By Glenn DiNella
I have a confession to make: I’m a plantaholic. There seems to be a genetic component to this disease. I contracted it from my father, who planted shrubs anywhere he saw bare earth around the yard.
I like to think of woody plants as the workhorses of the landscape. Sure, a single tree can grow large and have a great impact. And when planted in masses, annuals and perennials are eye-grabbing. But most gardeners, myself included, use about two to three times as many shrubs in their landscapes as other types of plants.
Typically your garden looks best if you plant shrubs in masses. This is easier for me to do when advising someone else! I have so many favorite shrubs, I plant no more than five of the same type in my own landscape beds. Here are a few of my favorites:
I have a good garden friend who hates boxwoods, saying they are green blobs with no flowers and therefore have no use in the world. I couldn’t disagree more. These relatively disease-free, billowing shrubs are great for massing as a screen, or as an evergreen backdrop for smaller flowers.
Plant boxwoods in soldier rows for a formal garden, or in casual groupings for a naturalistic look. I love their tender, light-green new foliage in spring, and how it matures to a rich green that’s perfect for setting off the fiery colors of fall.
Common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) has darker, pointier leaves and grows larger and more quickly than the compact, rounded-leaf edging boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruiticosa’). This photo highlights edging boxwood, but you can see common boxwood to the far left of the photo.
There’s also coarse Korean boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. koreana), a hardier variety, as well as many lesser-known cultivars. I love them all.
These woody shrubs are evergreen and usually trouble-free. Watch for signs of fungus problems and aphids, and spray them with a fungicide or horticultural oil if you spot trouble.
The basic large, green pittosporum can grow 15 feet tall if not pruned. Most homeowners prefer the compact habit and interesting foliage of a dwarf cultivar. In this photo about 15 dwarf variegated pittosporums line the front steps of a house. Annual pruning easily keeps them in check.
Pittosporums can suffer from cold damage in the upper South, but these plants survived our single-digit temps last winter with only minor burns on the outer leaves. Trim off damaged leaves in early spring and they bounce back quickly.
Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) has many great qualities: It is evergreen. It also grows quickly in spring and summer, so typically it requires a hard pruning in spring to keep it in check. Abelia tolerates sun and drought. And it’s a good plant for our pollinating friends, because bees flock to abelia blooms like flies to melted ice cream.
As with most plants, the variegated cultivars are slower growing, which can be a nice feature. Also their foliage adds season-long contrast, which is good because the variegated varieties don’t seem to produce the volume of small, tube-shape blooms the green-leaf varieties do.
Here’s a close-up of a variegated abelia. This one is called ‘Confetti’.
Kaleidoscope abelia’s bright-golden foliage, tinged red and green, can really jazz up a landscape bed. I gave six Kaleidoscopes a place of honor near my front door. That’s pretty high praise from a plantaholic.