Need focal point shrub/tree suggestions for these shady spots?

oath5(z6b/7a MD)March 20, 2012

Need some advice. 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).

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.

It can range from 6-10 feet tall and about 3-4 wide? I need it to contrast with a promenade of 'Nikko Blue' hydrangea that go alongside the rest of the length of the deck.

It's part-sun for sure. The Rhodo was happy for many years before it got sick.

Was thinking maybe a itea ilicifolia? Need something bold and pretty and while it might be good to be evergreen it doesn't have to be. Something tall and spreading could be a good contrast to the hydrangea and be a conversation piece

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oath5(z6b/7a MD)

Here I want to replace this eunonymous, which after getting damaged by the blizzard two years ago hasn't done anything and was pretty basic when it was big. This one can be 5-7 tall and doesn't have to be evergreen since I have two China Girl hollies and as you can see some leucothoe in the same bed. It's definitely part shade.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 3:12AM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Would abelia be too common for you? I'm not familiar with Itea ilicifolia, but have a few Itea virginicas (Henry's Garnet). I love the spring blooms and the fall color.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 11:09AM
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oath5(z6b/7a MD)

abelia is very common and too short for what I'm looking for here unfortunately. People use them for foundation shrubs/hedges.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 12:12PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

I was thinking Chinese Abelia, but if it's too common it's too common. ;)

Here is a link that might be useful: Chinese Abelia

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 5:02PM
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Maybe a kalmia? How much sun does that spot get?

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 9:46AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Maybe you could define - for yourself if for no one else - what "special" means to you. There are so many ways that shrubs can be special, especially from a close-up perspective.

Let me give you an example. I know that I am a foliage gardener first, and I am also a plant minutiae gardener who likes to see things changing every day, and always having something to anticipate. For example, my favourite plants next to my front steps are Anemonopsis macrophylla, a perennial that takes months to form these little ball-shaped buds and then another eon to open them. Maybe I'm an easy mark, but I watch and enjoy that plant all spring and summer, same with a fern on the other side that unfurls huge fronds one at a time all summer. So for me, no matter how wonderful a flowering display might be (say, lilacs), the undistinguished foliage and (lack of) form of the plant makes it dull for me, especially because if something like that is next to the deck, by the time you can sit out there, there is nothing more to look forward to with it. It's done for the year.

Your preferences may be totally different. You may be focussed on fragrance, or bloom colour (I go plant shopping with a friend who is into pastels. We never fight over a plant. If it's pink and fragrant she buys it, if it's orange and has great leaves, I do).

Let me start by asking if your rhododendron diagnosis means no rhodos in that spot again? I fortunately haven't had to learn that. But if not by the deck, then perhaps in the other spot? There is a plethora of Rhodos with fabulous foliage and good form, but you have to hunt them down (such as the legendary Sir Charles Lemon that never blooms but with leaves like that, doesn't have to). I personally avoid the ones that turn into green blobs, have undistinguished foliage, and bloom in trusses (I'll flex on the last point to get the first two right).

Now, here's the trick. If you know what you want, you may be able to get it from quite a common shrub. My little laugh at myself is that I have spent probably thousands on special shrubs (not kidding, I'm afraid), but of those that have survived, few have given me the enjoyment that a garden-variety blue hydrangea has - one left behind in a pot by the previous owner; I don't even know what it is. Similarly, because mock orange takes a long time to get its act together each year, I actually really enjoy it (and that might be good for the spot beside the deck but some do get huge... and maybe they can in that spot).

I'm not going to check zones for you, but here are a couple of shrubs I have enjoyed that might work by your deck: Disanthus, Loropetalum fire dance, Fothergilla, and unlikely but true, Rose of Sharon/Hibiscus - in my case, Red Heart. Love the branch structure and grey trunk of my hibiscus. On that note, you might also consider one of the smaller special bark trees, like an Acer griseum or Japanese maple with the stripe bark attribute. Yes, the maples are OK in part sun/shade. And you probably can't grow Edgeworthia, but if you can..

Beside the deck too you might consider specialty conifers. Once you get into them, there are some to die for. Tougher to find one that would work in more shade.

