In many of the gardens that caught my eye this past year, perennial and annual flowers were used sparingly as splashes of color rather than the foundations of the garden. The real flesh and bones of the gardens were the woody ornamentals — both trees and shrubs — that provided both texture and structure throughout the landscape. With these gardens as inspiration, I’ve decided to continue to replace some overused perennials (like the Rudbeckia that has reseeded itself to ubiquity) in my landscape with woody plants.
The first of these new shrubs is Forsythia ‘Sunrise’. Now you may have the exact reaction to hearing the name Forsythia that I have. Forsythia give you one or two weeks of somewhat garish yellow in the spring, and then morph into an unwieldy, weedy mess by summer’s end. That was before I saw ‘Sunrise’ at a local nursery. The maroon and yellow fall coloring of this cultivar is so beautiful, I wouldn’t care if it never flowered. While I’m sure that ‘Sunrise’ is named for its spring flowers, it would also be aptly named ‘Sunset’ for its autumn color that mimics many a Midwest evening sky during harvest.
‘Sunrise’ grows to a reasonably 5′ x 5′ mature size and is especially cold hardy in Zone 5. I’ve planted the two three-gallon specimens along the southern rail of the back deck, between a large Baptisia australis and a newly-planted Hydrangea quercifolia and beneath a large Clematis ternifolia that grows long the deck rail.
My second shrub planting this fall was a three-gallon Viburnum rhytidophylloides ‘Allegheny’. Ever since I was told the old dendrological adage — “When in doubt, guess Viburnum” — I’ve wanted an example of this genus in my home garden. ‘Allegheny’ grows a full 10′ x 10′ at maturity. It’s now located as the anchor at the sunny edge of my shade garden, nestled into a corner of the fence that separates the back and front yards. This has been a trouble spot for me over the years, and I hope that ‘Allegheny’ will finally provide an aesthetic specimen outside the living room window.
With a local garden center going out of business this fall, I doubt these two shrubs will be the last new woodies I plant as I continue the transition from a garden that relies primarily on perennials and annuals to one with stronger flesh and bones.