They’re not just ornamental

We all know that a garden needs more than just perennials and annuals to make it look great all year round. A garden isn’t complete without the ornamental shrubs. These are the workhorses of my garden along with the trees. Ornamental shrubs provide something interesting to look at when the flowers aren’t blooming yet. They look great in the winter with a layer of snow resting on top like icing on a cake. Some shrubbery provides a place for birds to build nests or berries for them to eat. These backbones of the garden provide a permanent structure when the herbaceous perennials die back in the fall. What would we do without these vital parts of our yard. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

I think this is Aucuba japonica “Variegata” which is the female plant. “Crotonifolia” is the male. The difference is that the female has leaves densely spotted with yellow, while the male has leaves heavily splashed with yellow. This plant gets 4-6 ft and produces clusters of red berries in the early fall and sprays of red flowers in the spring. It’s hardy in zones 7-10. I have it planted under the Pecan tree in my yard in filtered shade. Full sun will burn the leaves and turn them black. It looks great in the shade with the mottled foliage.
Berberis thunbergi “Dwarf Crimson Pygmy” is a tough little foundation plant. It will grow in Sun-Part Sun. I have mine planted in part-sun. It needs some sun to get the best color leaves which are bright red mingled with burgundy and green. Dwarf Crimson Pygmy gets 18″-2 ‘ tall and 2′-3’ wide with a nice compact shape. In the fall, the foliage turns an orangish-red. The hardiness is Zone 4-7. It looks great next to my large Hostas in the fountain bed.
Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo or Sacred Bamboo) is a evergreen plant that grows 5-6′ tall and has great winter color. It produces sprays of white flowers in the summer and red berries in the fall & winter. The hardiness is zones 5-10. This plant is overly planted in my area but the evergreen foliage and the fact that it will grow in Full Sun-Full Shade make it very easy.
Spiraea japonica “Goldmound” is one of my favorites. The foliage begins the year a reddish tone that fades to yellow and then to this lime green. It produces clusters of tiny pink flowers that are a wonderful contrast to the green leaves. It can grow up to 3′ tall and spread 2-4′. I have three of these wonderful little shrubs and they are only 2′ tall and about 2′ in width. The hardiness is zones 4-8 and it is deciduous.


18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by beckie on August 4, 2008 at 7:25 am

    You are certainly right about shrubs. They do provide a quiet background for the showier plants, and remain a constant even in winter. I think your ‘Variegata’ is my favorite one of your shrubs. I haven’t tries to grow that one, but love the varigated leaved ones.


  2. Posted by Sunita on August 4, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Lovely blog! You’re so right about the backbone part. Though we dont have snow over here, I know my garden would really be lacking without the perennial shrubs. The beauty of it is that they’re not in-your-face show-offs.
    I think developping a liking for these shrubs is a sign of an evolving gardener.


  3. Posted by tina on August 4, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I love all of these but the aucuba is the best!


  4. Posted by GardenJoy4Me on August 4, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Hello there PG !
    Your shrubs/plants .. is an aucuba a shrub ? I don’t have one so I’m not sure .. but the spirea and barberry (did I read that worng .. can you tell it is Monday morning ?haha) .. I love those .. I have a few different spirea and they all take abuse (lack of water many times) very well ! phew .. and I have golden barberry which really lights up parts of the front bed .. hits of gold are wonderful against black mulch.
    Great pictures and information girl !
    Spaz, Mooch, Misty , all look like wonderful helpers ? in the garden ! LOL


  5. Posted by Rose on August 4, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Great post! I need to replace some dying shrubs, so I appreciate some new ideas. The hard part is finding something that won’t get overgrown. Thanks for all the helpful info.


  6. Posted by OhioMom on August 4, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Wonderful post, as usual 🙂 I love the variegated leaves on shrubs.


  7. Posted by Andrea on August 4, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Now see, I don’t know a whole lot about Shrubs like I would like to (for lackof being in that department during the day and stuck elsewhere) so it’s really nice to read about a few opinions about certain shrubs. Virginia is what? zone 6 I’m guessing? Shot in the dark there, since you mentioned a show of snow.


