Shrubs are the bones of the garden

By Dorothy Dobbie

Now is a perfect time to plant shrubs.

Never has the world of shrubs been more enticing. There are so many beautiful varieties that can be grown for their form and foliage alone and if they flower, then that is a bonus. Here is a small sampling of some tried and true species that are easy to grow and will grace any garden.


Five beautiful barberries

Japanese barberries have replaced the old wheat-rust-prone varieties. These thorny shrubs (thorns discourage browsing animals) come in glowing colours, fabulous shapes and convenient sizes to fit any need. They range in colour from vibrant pink to purple and green, to shrieking chartreuse.

‘Aurea Nana’ is a compact little beauty that grows 90 cm (36 inches) by 80 cm (30 in) wide and keeps its tidy, mounded shape. The bright lime coloured leaves are small and rounded.

‘Rose Glow’ has stunning leaves, mottled pink and purple, that shimmer in the light. It grows to about 4.5 feet tall by four feet wide and has a nice rounded form.

‘Royal Cloak’ has oblong, velvety dark, red-purple leaves with red new growth and silvery-greenish undersides. It is four to five feet tall and about four feet wide. The branches are upright and arching.

‘Emerald Carousel’ has dark green leaves with a thin golden line at the edges. The leaves turn reddish in the fall. At three to four feet tall, it is rounded with arching branches.


Smokebush and elder

But barberries aren’t all the news. The glorious purple smokebush, ‘Royal Purple’, with its round purple leaves and smoky plumes of pink flowers, is in a class by itself. It was rated zone 5, but Jeffries rate it as zone 3. It can grow six to 10 feet tall in a sheltered location. Mine is so happy in a south-facing back yard that it has to be pruned back every year. It is about 15 years old.

If you love the lemon-limes colours, try golden elder, ‘Sutherland Gold’. It has an upright habit and grows to about six feet tall. The lacy leaves start out bronze, then mature to a golden yellow. Happy in just about any soil, it produces clusters of creamy yellow flowers followed by glossy red berries in fall. It can tolerate a bit of shade but does best in sunlight. It can be cut back in early spring to encourage new growth and colour.



Ninebark, with its cranberry-like leaves, is a very reliable shrub in Manitoba.

‘Royal Jubilee’ ninebark was introduced is 2018 and has dark purple foliage and dark red blossoms. This is a smaller shrub with a mature height and spread of three to four feet.

‘Amber Jubilee’, named for the Queen’s visit to Winnipeg in 2012, is a real winner with amber to gold leaves in spring and early summer, darkening to purple in fall. Its spread is three to four feet and it can reach five to ten feet tall.

Ninebark flowers grow in umbels or clusters of tiny flowers.


The “W” shrubs

It used to be very hard to find a silver-leafed shrub, but one that comes to mind is the wolf willow or silverberry. The import from the wilds will sucker, but Jeffries has introduced a lovely cross with a Russian olive, that stays in place. Silvery leaves gladden the heart with its cool dance in a sunny garden. It has silver white berries.

Winterberry, Ilex verticulata is lovely against the new fallen snow. This large shrub has exfoliating, black twigs and stems and bright red berries that cling to it parent most of the winter. The deep green leaves turn yellow in fall before they drop.


For scent’s sake

Very little beats the heavenly perfume of lilac, but mock orange flowers, smelling like jasmine and orange, comes close. A new variety is ‘Aureus’, so named for its golden-yellow leaves in springtime which become yellow green as the season progresses.

This is just a small sampling of the possibilities. There are also many dwarf evergreens that come in a variety of shapes and textures. Some of the loveliest gardens I have seen contain nothing but an educated and well thought-out plantation of shrubs.

Dorothy Dobbie is the publisher of Manitoba Gardener magazine. Listen to her weekly garden show in CJNU 93.7FM every Sunday morning at 8.