basically as a ground cover in this bed.
I noticed this planting last winter at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus while attending the orchid show. I love the simple but beautiful contrasts of color. River Birch with what I think is Pennistum alopecuroides, though the heads have long since blown off, and ‘Little Princess’ spirea.