Drimys winteri ‘Pewter Pillar.’ I love this tree for its broad greenish-blue leaves and interesting texture. It reminds one of a madrona or evergreen magnolia, but is in a class all of its own. Its evergreen and has a rubbery, almost succulent texture to the leaves and newly grown branches. The crown is oval-shaped when mature but a little gangly when young. I don’t mind this, it’s a tree that pairs well with dark-foliaged plants, brightly colored flowers, small-leaved shrubs, or brilliant fall foliage (as in the picture here with Stewartia monadelpha). Very easy care, needs little pruning but seems to adjust well to it. It’s sailed through the harsh frosts we’ve had here in the Pacific Northwest for the last few years. It’s officially hardy to Zone 7. I haven’t seen a bug or disease problem yet. Is known as a smallish tree, 15-20 feet but in the wild grows taller. Love this tree.
Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ is an unassuming little plant that packs a big pop in the garden. It has icy blue foliage that keeps its color and form all year round. Pair it with magenta Salvia or magenta Bee Balm and you’ve got a stunning combination. It also creates an interesting contrast with dark foliaged plants like purple lysimachia or Geranium maculatum ‘Elizabeth Ann.’ ‘Blue Star’ grows slowly in a low clump to about 2-3 feet tall and as wide. It’s an evergreen conifer that’s particularly tough, hardy to Zone 4. It can take hot hot sun and dry soil. All the more reason to incorporate it into your garden.
In the Northwest, most gardeners have more shade in their backyards than they need. These dark spots can be a little depressing and dare I say, creepy. Remedying the situation is simple, use variegated or yellow-leaved plants to brighten up the area. One such lovely is Aucuba japonica ‘Mr. Goldstrike.’ It and its cousin ‘Gold Dust’ are drought-tolerant, evergreen shrubs that love our abundant rain and can survive an occasional freeze. Oftentimes, around town, I see Aucuba growing in too much sun, its dark green color bleached out, its tropical looking leaves dry and brittle. Don’t plant this shrub in the sun! Or even part-sun if it’s a hot afternoon space. It loves loves loves the shade. And it needs little care after planted in decent soil. Disease-resistant, it can take pruning but needs little to none. I feature ‘Mr. Goldstrike’ here because its yellow spotting is more prevalent on the leaves than other varieties, which gives it a bright glowy appearance beneath a gray Northwest sky.
Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ or Tiger Eyes. This dwarf staghorn sumac is a bright orange beacon at this time of year! I have it in full sun in a border at the back of my yard and it lights up the entire area. I wish I’d planted three. In summer the shaggy, divided yellow foliage brings a nice contrast to grasses or dark-leaved shrubs. It grows in almost a drape-like form with most of the leaves at the top of its structure. This allows for a purple wallflower or pink peony to prettily screen its knees. This is a tough sumac that’s hardy down to Zone 4, tops out at five or six feet, and doesn’t sucker. One of my favorite shrubs.
Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ is a reliable shrub whose most alluring asset is its bright yellow new growth. That coupled with the older deep green foliage gives this plant a two-toned effect. Pair it with a purple piece of art of a purple plant like a Smokebush or even a Beautyberry and it absolutely pops. ‘Sundance’ likes a lot of sun but is most happy in shade in the afternoon. Otherwise, it will scorch and brown. It will also work in a northern border but the yellow foliage will be more chartreuse, which is still pretty. This shrub is a great backbone shrub, evergreen, grows in an easy-to-maintain ball shape, and is free of disease. Occasionally, I’ll see some holes from slugs or what not. Otherwise, it’s happy happy in the Northwest garden. Grows to about five feet tall and wide.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nigra’ has lovely blackish-wine colored stems and pretty mop head flowers. I love it because throughout this incredibly dry summer in Seattle, it hardly wilted at all. It is in dappled, then full shade in the afternoon but I was still shocked when my other shade plants would be drooping and this sweet thing was still standing up straight! The blossoms can’t be beat with those classic pom-poms. The pink color was so rich this year — and long lasting. I think I counted three months that this plant held its color! I’m just so impressed, Grows to about four feet tall by four feet wide. Likes dappled light, afternoon shade for sure. Deciduous.
Elderberry shrubs come in yellow, variegated, purple, and dark dark almost black purple now. I love them all. Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ is particularly stunning though for its lacey, delicate foliage and pretty corymbs of whitish pink flowers. Like any Sambucus, it is crunchy and brittle in its branches, grows tall and wild (this shows mine after a deep cut back in early spring) but wow, what an impact it has in a border. It truly does have almost black foliage. The birds love it in fall when it produces berries. This is a full sun plant though I’ve grown them in part-shade, where they tend to get a more open, leggier habit. Once established in full sun, they’re drought tolerant.
