Shrubs combine the year-round presence of trees with the seasonal color appeal of many herbaceous plants, and they do it at eye level, where their efforts to please can be appreciated. They give us the background, foreground, and framework for an ornamental landscape, and the best ones do so gracefully. When you plan your next landscape renovation, or the new landscape for your just-completed dream home, take a closer look at this list of great shrubs. Many of them are North American natives and are widely adaptable throughout the country for year-round appeal. One or more will surely fit into your soil conditions, climate, and garden design. One just might become the focal point of your yard.
(Hydrangea quercifolia) Most hydrangeas are grown for their summer blooms, but oakleaf hydrangea has the additional attributes of rich crimson fall color, attractive fruit sprays, and peeling bark on old stems. Unlike other common hydrangeas, this species has large leaves that are lobed like oak leaves. It is also more drought-tolerant than some of its cousins, but it still rewards its owner with superior performance in rich, moist soil in a shady location. It never looks like a tree, but it can reach 10 feet tall on favorable sites, although 6 feet is average. Flowers develop gradually into colorful seed clusters, prolonging their appeal. Oakleaf hydrangea is native to the southeastern United States but is broadly adaptable. Zones 5 to 9.
(Lindera benzoin) A plant with many positive attributes, spice bush breaks out in yellow during fall, produces a haze of tiny greenish-yellow flowers in early spring, and generates scarlet berries on female plants in late summer. It serves as a host plant to several species of butterflies, and its aromatic twigs are often used to stir herbal teas. Plant it along a sidewalk or beside a patio to take advantage of its pleasant fragrance. It loves deep shade -- where it can reach a height of 12 to 15 feet -- but maintains a more compact form than many other shade-loving plants. Spice bush isn't picky about soil quality as long as it has adequate moisture. Zones 5 to 9.
Northern Lights Azaleas
(Rhododendron Northern Lights Group) This group of superhardy deciduous azaleas was developed in Minnesota as a complex series of hybrids involving the hardiest North American and Asian Rhododendron species. Unlike most other rhododendrons -- many of which are equally spectacular in mild climates -- the Northern Lights Group will survive temperatures as low as -40 F. Popular selections, named for their flower colors, include "White Lights," "Rosy Lights," and "Golden Lights." They all mature at about 5 to 6 feet, placing their spectacular spring flower displays at viewing level. They like partial shade and thrive in the same well-drained, organic, and acidic soils that are preferred by all rhododendrons. Zones 4 to 7.