Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
March, 2010
Regional Report

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Winter daphne is prized for its lovely nosegay clusters of flowers, pervasive perfume, attractive foliage,and neat mounding habit.

Look to Shrubs for a No-Fuss Garden

Though I still consider myself a relatively young and enthusiastic gardener, I admit I'm already beginning to feel the effects of age. I no longer possess the unlimited energy and single-minded passion of yesteryear. Sometimes bones and muscles ache from overwork (or for no reason at all), and occasionally, other pastimes prove more alluring.

I'm not ready to restrict my gardening activities just yet, however. I can't imagine the seasons without their characteristic colors, textures, and fragrances. And I don't want to miss a single day enjoying all the garden has to offer.

Instead, I'm making the process easier and less demanding by planting fewer "prima donnas" and adding more easy-care plants, such as shrubs. By limiting the number of herbaceous ornamentals in the landscape, I'm also reducing the work. These days, there is less bending, kneeling, and crawling around on my hands and knees to dig, divide, and deadhead.

The key to success, however, is to select woody plants that are every bit as exciting as the fussy annuals and perennials they replace. Shrubs with high marks offer fabulous flowers, colorful berries, handsome foliage, interesting bark, beautiful form, delicious fragrance, or a combination of two or more of these stellar qualities.

When making selections, I'm also mindful of the seasons, finding it's equally important to incorporate shrubs that are pleasing in autumn and winter, along those that offer their delights in spring and summer.

Since mid January, I've enjoyed the fragrant blooms of winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), also called Sweet Breath of Spring. Although the creamy-white flowers of this deciduous shrub are small and inconspicuous, their perfume is big and bold. As spring approaches, the number of flowers multiply, and on warm days hundreds of honeybees buzz around its arching, 8-foot tall branches.

More recently, winter daphne (Daphne odora), an evergreen plant with nosegay clusters at the tip of each stem, has opened its cerise buds to reveal pale pink flowers. Prized for its pervasive floral perfume, it is a handsome shrub that grows in a neat mound about 4-feet tall and 6-feet wide. The plant, which can be finicky, requires especially sharp drainage and is happiest in light shade.

If you, too, are ready to add more woody plants to the landscape, take care to choose a wide variety of shrubs with differing foliage and form. Thoughtful consideration of all a plant's characteristics will provide the most abundance of color, as well as the diversity of textures and shapes that enrich a gardener's soul.

I've picked a handful of favorites from each season to share. Before making selections for your own garden, consult a plant encyclopedia to reference growing conditions and cultural requirements, so they will be equally beautiful your landscape.

'Winter Sun' leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia x media)
Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)
Winter daphne (Daphne odora)
Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)
Camellia (Camellia japonica)

'Annabelle' smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
Mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
'Shasta' doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum)
Native azaleas (Rhododendron canescens, among others)

'Knockout' shrub rose (Rosa 'Radrazz')
Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.)
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)

'Tardiva' hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
'Longwood Blue' blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis)
Fatsia (Fatsia japonica)
Sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua)

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