  8. Posted by Perennial Gardener on August 4, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Variegata is a great shrub for the shady areas of a garden Beckie. I forgot to mention I grew this one from a cutting. My grandmother got a piece for me from her old neighbor we put it in a glass of water until we had a healthy show of roots and I planted it here over 5 years ago. Every year it has grown about 8-12" until this year where it has finally reached it's mature size.

    Thank you Sunita! I feel that I have evolved as a gardener over the past 20 years. We all start out just wanting pretty flowers but as our obsession grows so does our appetite for a four season garden.

    Tina, I'm glad you like the Aucuba, it is a pretty shrub. The variagation really makes it an interesting addition to the garden. 🙂

    Hello GJ4Me! The Aucuba is a shrub. Barberry & Spiraea are great for being drought tolerant in the garden. I would love to add the golden Barberry too! I don't want the full size one though. Thank you so much for visiting and I'm glad I could be of help. The dogs & cat are wonderful companions in the garden, but not so much helpers. lol 🙂

    I'm glad my post was helpful for you Rose. It's nice to find shrubs that don't get too large for the garden. I look for the dwarf forms of great cultivars.

    Thanks Mom! 🙂 Variagated foliage is more interesting in the garden. Who needs flowers with leaves like that! 🙂

    I'm glad if I was able to give you some helpful info Andrea. We are actually zone 7b. We only occasionally get snow, and it doesn't usually stick around too long.


  9. Posted by Balisha on August 4, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Hi PG,
    I used to watch “Martha” quite often. I had to chuckle, when years ago she said, that we need winter features in our gardens. For most of last winter we couldn’t see a thing in our yard…just deep, deep snow. Many of my winter “features” were broken, beaten, and buried. We did some new landscaping now and hope that we will be able to see the new things this winter.Mother Nature couldn’t give us another winter like last….could she?


  10. Posted by Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage on August 4, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Well, I’ve always wondered with the true name of that volunteer is along my fence… now I know! It’s nandina domestica! Although I like the name Heavenly Bamboo even better. It is such a great accent. Now that I know what it is I may have to go and get more. 😉



  11. Posted by Perennial Gardener on August 4, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Hi Balisha. I don’t think she meant that amount of snow, lol. Hopefully you won’t have another winter like that.

    Cindy, Nandina does volunteer easily, that is how I got most of mine. They had seeded from the neighbors yard before I moved here. 🙂 Glad I was able to help you identify it. I prefer the name “Heavenly Bamboo” too.


  12. Posted by Dave on August 4, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    I have to agree the Nandina is overplanted. We have one but it came with the house. The other one’s a great though!


  13. Posted by Susie on August 4, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    P.G.-I like your shrub choices. I had Spiraea “Little Princess” in my GA garden. A couple of my favorites are Burning Bush and Lorepetalums.


  14. Posted by Perennial Gardener on August 4, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    That’s what happened to me Dave, they came with the house. I’m glad you liked the others.

    Thanks Susie. Spiraea “little princess” is a great one too. I’ve seen it in plant catalogs. I plan on adding more shrubs as I find ones that I think will fit in.


  15. Posted by Anna on August 5, 2008 at 3:09 am

    Yes, you got to have bones to hold up the clothes which are our ornamentals. I love Nandina and especially like the new Harbor variety. It’s a dwarf and won’t overpower my front beds. I like Mooch and Misty and Spaz as they are playing on your sidebar right now beside my reply screen. Too cute. They add to the garden decor.


  16. Posted by ChrisND on August 5, 2008 at 3:23 am

    I don’t think I have enough shrubs/backbone in my garden yet…along with trees, these seem to be the element of permanence in an established garden.

    I think I like the Spiraea the best (also that might be the only one hardy around here).


  17. Posted by Perennial Gardener on August 5, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Thank you Anna, I'm glad you liked seeing the dogs & cat in the sidebar. I've seen that variety of Nandina before.

    Your garden is still coming together Chris, you will add more structure/backbone as it developes. The Spiraea is a great shrub and there are many more to choose from.


  18. Posted by Beth on August 7, 2008 at 11:53 am

    I always felt the same way – that a garden does need some foundation or “bones” with the use of some shrubs. Good post!


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