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Great Flowering Landscape Shrubs

Don't miss the exciting lectures at New England Grows in February, where horticulturist and author Vincent Simeone will present "Everything Old is New Again: Great Flowering Landscape Shrubs."
By Vincent A. Simeone


Flowering shrubs are indeed the backbone of the landscape, offering a rich palette of textures, colors and forms. Each shrub can provide a diverse selection of ornamental features such as foliage, flowers, fruit and bark texture. They can also present year-round interest when effectively combined with herbaceous plants and other desirable garden plants. A well-designed garden possesses a balanced mixture of plants that will provide a succession of horticultural interest throughout the year. If used correctly, flowering shrubs will provide years of enjoyment in the garden and enhance other plantings such as perennials, vines and trees while softening buildings and garden structures.


Viburnum × burkwoodii 'Conoy'
In my book, Great Flowering Landscape Shrubs (Ball, 2005) I celebrate the renaissance of many old-fashioned favorites such as hydrangea, viburnum, spirea and lilac while offering some new and improved cultivars and less known selections. These versatile shrubs offer desirable ornamental characteristics, cultural adaptability, pest resistance (including deer resistance), drought tolerance and function in the landscape. All of these factors have a considerable influence on the availability of the plant in the horticultural community. Superior varieties of shrubs that are both attractive and versatile are steadily gaining in popularity on the retail market. This new breed of plants requires less maintenance and offers superior horticultural interest for longer periods of time.


Camellia 'April Tryst'
Photos courtesy of Vincent A. Simeone

Although flowering shrubs are often thought of as spring bloomers, a considerable number of shrubs also bloom in the summer and fall months. These garden gems often possess attractive foliage, fall color, fruit and bark interest. I am truly excited about the ongoing research and selections of genera such as Abelia, Callicarpa, Hydrangea, Rosa and Viburnum. Glossy Abelia × grandiflora; (Zone 6) blooms in the northeastern United States from June until the first hard frost in October. The red fall foliage and star-shaped flower stalks that persist after the flowers fade provide added fall and early winter interest. But now, there are also many new and exciting cultivars and species of Abelia such as 'Rose Creek', 'Canyon Creek' as well as Abelia chinensis (Zone 5) and Abelia mosanensis (Zone 4). These superior selections offer compact habit, fragrance and fall interest.

Many consider viburnum the royalty of garden shrubs, and they are treasured for their unsurpassed beauty and versatility in the landscape. Depending on the species chosen, these prized shrubs frequently provide three seasons of interest with spring or summer blooms, excellent rich green foliage, ornamental fruit and brilliant fall foliage color. Among my favorites are cultivars 'Conoy', 'Mary Milton' and Cardinal Candy.


Abelia grandiflora 'Rose Creek'

Similarly, while hydrangeas have been largely overlooked over the past two decades, in recent years hundreds of exciting species and new varieties now blanket local garden centers, nurseries and public gardens. Hydrangea varieties these days come in a wide variety of flavors too numerous to mention. The expanding world of hydrangeas is better explored in the local nursery field, garden center or public garden.

Since my book on shrubs was published in 2005, I have encountered many new and underutilized genera along the garden path that thrive in northeastern gardens including Adina, Camellia, Edgeworthia, Heptacodium, Illicium, Indigofera and more. And let's not forget about the incredible surge of landscape roses onto the market!

With so many outstanding shrubs available today, professionals and home gardeners alike have myriad possibilities in creating the perfect landscape. Whether your goal is to establish a colorful shrub border, functional foundation planting or simple mass planting, incorporating flowering shrubs into the landscape is essential. Flowering shrubs present us with endless possibilities in an ever-changing garden environment.

Vincent A. Simeone is a horticulturist, garden writer, and lecturer from Oyster Bay, N.Y. For the past 19 years, he has worked in public horticulture as Director of the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in New York. He will be speaking at New England Grows in Boston on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. His seminar topic is: "Everything Old is New Again: Great Flowering Landscape Shrubs."