Structure in the garden is essential for many reasons, not the least of which is winter’s cold, gray days. You can create structure with hardscape, like paths and retaining walls, trellises and arbors, but also with plants, particularly trees and shrubs.
For year-round interest I immediately think of evergreens, such as hollies and mugo pine. But many conifers are not so adaptable to our hot and dry summers. Then there are those evergreens that perform well in the Deep South, like Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeleri’, but farther north it is damaged or even killed by cold. So in Oklahoma, where we have both weather extremes, you often see overuse of shrubs, for instance the humble heavenly bamboo. However, I grow a very small one, Nandina domestica ‘Orihime’, which complements the Japanese maple ‘Tamukeyama’, in whose shade it grows.
Choosing cultivars for year-round interest isn’t limited to evergreens, however. Outstanding features— including peeling bark, or branch shape and color—along with bloom can make deciduous shrubs more desirable. For example I would argue that a blooming shrub, such as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, is a four-season plant. It has strong growth in spring, then emerging lime-green blooms, which turn bright white and then fade to a pinkish brown. Leave them on the stem and they remain beautiful throughout most of winter. The pink cultivar ‘Invincibelle™ Spirit’ is widely available this year, and I hope she will perform as well as her cousin does in my garden.
For beautiful stems and bark, Cornus sericea, red twig dogwood, looks its best in winter. If you like sulphur yellow, there also are yellow twig cultivars. Physocarpus opulifolius 'Monlo' (also called Diablo® ninebark), is a shrub I’m considering for my garden this year. It sports gorgeous dark-purple leaves, pink blooms and interesting winter bark.
Now I wonder: What must-have shrubs do you grow for year-round interest?
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