Top Ten Flowering Shrubs – Part I

Luddite that I am, I keep a handwritten garden journal where I record observations on the gardens’ performance, To-Do lists for Spring and Fall, and Wish Lists, several of them. Perennials, or Dahlias, or Shrubs. They are long lists and the longer I garden, the longer they get. Having said that, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite shrubs, the ones we use over and over, in our own gardens and in the gardens we design for others here in New England Zone 6. To qualify for inclusion in my Top Ten Flowering (Deciduous) Shrubs, the shrubs have to meet the following criteria: low maintenance, reliable performance, flexibility and beauty. Here are the first five on the list, and the others will follow in Part II:


English: Hydrangea macrophylla - Hortensia hyd...

English: Hydrangea macrophylla – Hortensia hydrangea, picture from Longwood Gardens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Will it be considered cheating if I include several different types? The classic Mopheads, (blue or pink, depending upon your soil) Bigleaf Hydrangea (hydrangea macrophylla) are stunning in the late June and July garden. A hedge of them is lovely, where they can get morning sun but some shade in the afternoon and they’re great at the back of a perennial border, if you have the depth. There are dwarf varieties available, for those with small gardens. They combine well with roses, which, if allowed to drape over them, can create beautiful color combinations. Ditto for clematis. The large-flowering white snowballs are Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ (now also available in pink…yes ‘Blushing Annabelle is on the wish list) are magnificent plants and can give even a two year old garden a quality of maturity. They can take quite a bit of shade. The oakleaf hydrangeas have airy white pannicles that light up a shady spot. Their foliage turns a rich mahogany red in the fall, adding interesting color to the shrub border.


Once again, there are several varieties, early flowering, late flowering, pink flowers, white flowers, golden leafed, dark-leafed.

Spiraea japonica: Flower heads Svenska: Rosens...

Spiraea japonica: Flower heads Svenska: Rosenspirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This is an old standard that’s had a garden revival with all the new cultivars that are now available. One of my favorites is a golden leafed version with bright pink, almost fuschia colored blossoms. It likes full sun but can take some shade, and it really lights up a shrubbery border when contrasted with dark or silver

Golden-leafed weigela provides a luminous, impressionistic quality to a shrub border.

Golden-leafed weigela provides a luminous, impressionistic quality to a shrub border.

leafed plants.

Philadelphus (Mock-Orange)

Commonly known as Mock-Orange, this shrub is lovely when flowering, yes, but, more importantly, it’s is all about fragrance.  You can smell its sweet perfume from 30′ away and that alone is reason enough to plant it in a sunny spot somewhere near a patio or where you like to spend time in your garden. There are several cultivars available, some with single blooms, others, double. I like Minnesota Snowflake, a clear, pure white, double blossomed version. It doesn’t have much going for it, other than good clean dark foliage and disease and pest resistance, when its not flowering, so plant other small shrubs or perennials at its feet to provide floral and/or foliage interest throughout the growing season.

Philadelphus lewisii. Real Jardín Botánico de ...

Philadelphus lewisii. Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

We all know this large shrub as Butterfly Bush and it’s ubiquity might make it seem a bit too common to include in this list, however, there are some truly spectacular cultivars that deserve a place in every garden. White Profusion is of a slightly smaller stature than the usual variety and yet it is positively covered with fragrant white panicles from mid to late summer. Dubonnet(wine red), Dark Knight,(deep purple) and some of the other richly colored cultivars make a wonderful grouping with White profusion, and an easy ‘island border’ that reduces mowing while, at the same time, producing lots of material

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) 'White Profu...

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) ‘White Profusion’ 2 (Photo credit: John Brandauer)

for floral arrangements, Fragrant ones, to boot!

I beg you pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

One evening, a couple of months ago, I went on-line to my favorite purveyor of roses to select and order bare root plants for a client.  (I buy from these folks because they are in a climate that is comparatively chilly to ours ( Zone 5- Ontario, Canada) and, therefore, does not harbor the same diseases that you might find in a warmer climate, like Texas or North Carolina…..). Anyway, while I was at it, I noticed that this rose nursery, world renowned for its selection of historic and heirloom roses, was discontinuing several classic, important varieties that I’ve always longed for. I’m no rose aficionado and so what I mean when I say ‘important’ is heirloom, late 18th and early 19th century roses. Their importance, to me, resides in their longevity and my thinking that these old cultivars ought to be preserved . The threat of discontinuation came as a shock and I acted upon it, immediately. A volley of urgent emails between Andrew and I ensued, (me in the studio at my laptop, he, in the house watching BBC news on TV, and shopping for roses on his smart phone).  The ‘Final Offer’ roses were keenly researched. Together, and separately, we came up with a list and ordered them, along with our client’s roses.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. It was around Oct. 23rd or so and I’d received confirmation of my rose order. I was exiting the house, walking across the lawn, headed to my studio, Andrew had just returned from somewhere and was approaching me, when it suddenly struck me. Oh dear God! I threw my arms around him, gave him a kiss, and said “Happy 10th Anniversary”! He responded in-kind, but equally shocked, and we both nearly fell down laughing. “When was it?”, he asked. “I don’t know, maybe last week,” I said. Of course, most married couples don’t experience the same ambiguity about their anniversary date but, in our case ,it’s justified. We were married on Oct. 18th, 2001 but we (and I’m using the ‘royal ‘we’ here) forgot to bring the marriage certificate to the church, and so, had to return the next day to have it signed, which, technically, bumps our actual marriage to the 19th of October.

Later that evening, after the belated champagne, I returned, dizzily, to my studio and Andrew to watching BBC news on TV, and checking his email on his smart phone) another volley of emails between Andrew and I ensued. This time, it went like this. “We’ve order six heirloom roses. We get three each. Two each for our birthdays and one each for our anniversary. Here’s the list of what we ordered, You go first. Select your anniversary rose, then I’ll select mine, then you your first birthday rose, then me, …….” Amazingly, our personal selections mirrored our favorite personal choices. More amazing is that I’m writing about it, because, after all, Andrew and I, through thorns and dis-ease, lush, floral display or the disfiguring and disheartening effect of deer predation, we share the same rose garden, and, I beg your pardon, I never expected or even dreamed that I would ever have such a garden to share with such an impeccable man.