Weigela florida ‘Variegata’ is a reliable shrub with elegant, green-yellow leaves and sensual pink blossoms in June. It’s a tumbling shrub, so if you’re looking for neat and tidy, try Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ or even ‘French Lace.’ But I love the straight ‘Variegata’ because it’s so darn easy and pretty. The entire plant is covered in flowers for almost a month, starting in May. It takes full sun, but appreciates afternoon shade. Grows to about five feet tall and maybe four feet wide. Super disease resistant, hardy to zone 4. If you know little about growing shrubs, grow this one.
Azalea ‘Mandarin Lights’ is a deciduous shrub growing to about four to five feet high by three to four feet wide. Its vibrant, deep orange color knocks your socks off from several yards away. Unlike other deciduous azaleas, which have a yellowish to light orangish color, ‘Mandarin Lights’ boasts a rich, dark orange color. It blooms for at least two weeks in May. I’ve planted this beauty in a partly shaded, well-drained spot. It gets hot blasts of sun from about one o’clock until about five in the afternoon. It doesn’t miss a beat. Its leaves stay upright and happy, even in drought-like conditions. I give it supplemental water when I can, but that’s the thing, when I can. Otherwise, it’s on its own and it performs wonderfully. Love it.
Viburnum carlesii. The sweet, strong fragrance of this deciduous shrub will hit you from several yards away. It’s one of the more cheery sights in April in the Pacific Northwest. It grows to about six feet tall and about six feet wide. Some cultivars have gorgeous reddish-orange color in fall. I love this shrub because it’s virtually carefree. I don’t have to prune it or worry about diseases. It likes sun and grows perfectly in sun with afternoon shade. Hardy to Zone 4.
Ribes sanguineum ‘Brocklebankii.’ A yellow/chartreuse-leaved cultivar of the decorative currant. It brightens up a part-shade space and has the same pretty drooping, magenta flowers as ‘King Edward.’ I’ve found it to be slower growing and bushier rather than tall and upright, it grows 4-6′ tall and about the same as wide. It likes Zone 6-8 climates.
I love Helleborus x ballardiae not only because of its blue-green foliage, but its pink veination, toothy leaves, and luscious, dusty mauve flowers. This one still looks gorgeous in 25-degree weather. Its leaves are holding their form and color, the flowers are about to pop. The flowers look so delicate and yet robust. I have this hellebore in a north border that gets one-third day’s morning sun in summer. It’s paired with Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach,’ whose purplish leaf undersides and stems recall the hellebore’s pink veins, stems and flowers. The heuchera’s dark orange to maroon colored leaves contrast stunningly with the blue-green foliage. This combination would be an excellent choice for a shade or autumn container.
Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn.’ This is a disease-resistant, vigorous V-shaped shrub that gets gorgeous pink flowers in winter. In early January, mine are covered with buds that start popping open in mid-January. The little tubular flowers are fragrant and bloom on bare branches, giving it a delicate and sculptural effect. I often put this plant by clients’ front doors or often-used walkways. In winter, we spend the most outdoor time walking from our driveway or sidewalk into our house so why not make the experience that much more pleasurable? This shrub grows to about ten feet tall in both part-shade or full sun. It’s super adaptable to different conditions. Needs little pruning, which has to be mostly done at the base or else you’ll create a wonky-shaped shrub. During the growing season, it displays pretty corrugated leaves on reddish stems. The bark gets peely with age. Lots to like about Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ if you live in the Northwest.
Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion.’ Commonly called beautyberry. I often plant these shrubs for clients by front doors or front walkways. Because in December, when no other shrubs are doing anything special, callicarpa beautifies a house or yard with its clusters of metallic purple berries. It’s a wonderful shrub in summer too because the leaves emerge with a dark purple tint, adding even more interest. Callicarpa ‘Summer Snow,’ is a variegated version. I’ve grown it for about a year now and it seems just as happy and hardy as ‘Profusion.’ Callicarpa ‘Duet’ has white berries and ‘Splashy’ has mostly white variegation. Callicarpa americana is I think the native shrub, taller, and has slightly more magenta colored berries. The flowers on all are small, nothing too special but oh, those prominent winter berries … love it.
Fatsia japonica. Commonly called Japanese Fatsia. It’s crazy that we can grow something so tropical looking in the Northwest. But it’s fairly hardy here and I’ve never had one die. It pairs well with other plants that like shade and have big leaves like acanthus mollis or hosta sieboldiana. The leaves are dark, glossy green and the shrub loves a northern or eastern exposure. In November in Western Washington, it blooms in tall, odd-looking whitish ball flowers. I love a healthy fatsia.
Oxydendrum arboreum. Commonly known as sourwood or sorrel tree. Gorgeous fiery red leaves that turn often when the creamy, cascading flowers are in bloom or fading from bloom, making for a stunning combination. This photo shows a just version of the tree’s young form.