By Pamela A. Keene
When you drive around Hall County, do you often envy some of the colorful yards you pass by? Truth be told, it’s not that hard to mimic these landscapes by selecting the right kinds of shrubs and planting them in the right conditions. And the good news is that many of these flowering shrubs need very little ongoing maintenance.
“You can plan your garden for a succession of blooms all year long,” says Mary Richards, landscape designer and owner of Garden Harmony Design, www.gardenharmonydesign.net, based in Hall County. “Whether your yard is sunny, shady or some combination, there are plants that highlight every season.”
Bright-yellow forsythia, also known as “Yellow Bells,” is the first harbinger of spring. They are readily available at box retailers and thrive in a mostly sunny spot. “Forsythia brightens your landscape with little effort,” Richards says. “They like full sun – at least six hours – and they like well-drained soil. A bit of fertilizer in the spring and summer will help deliver more blossoms. They can be pruned or shaped right after they finish blooming.”
Shortly after the yellow bells fade, early-blooming azaleas take over the show. “Some bloom as early as March,” Richards says. “And with the number of native azaleas, hybrids and multi-season encores, you have many choices to extend your bloom season. Just be sure you plant them in the correct space based on their mature size.”
Another garden favorite in the South, viburnum provide varied flower forms that range from the football-sized Chinese Snowball to the flatter-blooming doublefile. Some are scented; some also produce berries and colorful foliage in the fall. Look for native varieties to plant in your garden. Chinese snowballs are excellent to cut and bring indoors.
“One of the most popular flowering plants in the South, hydrangeas offer a beautiful show in the summer and you have many varieties that have different bloom forms and bloom times,” Richards says. “Mopheads, the blue, pink or purple ones we typically think of when we think ‘hydrangea,’ like the softer morning light but they do not do well in afternoon sun. Anabelle and Incrediball hydrangeas like a similar environment.
“By far my favorites are the Panicle hydrangeas,” she says. “They thrive in full sun, have pyramid-shaped clusters of blooms that in some varieties start out white and fade to pink. Plus, some have colorful foliage in the fall.”
She suggests shopping for Baby Lace, Strawberry Vanilla, Limelight or PeeGee panicles for your full-sun garden.
Spirea is another flowering shrub that offers many choices for environment and bloom times. “The blossoms, which can range from white to dark pink, are more delicate-looking than hydrangeas,” she says. “They’re a great summer bloomer; just be sure to check the label on the plant for growth habit and bloom time. Gold Mound is very reliable, stays compact and blooms from late June until the first frost.
Gardenias are known for their distinctive fragrance and pure-white blossoms. Over the years, plant hybridizers have created numerous choices, from the large-flowered long-blooming August Beauty that can grow up to six feet tall to the diminutive low-growing Daisy that stays around four feet and has single blooms.
“Gardenias like full or part sun and have fairly low water needs,” Mary says. “With their glossy deep green foliage, they’re evergreens, so they add interest to your winter landscape when so many other shrubs have dropped their foliage. Many types bloom repeatedly throughout the summer.”
Getting spring and summer color can be relatively easy, but when it comes to wintertime, Richards suggests another Southern standard – camellias. “The two most familiar types or the sun-loving sasanquas that bloom in the very early winter, and the japonicas, which have larger, more showy blossoms and bloom in December, January and February,” she says. “They’re both evergreens and stand up pretty well to the cold while giving you a bright spot of color when it’s so dreary outdoors.”
Spring is a good time to add some color to your landscape, color that will come back year after year by choosing blooming shrubs.
“With a little planning and research, you can create an ever-blooming environment that will dazzle your neighbors and passers-by,” Richards says. “Think about your goals and be realistic about what will do best in your yard. I’ve learned over years of designing gardens that the best approach is to look for plants that suit your conditions. We’re fortunate in North Georgia to have so many choices available, from hybrid plants to natives. Sometimes the most difficult part is deciding which plants you like best.”