One upright-growing shrub can serve as a focal point in a bed or mark the beginning of a path, while several placed at the back of a border create a strong backdrop for shorter perennials in front.
Dwarf Russian Almond
(Prunus tenella, 1.5 m tall, 1 m wide)
This shrub has pink flowers in May and small, red fruit-loved by birds-in July.
‘Autumn Magic' Black Chokeberry
(Aronia melanocarpa ‘Autumn Magic', 1.5 m tall, 1 m wide)
With fragrant white flowers in spring, glossy leaves in summer, brilliant red leaves in fall and black berries for birds, what more could we ask from a plant?
(Philadelphus ‘Miniature Snowflake' 90 cm tall, 80 cm wide)
Finally, gardeners can enjoy a small-scale, fragrant version of mock orange. ‘Miniature Snowflake,' a relatively new introduction, is dotted with small, white, double flowers in June.
The long, flexible stems of fountain-shaped or arching shrubs offer drama and movement to a plant combination. Like variegated plants, use sparingly to maintain their impact.
(Symphoricarpos var. albus laevigatus, 2 m tall, 1 m wide)
This shrub works well as an accent plant at the back of a border. Plants have dark green leaves on arching branches, pink flowers in June and tight clusters of opaque white berries in August.
Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica)
Both ‘Picta' syn. ‘Variegata' (90 by 90 cm) and the more common ‘Pleniflora' double kerria (1.5 m by 1.5 m) have double, yellow flowers from June to August, and their green stems add colour to the winter landscape. Caveat: these shrubs sucker.
Spreading, prostrate shrubs
These low growers work best in front, knitting one section to the next, helping guide the eye through the space. Low-growing shrubs that also cascade are perfect at the edge of a raised bed.
(Cotoneaster nanshan, 15 cm tall, 80 cm wide)
A highly abundant species, one of the most diminutive of these is early creeping cotoneaster (c. nanshan). Its glossy, tiny, round leaves turn bright red in fall, and birds snack on the vibrant red berries that follow.
Not just for foundation plantings, compact cultivars such as ‘Blue Star', ‘Blue Chip' and ‘Blue Carpet' are refined enough for the most elegant border. Their beautiful blue foliage complements a bed of pastel pink, blue and lavender perennials.
(Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa')
Cutleaf Stephanandra has graceful branches reaching about 90 centimetres in length. Leaves are finely cut like a fern's and turn a deep plum in fall; it produces white flowers in June.
Photo: 'Blue Star' juniper, Jerry Pavia.