In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2004
Regional Report

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Look at these beautiful blossoms on Onandaga viburnum!

Blooming Shrubs Accent the Perennial Garden

When we think of shrubs, most of us picture foundation plants or a shrub border. Of course shrubs are naturals for these situations, but there is another use for shrubs -- especially blooming ones -- that we don't always consider. The perennial garden is a perfect spot to employ these plants to accompany our flowers.

Blooming shrubs offer us the beauty of their flowers, but they also supply something else that most perennial gardens need: "bones." Although there are some perennials that have enough mass to resemble shrubs, they still die back to the ground in winter. Woody shrubs stand throughout the winter, catch snow, and provide interest, especially if the plant has fruits or dried blossoms that persist through winter.

My Top Choices
One of my all-time favorite blooming shrubs to use with perennials is Tardiva hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'). This lovely plant grows well in sun or shade, and will grow 6 to 8 feet, making a nice statement in the landscape. Tardiva hydrangeas start blooming in midsummer with huge panicles of showy, white florets surrounding smaller fertile flowers. The effect is stunning. One of the best traits of this plant is that these flowers stay all summer, turning tawny gold in fall and lasting through the entire winter.

A plant that has become a must-have for my perennial garden is Onandaga viburnum (Viburnum sargentii 'Onandaga'). I planted five of these last fall, and they absolutely knocked my socks off this spring as they began to bloom. They have the same lacecap type of flower as the Tardiva hydrangea, with large, sterile florets surrounding smaller, fertile flowers. These flowers, however, are maroon in bud, opening to soft pink. They are delightfully fragrant and will have deep maroon foliage in fall and crisp red berries to hang on through the winter. What a burst of color for any perennial garden!

A somewhat smaller but no less appealing shrub to combine with perennials is dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii). This diminutive shrub blooms in spring with honey-scented flowers that look like bottlebrushes and are hummingbird magnets. The deep green, puckered foliage is a beautiful foil for all types of perennials through the summer, and then the shrub turns magnificent shades of orange, red, and yellow in fall.

For adding color to the perennial garden, don't forget roses. There are countless types available in a myriad of colors, shapes, and sizes. One that makes a stunning statement and is not commonly planted is the redleaf rose (Rosa rubrifolia). This variety grows 4 to 6 feet high and is covered with rich maroon foliage the entire summer. It blooms in midsummer with soft pink, single roses, followed by orange-red rose hips that remain through the fall and winter. It seems we are always looking for a shrub with reddish foliage, and here is one with the added bonus of attractive flowers.


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