Great Shrubs

Great Shrubs

I’m a fan of shrubs. I love the layering that they provide. You can find these woody-not-trees-plants in all shapes and sizes, all colours–well, most colours–, evergreen, deciduous, in-between…

One thing about most shrubs, is that altho’ they may tolerate pruning, few of them will thrive if you try to fit too large a shrub into too small a space. So the following shrubs should not be assumed to fit into just any garden anywhere. You’ll see I’m doing some creative shaping, but always from the perspective of allowing the plant to grow to it’s preferred height.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ (aka Black Beauty Elderberry)

A large deciduous shrub with colouring that’s hard to beat, it looks best in the first half of the growing season, with the rich deep burgundy leaves, and then these amazing umbrellas (“umbels”) of pink flowers. You can harvest the flowers for elderflower cordial, or leave them and harvest the berries for elderberry jam or cordial. If you have the patience.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’  June 21 this year

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ today

I want to let it grow tall–maybe not to its maximum size–saw a 20′ tall one in Langley a couple years ago!– but nice and, you know, tall. But in the top picture, it’s taking up a lot of space–about 8-9′ diameter. So I decided to limb it up, developing it tree-form. And lo and behold, a new planting bed! And who doesn’t need more planting space?

You can see that it’s not as pretty as it was in the June picture above–the leaf colouring is fading a bit in the heat and drought. But I don’t mind–I know it will be amazing next year again, and probably later on when it gets colder and wetter. I’ll probably also take out a little more of the lower growth next Spring when it’s actively growing.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus (California Lilac)

This California native predictably likes heat and dry conditions, but doesn’t at all mind our wet winters here in coastal BC.

This is Karl Rosenfield peony in front of Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Victoria’ (California Lilac)

Last winter’s unusual snow cover caused quite a lot of die back on my Ceanothus, so since it was already thinned out naturally, I decided to give it the same treatment as the Sambucus–limbed it up to tree form. (“Arborized” it.)

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Victoria’


Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Victoria’–tree-form

Again, not looking its best, being past bloom time, but look how it reveals the red Lucifer Crocosmia, the pink no-name mallow, and the yellow daylilies, all of which were pretty much buried couple hours before this picture was taken.

Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’ (Japanese Barberry)

Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’

I have an awful lot of “favourite” shrubs, and this is one of them. Not to say it has no faults, but its virtues outweigh them. It’s deciduous–nothing wrong with that, but when the leaves are gone, the branches look really dead and thorny. But thenwhen it starts to leaf out in the early spring– earlier than many deciduous shrubs, happily–it seems to fill out overnight! And then there’s the delightful yellow flowers–what a contrast! And new growth has a fiery glow to it as you can see in the pic above.

I don’t seem to have taken a picture of my Barberry in bloom, but this is a sweet little hedge of Royal Burgundy Barberry belonging to a client–with a little winter damage, unfortunately.

Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’

Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)

I have a couple Kalmias, and I have to admit that neither of them are in the best condition. But I acquired them under less than ideal circumstances, so I’m hoping a little TLC will improve their habit and growth.

Kalmia latifolia ‘Kaleidoscope’

Kalmia latifolia ‘Kaleidoscope’

This evergreen beauty–just look at those flowers!–stays diminutively small, but the still-fairly-ugly ‘Olympic Wedding’ will grow to 5′. If it grows. I’ll just show pics of the flowers, which are stunning:

Kalmia latifolia ‘Olympic Wedding’

And one last, for now…

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball Blush’

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball Blush’

This really is as floriferous as it looks. Main problem is that despite the growers’ insistence that the Incrediballs have stout stems, they don’t have stout enough stems to hold up those giant flower heads. One light rain the other day put a bunch of the blooms on the ground. But I think Hydrangeas in general are among the coolest shrubs ever. So many varieties, different growth habits, flowers, colours…

This little Panicle Hydrangea is I think ‘Brussels Lace’, with these starry flower heads.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Brussels Lace’–the nursery websites say it grows to 6′-12′ (hardly seems possible!). Mine is about 5 years old and just about reaches my knees!

Stay tuned for more on Spirea, Boxwood, Irish Yew… I have a lot of faves!


Pollinator Garden

It’s been so long since I posted here, I’ll have to ease back into it gently. So here’s a little video of one of my favourite shrubs–Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Victoria’. If you’re looking for an evergreen, low-maintenance, honey bee and other pollinator attractor, you couldn’t do better.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Victoria’