December 19, 2015
Shrubs are a lot more than green bushes that block out undesirable views. Along with trees, they are the foundation plants for any garden. Woody shrubs come in a huge array of sizes, forms, color and textures.
As they’re generally long-lived plants, it pays to take the time and choose the right one for your needs. I look for ones that are attractive year round, don’t require much maintenance, do well with moderate to little water and are essentially pest free. Add to that some spectacular form, color or fragrance, and what’s not to love?
Here are some of my sun-loving, evergreen favorites:
• Abelia x grandiflora “kaleidoscope” is a garden star. Growing up to 3 feet tall and a bit wider, this plant dons vibrant lemon-yellow variegated leaves wrapped around lime green centers in the spring, then adds sunset hues in summer to fall. Blush pink buds burst open to white, mildly fragrant blooms that attract butterflies. Don’t be fooled by the rather delicate appearance of this workhorse shrub. It sails through freezing cold and broiling hot temperatures without the colors fading and deer and most pests leave it alone.
• The mirror plant, coprosma, is another small- to medium-sized deer-resistant plant. The thick, rounded, glossy leaves come in a variety of colors. Native to Australia and New Zealand, it handles the heat just fine, but can be damaged by severe frost. A couple of hybrids that dazzle are “rainbow surprise,” a compact plant with yellow and green leaves splashed with rusty orange. “tequila sunrise” grows in a pyramid shape to 5 feet. New growth emerges emerald green edged in gold, gradually marbled with tangerine and golden hues.
• Commonly known as the Mexican mock orange, choisya ternata is a lush, tropical-looking plant that grows quickly to six feet tall. Sweet smelling orange blossom-like flowers cover the plant in spring with another show in late summer and fall. The variety “sundance” has lustrous chartreuse to golden-yellow colored new leaves that gives it a luminous quality framed by the forest green older foliage.
• For some bold contrast, try one of the rich burgundy-colored loropetalum varieties. With their tiers of arching or drooping branches, they make a striking specimen, can be trained as espaliers and bonsai, or grown in clusters to serve as a screen. New growth on the variety “burgundy” has reddish purple leaves that are a dramatic contrast to the hot pink flowers. Once established, they are drought tolerant.
• At the peak of bloom, leptospermum scoparium is a show stopper. The rather upright plants are so densely covered with tiny, rose like flowers, you can barely see the needle-like leaves. Native to New Zealand and Australia, they tolerate drought, heat, poor soil, salt air and wind, are attractive to butterflies, bees and birds and are deer resistant. “Crimson glory” has ruby-red flowers and bronze foliage on a plant that is 3 feet tall and wide, while “snow white” is a little bigger, with pearly white, green-centered blooms that are a lovely counterpoint to the grey-green leaves.
• Our own California native wild lilac, ceanothus, is a fast growing shrub with rounded, dark green leaves and flowers that encompass shades of blue from soft powder blue to deep cobalt, along with a few white or pink types. Tiny flowers are produced in huge, dense clusters March into May that attract birds, butterflies and bees. These drought-tolerant California native plants don’t want irrigation once they are established. And while not deer resistant, many varieties do OK in areas with few to moderate deer. “Julia Phelps” grows 6 to 8 feet tall and has tiny, crinkly leaves, while “Ray Hartman” has huge shiny leaves and grows to 20 feet tall; it can be trained to grow as a small tree.
All of these shrubs are a great investment that will provide colorful beauty for years to come.