Here’s a sampling of some of the best workhorses for the PNW garden. There are many I’m omitting, but this is a start that I’ll build on as time goes on.
Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’
This Gold Dust Aucuba is a lovely choice for shade. It’s evergreen and grows in a nice tight shape that rarely needs pruning. It likes the cool, cloudy conditions of the Northwest though I’ve seen several older ones growing unhappily in full sun. In hot sun, this shrub will sag. The beautiful leaves will burn and yellow. It likes a a northern or eastern exposure. Here its large glossy yellow-dotted leaves brighten up any dark area. I’ve paired it with coral bark maples and deep indigo fuchsias. It’s a low-maintenance shrub for the back of the border. Can reach 8-10 feet.
Callicarpa ‘Summer Snow’
A gorgeous shrub (introduced in 2012) for late fall/winter interest in the Northwest garden. ‘Profusion’ has leaves that emerge a purplish color before fading to green but the real show comes in late autumn when it sets steely purple berries on its branches. ‘Summer Snow’ is a recent introduction that like ‘Profusion,’ likes at least part-sun and can take afternoon sun. But its leaves are peppered with white for a beautiful variegated color. The only drawback to this or any callicarpa is the pruning. It can be a gangly plant and if you try to head it back, it will pop up in more lateral directions. Instead, prune out entire canes from the base. Or let it grow the leggy way it likes and enjoy anyway. Can reach 5-6 feet.
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘El Dorado’
This ceanothus is interesting for its variegated foliage. The flowers are typical small flowers, light blue in color, and attracts lots and lots of bees. But the foliage is the real show. And I love how this shrub, when it gets established and happy, shoots up in various V branches, creating a wild look that reminds me of the nature preserves on the California coast. A truly reliable shrub, hardy in the Northwest, usually disease-free, evergreen. Needs little pruning. Grows 8-10 feet high. I love it.
Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’
Another gorgeous, low-maintenance ceanothus. What’s unique about ‘Julia Phelps’ is it has tiny, sticky leaves and flowers that are encased in purplish buds so that as its blooms are opening, you have a two-toned purple and blue effect. Just stunning. Also, this ceanothus is one of the shorter ceanothus shrubs. It’s not a monster like ‘Victoria.’ It’s form is wider than tall. Loves full sun, attracts bees and butterflies.
Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’
There are several neat cultivars of cotinus but I can’t rise above the enchanting purple foliage with pink veins of ‘Royal Purple.’ Its color is simply the strongest and steadiest of the purple cultivars, I’ve found. Its smoke-like blossoms are airy and also dark purple and the fall color is peachy reddish orange. This shrub, when it gets happy, can reach mondo huge heights of twelve, fifteen feet so watch out.
Fuchsia magellanica ‘Aurea’
There are a thousand pictures of this shrub online but I found this one from a German gardening website to be the best rendition of what I think of this plant when I see and imagine it. Shooting branches of yellowish, chartreuse foliage with drooping purple and magenta flowers. It’s a wider than tall, rounded shrub and hardy in the Pacific Northwest. Fuchsias bloom long into fall, sometimes up to around Thanksgiving and attract hummingbirds. They rarely get diseases but can get twiggy. Hard pruning, however, can solve that problem.
Rosa glauca / rubrifolia
Cool blue foliage with dark pink tinted flowers makes this shrub rose one-of-a-kind. I like to use it near Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ so the purplish buds and blue flowers recall the blue foliage. It makes a great back-of-the-border plant as it grows tall, six feet or more. It needs little pruning, mainly to remove dead or wonky branches and almost never gets any kind of blackspot or other rose diseases. I love it next to a brilliant orange honeysuckle vine or peach alstroemeria, which is where it is in my perennial garden at home.
Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’
I frequently use all of the choisya shrubs in garden designs for clients but this Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’ is a standout because of its foliage. Narrow, narrow leaves create a feathery effect on this wider than tall shrub. Then in late spring, fragrant, citrus-scented white flowers fill the air with their fragrance. It’s kind of tender in the Northwest but I haven’t lost one and I’ve been growing them for at least 10 years.
Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’
Usually sumacs self-seed like crazy and they’re a big hassle but this smaller 4-5 foot shrub doesn’t. More importantly, it offers gorgeous serrated, chartreuse foliage that turns a bright orange in fall. I love the fuzzy “deer antler” or “stag horn” stems in winter.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Variegata’
There are dozens of beautiful hydrangeas but I find I always have to incorporate this variegated one into clients’ and my own gardens. The leaves display a delicate white edge, giving it a light green appearance. It’s a part-shade shrub so in the evening and/or in the shade, the light blue, lace cap flowers absolutely float atop their branches. So elegant.