In my last column I talked about some shrubs that I have found to be helpful in my own garden to set a tone and act as the bones of the garden. This week, I want to tell you about some lovely native plants that can also be used as background plants for the flower beds.
Knowing how aggressive some of our native plants can be (think salal and horsetails), I have chosen several native shrubs that are well-mannered and will stay put – for the most part – where they are planted.
The first shrub to consider is the Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). These are good alternatives to the invasive butterfly bushes, and can get to be quite large at six to ten feet tall and wide. This shrub likes moist soil but, once established, will tolerate a wide range of moisture and soil conditions. It does like rich soil in full sun to partial shade and will grow quite quickly to ten feet. But it also tolerates heavy pruning to keep it under control. It blooms throughout the summer months with fuzzy white globes of sweetly-scented flowers. Butterflies flock to enjoy its pollen. The glossy green oval foliage turns yellow in the fall, with clusters of dried “nutlets” staying all winter. The irregular winter silhouette can be quite attractive and foliage will emerge in late spring. This is when it can be reshaped and dead growth removed.
I am also taken with the Ceanothus thyrsiflorus, also known as wild lilac or Blue Blossom. In fact, it is one of the favorite shrubs in my garden. Considered to be a native of California and Southern Oregon, I still consider it native to our area as it does so well and can be commonly found. In spring and early summer, it puts out masses of deep blue flowers that float like clouds above the dark green foliage. Ceanothus flowers are said to be fragrant, but I can’t say I have noticed this in the one I have. This plant is an evergreen shrub, but it, too, gets quite large at four to twelve feet high and wide. It tolerates drought once established and blooms for an extended period of time. Ceanothus can be used as a specimen plant, as a hedge, or – when lower branches are pruned – as a tree in a small garden. The height can be easily controlled by pruning the crown but take the old stems down to main branches within the crown to encourage nice growth.
A plant I was surprised to see on the invasive list for the Pacific Northwest is the Cotoneaster. In fact, it is considered invasive in the states surrounding the Great Lakes and California, too. Instead, try the Pinemat Manzanita (Arctosaphylos nevadensis) which is considered native from British Columbia south to California. This shrub is good to use as a groundcover as it grows one to two feet tall and two to six feet wide. It produces pink, waxy flowers in the spring that develop into red-brown berries that often stay on the plant through the winter. The oval, leathery green leaves are held upright on the plant, and hide the mahogany-colored stems. This makes a great weed-free groundcover, or cascade it over a wall. It also helps with erosion control. Pinemat Manzanita prefers well-drained soil, even sandy or loamy soil. It does like full sun to part shade. Although it is heat and drought tolerant, ample summer moisture helps it grow better. And while it may take a few years to fully establish, it is worth the wait.
A larger, more impressive Manzanita is the Arctostaphylos Columbiana or Hairy Manzanita. This Manzanita forms tight mounds of six to ten feet tall and wide with foliage all the way to the ground. This is an evergreen shrub with small, hairy elliptical leaves of a blue-green color. Terminal clusters of white or pale pink flowers that are bell-shaped are quite showy. They turn to bright red berries that last into winter. This Manzanita can be used as a hedge, screen or specimen plant and is good for erosion control. They like moist, sandy soil (loamy is okay, too) and should be planted in full sun to light shade. You won’t have to prune this one very often, as the crown stays nice and tight. But do keep this one deeply watered to keep this tough and adaptive plant happy.
There are, of course, some other very nice native shrubs used easily in most gardens. Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), for example, has some unusual bark that makes it a year-round shrub of interest in the garden. Easy to grow as well. The American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and Twinberry (Lonicera involucrate)are two more I can name that do well on the coast, are lovely in the garden and uncomplicated to grow.
And once again I say, “So many plants, so little garden space!”
PS Don’t forget to enter something in the County Fair next Monday.