By Kerry Ann Mendez
Note: The following is a partial excerpt from Kerry Ann Mendez's book The Right-Size Flower Garden
One of my biggest and best downsizing strategies is to replace sweeps of mixed perennial gardens with flowering shrubs and conifers. Dig, dig, swap, swap... Oh what a relief it is! You really don't appreciate how much more work perennials are, compared to shrubs, until you make the switch. Don't misunderstand, I still love perennials and will always have these in my garden, just a lot less of them. Most "woodies" simply don't require the same amount of water, fertilizer and routine care. And I can get every bit, if not more, color from shrubs and trees, especially given the explosion of new cultivars with dazzling foliage, berries, bark and/or form.
Shrubs take on a major role in the right-size garden. To get the most bang for the buck, incorporate varieties with dazzling flowers plus striking foliage and/or stems. Now you'll have at least three seasons of interest from the same square footage, instead of just the one-trick pony provided by flowers alone. Foliage is all too often the unrecognized star. Leaves co-star with the shrub's flowers, plus play a colorful supporting role in the garden's overall beauty.
Below are a few exceptional shrubs
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) - Many striking foliage colors to choose from! Ninebarks have early summer, pinkish-white flowers that age to red seed-heads or berries. Native to North America.
Bottlebrush (Fothergilla gardenia and major) - Foliage can be blue-green or frosty blue. Leaves turns a striking red, orange and yellow in fall. Fragrant white bottlebrush flowers in spring. Native to North America.
Dogwood (Cornus alba 'Ivory Halo' and Cornus kousa 'Wolf Eyes') - 'Ivory Halo', with variegated green and white leaves, is a Tatarian Dogwood with striking red stems in winter. 'Wolf Eyes' has narrower, elongated gray-green leaves with ivory margins. The foliage of both take on a lovely pink-red hue in fall. Each also has lovely flowers as well as fruit enjoyed by birds.
Viburnum - Many Viburnum offer beautiful flowers and yummy fruit for birds but only some also boast gorgeous fall foliage. Smooth witherod (i.e., V. nudum 'Winterthur', native), Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum), and American Cranberry Bush (V. trilobum, native) make this list.