Of the shrubs mentioned so far, I have to say I was all excited about getting an Itea, but in real life: deadly boring. In particular, in my climate it needs good sun to get its famed fall colour. Kalmia too, I just couldn't get too excited about it.

Final word, I promise: by the wall, anything deciduous will lean for the light. I would recommend evergreen for sure there - rhodo if you can. Alternative: put a big focal point container there with something in it that you like.

Karin L

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 5:22PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

PS you might also consider blueberry for beside the deck. Fun watching berries ripen, and then fabulous fall colour.

Karin L

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 8:39PM
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oath5(z6b/7a MD)

Thanks all for the fabulous suggestions!

What's special to me? I love blue, silver, variagated, maroon/plum colored foliage (though sometimes dark green foliage when truly dark green and bold can be truly strapping) and LOVE weeping forms of stuff. Any good weeping ideas?

I am in love with the Heather family, of which both Rhodos, azaleas, and blueberries, leucothoe, kalmia, most of the plants that have those blueberry or andromeda-like flowers are my favorite. Zenobia 'Woodlander's Blue' is a good summation about the entire family of why it's beautiful but it's harder to find in commerce around here.

I have two China Girl hollies in that bed by the wall and yes they do lean so I'm definitely going evergreen there. They've leaned so much they actually have a nice ornamental curve to them now to their main "trunk". I'm considering a rhodo.

Unfortunately yes with the other spot by the stairs I cannot/it's a bad idea to replant rhododendron where one was affected by a fungal infection. It was great for the longest time then started every year just lost a chunk. One part survived and I planted it on the opposite side of the hydrangea promenade. I'd love to just find a spectacular rhododendron to put there but I am afraid it's just a noes go. I think it might also extend to kalima and other heather family relatives too but I could be mistaken that it might only pertain to azalea.
Right now I have currant cuttings rooting there. They've stayed green/are happpy.

We actually CAN grow edgeworthia here, it apparently is blooming or starting to bloom for my aunt, a plant I planted for her last fall. All pictures of form I've loved, I'm just unsure if the foliage during the summer will be enough of a good textural contrast to the Nikko hydrangea. That's really my litmus, I need something that compliments but is totally different than those lettuce leaves and then bare canes in winter.

I've seen Loropetalum fire dance being sold more and more around here at the nursery but never see them planted, as in I never see them in people's front yard gardens or in public spaces so I question if they're a bit too tender.

So yes I was thinking something with a nice pendulous form for the place near the stairs? To echo the giant Japanese weeping cherry we have beside the house..or is that overkill?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 4:51AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Your diversity of plant interest is exactly why I never have a "promenade" or even two of anything; just single specimens, so I can fit in as much variety as possible :-)

It almost sounds like a Japanese maple would be your ideal choice for the spot by the stairs. You could get one that has reddish foliage and weeps, or at least that has a different form from the hydrangeas. I'm thinking Trompenburg, from a foliage perspective, but it is apparently usually a small tree. There is a lower one with darker foliage whose name escapes me at the moment. But usually it is most fruitful to just see what you can get and choose from those, not go hunting for a specific one. To be honest I'm not a big fan of the real weeping look so wouldn't echo the other tree, but a spreading/layering form might be a good complement.

For foliage contrast with the hydrangeas you can't beat the maples. But another family you might consider are the viburnums. V. rhytidophyllum is fabulous up close but it gets huge. There is a nice variegated one... can't remember the name, something like variegata :-). Another big fuzzy leaf is Hydrangea aspera, which is an amazing shrub overall but also gets huge. A nice big smooth shiny leaf is Sinocalycanthus.

Also, the option of a weeping conifer exists, something like Picea 'Bush's Lace'.

Karin L

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 11:38AM
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A native fringe tree (chionanthus virginicus)? Although the bloom season is short, the lacy white flowers are spectacular with a heavenly scent.


    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 9:33PM
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Ostrich ferns. They would look wonderful with the hydrangeas. And it's so fun every spring to watch them unfurl.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 8:13PM
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