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Northeast Gardening: Versatile Shrubs Add Texture to the Garden

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Lowe's Northeast garden expert Irene Virag offers suggestions for adding texture with shrubs.

 This mixed planting marries shrubs and perennials.

Texture often takes a backseat to color in our gardens, but it shouldn't. A plant's texture gives it personality and presence, and how you use texture depends on the effect you're hoping to achieve. Is it bold and bodacious, or demure and delicate?

A good way to add texture to your borders is plant shrubs among the flowers. Versatility is one of shrubs' virtues - they can serve as backdrops or take center stage. They create opportunities for combinations that complement or contrast.

The multitextured mixed planting above offers lessons on how to bring shrubs and perennials together. With similar colors and contrasting textures, the pairing of dwarf spruces and hostas, as well as spirea and phlox, plus variegated grasses and euonymus results in a garden that makes the grade. This bed is at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, New York.

  Black elderberry  adds a sophisticated, light touch to a garden.

I find serenity in the Sambucus Black Lace that stands outside my study window. The fine texture of black elderberry's fernlike foliage brings a sophisticated, light touch to any planting. Creamy-pink flowers in early summer and reddish-black berries in fall add to the allure. Black Lace is hardy from zones 4 to 7 and appreciates a moist, sunny spot. But keep your pets away - the plant's buds, bark, roots and leaves may be toxic.

When a breeze stirs, the willowy branches of the Sambucus enhance the mood by casting shadows on a strategically placed stone. I'm equally pleased by the glossy skip laurels that help screen the front yard from the street, and a mugo pine that adds character to my mailbox garden.

 Endless Summer hydrangea keeps blooming and blooming and ���

Like most gardeners I'm always on the lookout for new ideas and so I checked in with two of my buddies, whose expertise extends to texture and woody plants. Vinnie Simeone is director of Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, New York; Fred Soviero turned the campus of the aforementioned Hofstra University, where he is director of horticulture, into a bona fide arboretum.

At Planting Fields I got reacquainted with some of my favorite shrubs such as evergreen Viburnum 'Conoy', with its glossy leaf texture and scented, ball-shape white flowers.

Endless Summer is the Energizer Bunny of hydrangeas because it keeps going and going. It's hardy into the cold reaches of Zone 4. The secret to Endless Summer is it blooms on both old and new wood, so it doesn't matter if late spring frosts nip the buds. The big, blousy flowers - blue if your soil is acid, pink if it's alkaline - just keep coming.

 Limelight hydrangea puts on a show for months.

And I couldn't believe the Limelight hydrangeas that Vinnie planted just two years ago. Laden with the supersize chartreuse blooms that inspired the variety name, they already were nearing their mature height of 8 ft.

Limelight stays in the limelight for months - with flowers that change from chartreuse to white to pink to rose, and foliage that goes out in a blaze of red. In mixed borders as far north as Zone 4, give it a season-long supporting cast of phlox, daylilies and gaillardia. Like most hydrangeas, Limelight's coarsely textured leaves are like solid supporting actors that let the divas have their ways.

 Clethra attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

And there's the trouble-free, perfectly named summersweet - Clethra alnifolia. It sweetens the summer from Maine to Florida with big, fluffy, fragrant white blooms that resemble bottlebrushes.

Clethra is a multiseason textural delight, with 5-in-long bristly-looking flower spikes and serrated, glossy deep-green leaves. They turn golden in autumn and highlight the brown seed heads that stay through winter. Give this East Coast native a home in sun or dappled shade with moist, acidic soil. Clethra will reward you with shiny foliage and fragrant, spiky flowers that butterflies and hummingbirds take to, and peppercornlike berries.

  Ninebark can star in a mixed border.

We stopped to admire hardy camellias, which are worth considering if you live in the southerly reaches of our region.

Click here to watch my video of Vinnie extolling their virtues.

At Hofstra I got a lesson in mixed border combinations from Fred. Upright and weeping yews mingle with the purple-leaf ninebark Physocarpus opulofolius 'Diablo' and a traffic-stopping red penstemon.

 The bright blades of Hakonechloa grass contrast with weigala's dark, oval leaves.

The textured, dark-purple leaves of fast-growing ninebark glow next to plants that are gold or chartreuse. The multibranched shrub flowers better in full sun, but it tolerates partial shade in gardens from zones 3 to 7.

And dwarf stars - including white-flower Spiraea 'Tor' and the fountain grasses Pennisetum 'Hameln' and 'Little Bunny' - sparkled nearby.

In another spot the oval-shaped bronze foliage of weigela provided a dramatic contrast to the long, lime-green blades of Hakonechloa grass.

'Blue Shag' cozies up to Callicarpa.

Elsewhere I was charmed by "Blue Shag', a dwarf eastern white pine with 4-in-long blue-gray evergreen needles that give it a fluffy look. Eventually it will reach 3 ft tall and almost twice as wide, but not for about 10 years. Hardy to Zone 3, it's shown, below, with deciduous Callicarpa. The variegated liriope in the foreground will grow into a boldly textured groundcover.

 The dwarf evergreen 'R.H. Montgomery' pairs with the herbaceous Hosta ���Halcyon'.

Fred also showed me corner beds that included the bold, ribbed leaves of Hosta 'Halcyon' paired with the stiff, silvery needles of the dwarf blue spruce Picea pungens 'R.H. Montgomery.'

Click here to see my video of this nicely textured planting of shrubs and perennials.

What shrubs add texture to your garden?