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Archive for Sunday, August 29, 2004

Shrubs provide long-lasting summer color

August 29, 2004

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Shrubs are the backbone of any good garden, enclosing garden "rooms" and framing views all year-round.

Flowers are mere frills, fleeting spots and masses of color. Plant flowering shrubs, and you get both the backbone and the frills in one plant.

Look around now: Many summer flowering shrubs are merrily in bloom. With all the competition from herbaceous flowers, the display is not nearly as dramatic as that from spring flowering shrubs. Still, summer flowering shrubs are welcome for their sheer abundance of blossoms.

And what diversity of blossoms! In white flowers alone, forms range from the slender panicles of summersweet clethra, Virginia sweetspire, and false spirea to the fat mopheads of Snowhill hydrangeas. The hydrangea blossoms go through a range of colors, starting out apple green, then going on to white, and ending up tawny brown. And the flowers of Virginia sweetspire and summersweet clethra offer delightful aromas -- as welcome in summer as in any season.

Other summer flowering shrubs have flowers in more striking colors. We can move around the color spectrum from the yellow flowers of potentilla and shrubby St. Johnswort, to the red ones of Rose of Sharon and Five-stamen tamarix, and on to the blues of butterfly bush.

The real beauty of these plants, though, comes from the combined effect of the forms and colors of the flowers and the bushes themselves.

Potentilla, for example, is a cheerful mound of dainty, lime-green leaves and sunny, yellow flowers, each shaped like that of a wild rose. The tiny flowers of tamarix dab a rosey-pink color on the ends of the lanky, green shoots. Rose of Sharon has large blossoms, each looking like a hibiscus, studding its coarse stems. Bottlebrush buckeye holds its spires of white blossoms up and away from the bush like candles on a candelabra.

All of these summer flowering shrubs are easy enough to grow as long as you provide sun and soil to each of their liking. Butterfly bush, tamarix, and false spirea demand full sun. Rose of Sharon, the hydrangeas, and the bottlebrush buckeye tolerate partial shade. Virginia sweetspire and summersweet clethra tolerate deep shade. These last two shrubs can also grow in boggy soil.

A nice feature about many summer flowering shrubs is that many continue blossoming right up until heavy frost stops growth. And even then, some will retain their blossoms, frozen in time, well into winter.

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