Happy Threesomes

By Kerry Ann Mendez

Are you looking for striking combinations that provide color spring through fall? Of course you are! Starting with this feature, and for the next two weeks, I will be playing matchmaker by combining a tree, a flowering shrub and a perennial for a dazzling three season display.

Fringe Tree

I'm kicking off with one of my favorite underused small trees (also grown as a shrub) - Chionanthus virginicus, commonly called Fringe Tree. I grew this native specimen at my property in upstate New York. Fringe tree is covered with lacy, mildly fragrant flowers in late spring just as the leaves are emerging. Come fall, the leaves will turn a glowing golden-yellow. Hardy to Zone 3, it can grow to 12-20' at maturity.

Smooth Hydrangea

Underplant Fringe Tree with another native - Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). Depending on your space, I suggest using two or more of the compact varieties such as 'Invincibelle Mini Mauvette', a strong rebloomer that is also hardy to Zone 3. All Smooth Hydrangeas will form their flower buds on new wood in spring, which insures a reliable bloom regardless of erratic winter temperatures.


Finally, sprinkle in three (or more if your space allows!) Dianthus 'Paint the Town Fuchsia', a drought and heat tolerant perennial that explodes with bright magenta pink flowers in spring above glaucous blue foliage. You can shear off the spent flowers in summer to showcase its lovely leaves and to also encourage another flush of flowers in the fall. 'Paint the Town Fuchsia' is hardy to Zone 4.