Answer: Summersweet Clethra, Clethra alnifolia, is an excellent shrub for year around interest offering fragrant flowers, attractive leaves and interesting form. Its upright growth reaching 3-8 feet tall makes it appropriate for narrow spaces such as next to home foundations or in perennial borders.
Summersweet's finest attributes are its shade tolerance and its late season, long lasting and fragrant flowers. The flowers of white, pink or rose appear when few other plants are blooming in July through August. It has few insect and disease problems but thrives best in moist acidic soils.
Some of Summersweet's notable cultivars include 'Hummingbird' with its 3-4 feet tall low mound and abundantly produced white flowers. 'Rosea' has glossy leaves and pink flowers.
Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, is another native shrub with interesting flowers. Spicebush will grow in deep shade, but its best flowering and fall color occur when it has some sun. The scarlet fruit ripening in August through October is attractive to birds. For best fruiting a male and female shrub is necessary. The stems are spicely aromatic and were once used to make a tea.
Witch Alder, Fothergilla gardenii, is a slow growing shrub only reaching 2-3 feet tall with a compact mounded habit. Another shrub with year around appeal, fothergilla has fragrant flowers of cream colored bottlebrushes. It also flowers now before the leaves appear. It has magnificent fall color of yellow, orange and crimson and will grow in sun or shade. 'Blue Mist' is a very attractive cultivar with blue green leaves.
Some other shrubs for shady spots include: Flameleaf sumac, Rhus copallina, known for its spectacular red purple fall color; Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, renowned for its lovely winter fruit display and great tolerance for wet areas; Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, makes a dramatic show with large white flower panicles, burgundy fall color and cinnamon brown bark; and Hypericum 'Sunburst'shows off its lovely yellow flowers in July when few other shrubs are blooming.
Best wishes with your garden!
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