Underused, Undervalued and Under-Loved — Foundation Shrubs N&E

by Patrick Muir on July 9, 2013

At first blush, it might appear the northern and eastern exposures have far fewer options as the warmer exposures of your home. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Kathy Bark with Suburban Lawn & Garden in Kansas City MO first choice to break free from the green abyss of most foundation plantings is a gold punch of energy named Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearl’ Coming in at 2-3’ high and wide., Bark says “This plant has a high tolerance for most conditions. ” In consideration of this, Chardonnay Pearls is a great choice for the East side of the house. “The resonating chartreuse foliage will compliment any and all accompanying plants.  Delicate and cascading white “pearls” in the spring are simply an added bonus to this already lovely, but highly underappreciated, plant.”

 \And what color would be more dynamic with all that gold?  Why it’s the blue/gray you can find on Bark ‘s next choice, the Chamaecyparis ‘Boulevard’. She says “It’s a dense, pyramidal and soft to the touch, semi-dwarf evergreen for your shadier, northern beds. Requiring about ten years to reach the 5-6’ height, choose a substantial specimen to begin with.  The final size is 5 to 12’ wide by 2-4’ wide. Minimal pruning can also keep this plant at a size you desire.”

Bark is asking us to break the foundation shrub mold and look upward with the Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris). With one of the most distinctive blossoms in the hydrangea family appearing from May to July, this plant can grow up  to 30-50’ high. While Bark has seen it cover a wall in a moderate amount of time, my personal experience had two plants that sat stalled for over three years before significant growth appeared.

Bark says ‘This lovely creature both blooms in both part and dense shade, too!  A rock wall or extended trellis is the main requirement for growing one of these plants”. She told me of a very unique treatment using this plant as a groundcover. “One plant can cover up to 200 square feet!  That being said,  it is also manageable and, for that reason, is a no-brainer substitute for Ivy.  Exfoliating stems during the winter months add interest to the barren, sleeping beds.’

Coming back down to earth, Ken Wood with Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee KS, recommends the Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’.  This variety comes in at a tidy 2′- 3′ ‘and is a workhorse with bold displays dark green foliage that doesn’t need much pruning for shape and is an excellent substitute for boxwood”. But its claim to fame has to be an explosion of fragrant white trumpet-shaped blooms repeating two to three times through out out the season. While some daphne are known for berries. this variety has all male flowers but is a great pollinator.

Another tidy selection from Wood is the charming Abelia ‘Twist of Lime’.  With a rounding width of 2 1/2′ high spreading to 3-4′ wide, this option is semi-evergreen to evergreen depending on its location. Wood says ‘The leaves are truly unique coming out green with gold edge that fades to stable green and white variegation.  The arching branches are laden with trusses of white trumpet-shaped flowers in summer.

Another taller favorite is the stunning evergreen Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’. If you’ve never grown or seen pieris before, prepare to have your eyes widened to see a flower unlike anything in th e Midwest. Imagine if you will, a shrub that is blessed enough to have what appears to be delicate brocades of Lily of the Valley t   ype flowers. Wood says ‘Not daring to be outmatched is the foliage where the new growth emerges bright red changing to green edged in white. This selection needs well drained acidic soil so it’s a wonderful companion with azaleas and rhododendrons.

Well if Wood doesn’t have your head dancing with possibilities about what you thought were  the dull sides of your home landscape, then hold on one last time for the Leptodermis or False Lilac Wood says “This is another small gem keeping to 2′-3′ hide and wide with deciduous light green leaves with blooms on new growth, so trim dormant in early spring . The light lavender flowers on ends of stems look like small lilac flowers. The plant blooms in June and will re-bloom in early July through early August if trimmed back after first blooming cycle

Well I hope this is an inspiring bevy of selections to entertain your guests, even before they enter through your coordinating front door.

Patrick's Garden

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pauline December 10, 2013 at 3:45 am

Your selection makes me wish I could start over again! Your descriptions are so tempting, but I have run out of space for more shrubs unfortunately. When creating the garden here, the trees and shrubs were the first to go in as they do form a permanent backdrop to everything else and give much needed structure to the garden in winter. So fear not my friend, shrubs here are used, valued and loved very much!

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New Hampshire Gardener December 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm

I used to always encourage the people I gardened for to use flowering shrubs along with evergreens in foundation plantings.
I haven’t ever heard of the false lilac. I’m going to have to look into that one.

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