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Lesser-Known Shrubs Made Better

I am well into my fortieth year of being a professional gardener and through those decades I have seen a lot of flowering shrubs come and go. Quite often you can date the neighborhood by the plant selections, but the advent of smaller urban yards has created a need for more compact cultivars. Here are a few lesser-known shrubs that have been reinvented through modern breeding to provide longer seasons of bloom, better disease resistance, and smaller overall plants.

Weigela florida ‘Czechmark Trilogy’

Weigela florida 'Czechmark Trilogy'

(📸 Proven Winners)

This Proven Winners selection is a vast improvement over the excessively large ‘Red Prince’ which was a garden staple in landscapes past. This newer cultivar from the Czech Republic bears masses of white trumpet blooms that fade to pink and rose-red, with all three colours borne at the same time. It flowers from late spring into summer and its compact 3-4’ ultimate height makes it ideal for most gardens with part to full sun. Hardy to USDA zone 4.

Spiraea japonica ‘Rainbow Fizz’

Spirea 'Rainbow Fizz' - Bloomin' Easy

(📸 Bloomin' Easy)

The bright yellow foliage of ‘Gold Mound’ and ‘Goldflame’ have been around forever, but they are far too commonplace. Enter ‘Rainbow Fizz’ a Bloomin’ Easy introduction with dazzling leaves that emerge with bronze highlights, shift to bright gold, and then are covered by intense magenta-pink blossoms from late spring into early summer. The foliage comes back to life in the fall when it displays dramatic coppery-red autumn colours. Add to this its USDA zone 3 hardiness and compact 3-4’ height and width and you have a truly versatile shrub option.

Clethra alnifolia ‘Sugartina Crystalina’ (aka Summersweet)

Clethra alnifolia 'Sugartina Crystalina'

(📸 Proven Winners)

Summersweet really deserves a place in more landscapes as it ticks all the right boxes: delicious scent (vanilla & root beer), pollinator friendly (bees and Swallowtail butterflies), deer resistant, tolerant of partial shade, bright yellow autumn foliage, and it even grows in wet soils. This Proven Winners selection avoids the spring rush by blooming midsummer and is quite compact at only 2.5-3’ tall and wide. Hardy to USDA zone 4.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Panther’

Physocarpus 'Panther' - Bloomin' Easy

(📸 Bloomin' Easy)

It’s been more than 20 years since the first burgundy-leaved Ninebark ‘Diabolo’ was introduced, and now Bloomin’ Easy brings us the darkest foliage of all purple Physocarpus, ‘Panther’. At USDA zone 3 it is hardy enough to feature in large containers and there are even pale pink button blooms in summer that contrast the foliage very nicely. At 4-5’ tall and 3-4’ wide, Panther is 30-40% more compact than the older ‘Diabolo’.

Deutzia x ‘Yuki Cherry Blossom’

Deutzia 'Yuki Cherry Blossom' - Proven Winners

(📸 Proven Winners)

This along with its sister plant, ‘Yuki Snowflake’, are two of my current favourite flowering shrubs, and I often include them in many of my garden designs. This improvement of Deutzia x rosea features pink cherry-like spring blooms that literally smother the canopy, and its compact size (2’ x 2’) make it ideal for container culture, edging a border, or even using as a tall groundcover on a sunny slope. Add to that its deer resistance, burgundy-purple fall foliage, and attraction for hummingbirds and you have a great all-round flowering shrub. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Itea virginica ‘Fizzy Mizzy’ (aka Sweetspire)

Itea 'Fizzy Mizzy' - Proven Winners

(📸 Proven Winners)

Sweetspire has always been an outlander in most gardens, but this new variety from Proven Winners should put it back on the map. Expect an attractive mounded growth habit (2-3’ tall and wide) with deep green foliage that shifts to a burgundy-red when grown in sun. This is studded with fragrant white flower spikes over the entire canopy in early summer that attracts both bees and butterflies. ‘Fizzy Mizzy’ tolerates moist soils and will even bloom reasonably well in open shade. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Potentilla fruticosa ‘Bella Bellissima’

Potentilla 'Bella Bellissima' - Bloomin' Easy

(📸 Bloomin' Easy)

It would take a lot of improvements for me to include Potentilla in this article, as I have never been much of a fan of this shrub in the past. But this Bloomin’ Easy introduction features intense rich pink blooms (which will fade to a creamy pink in the heat) that are larger and semi-double in form, making ‘Bella Bellissima’ a much better ornamental. The flowers are borne all summer long on this compact (2-3’ tall and wide) cultivar and the USDA zone-2 hardiness make it almost bulletproof to those cold winter snaps.

Calycanthus x ‘Aphrodite’

Calycanthus 'Aphrodite' - Proven Winners

(📸 Proven Winners)

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) has always been a rarity in gardens, much in part to its ultimate size (8-10’ tall) and the fact that it is usually not found at most garden centres. This new hybrid Calycanthus from Proven Winners is widely available and is a little more compact (6-8’ tall) but features larger blooms, which much resemble a burgundy-red Magnolia that are borne all summer long. ‘Aphrodite’ could prove to be a useful planting in fence corners or in the center of island beds where a mid-height flowering shrub displays quite well. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

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