Any suggestions for evergreen focal shrub for by a staircase?

oath5(z6b/7a MD)February 16, 2012

I'm looking for a nice showpiece shrub or even small tree for beside our wooden deck stairs where a rhododendron used to be (but died due to fungus, pretty sure it was Botryosphaeria dothidea, dying in chunks). What should I avoid planting there besides other rhodos due to the fungus, I know other rhodos are a no-no.

I'm a big plant geek so I love unusual and very beautiful things (don't we all?) so most common shrubs aren't very attractive to me. I will never plant or recommend a cherry laurel ever again.

I've been in love with our totally underrated native evergreens like leucothoe, such a beautiful shrub but that would be too short for what I'm looking for. I might be able to fit a few as companions/ankle socks but I'm wanting the shrub to be about the height of the deck but not block the view when sitting on a built in bench.

I can take a picture of the site. I need about at 5-6ish ft tall (7 wouldn't hurt if it's softer visually) and 3-4 ft shrub or small tree, preferably evergreen and can handle partial shade from a big weeping cherry.

I was considering the following, possibly variegated cultivars:

illicium

camellia

holly

(leucothoe as some sock shrubs)

I'm sort of torn, as everything seems to have a drawback. it's a pretty big focal spot in this nook that is along the the stairs to our deck. Along the rest of the deck is a promenade of 'Nikko Blue' hydrangea which have finally matured and look amazing architectural wise this winter, this summer will be amazing.

The points against illex is that the stairs have no railings and we already have a noisette rose on an obelisk that grabs people on the other side. Don't need more pricking people.

Are illicum worth planting in such a focal spot? I want some nice architecture there and it needs the evergreen foliage due to the hydrangea being bare in winter, also need a good contrast to Nikko's bright green lettuce leaves.

I can't seem to get a good picture of illicum bush online much everyone just takes pictures of the flowers, which I think I remember smelling at a nursery and was shocked at how not very pleasant it was so there the doubt there that would be a great fit either.

Camellia are starting to be planted here more and more, especially the cold hardy ones that I have no trouble with. I was considering moving a sasquana hybrid 'Frost Princess' that has been doing nothing in a shadier spot elsewhere over there where it can get more sun but that plant is TINY literally 24-32" tops, it would take much too long for it to fill in. We have a large fuchsia/hot pink antique evergreen azalea that is parallel to said spot about 3-5 meters away and the whole area is shaded by a giant weeping cherry so spring show is pretty covered, another reason why I was considering the fall blooming camellia. Spread the interest so to speak. A cultivar like 'Shibori-egao' is exactly what sets my interest off, though too tall for this spot.

Any suggestions? I would love if it could be a native and have additional uses other than ornament but anything that has pretty form would be great. I want it to be a conversation piece and something not seen too often

Again, I can take a picture today of the spot and post it to give a better idea.

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adriennemb2(z3/4)

Have you tried the trees forum too?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 7:59PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

The Camellia cultivar you mentioned could easily be kept at the height you prefer with annual pruning. I've used that same cultivar here in California as an espaliered shrub below a window, and don't expect any issues long term. I can't really help with other suggestions of plants, because I'm not familiar with such a cold zone. Not all Illicium species are bad smelling in bloom, I grow I. floridanum here and it has no discernable fragrance. Would any of the evergreen and fragrant flowering Osmanthus be hardy enough for your zone?_

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 9:31PM
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oath5(z6b/7a MD)

7a isn't so bad, we hardly dip below 10 degrees. A lot of plants that were formerly thought not hardy here are proving hardy the last few years. I have some cape fuchsia pulling through.

Yes, 'Goshiki' osmanthus is fully hardy here and I planted quite a few at my cousins. They can get massive I saw a mature specimen at a nursery near her house. I worry it will not fill the space as they are very slow growing though and more rotund than tall.

I have seen a few other osmanthus at nurseries but they aren't offered here too much due to our area having variable dips in zones, it's super erratic so many places don't carry certain things and its only in the last few years that more solid zone 7 plants have been showing up in MD at nurseries. Our yard is definitely zone 7a though.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 3:58AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Ill toss out the suggestion for another slow growing evergreen shrub then, Trochodendron. It has gorgeous glossy green foliage and green stems, looking good year round. Ultimate size is larger, but it is slow, and takes pruning well. The degree of cold is of course relative, I'm more accustomed with designing for 25*F as the lowest low.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 9:55AM
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