I really, really love a lot of different shrubs but since I’m trying to narrow down the choices, here are my top ten plus some honorable mentions.
Crimson Queen Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’)
Zone 5 Ht: 5’ Spr: 5’
Bright crimson red colour holds well during summer on this mounding shrub with finely cut leaves and graceful, pendulous branches. Dislikes clay soil, unprotected location, strong north winds and direct sunlight. Otherwise not picky at all!!
Serviceberry (Amalanchier Canadensis)
Zone 4 Ht: 20’ Spr: 10’
My all-time favourite!! It can be trained as a tree or a shrub. It has three- season interest: gorgeous snowy white flowers in spring, red-purple fruit for the birds in summer and bright scarlet-red fall colour.
Silveredge Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’)
Zone 2 Ht: 5’ Spr: 4’
A great staple in the flower bed or front yard. This variety has variegated cream and green leaves that turn rosy burgundy in autumn. During winter, its bright red-purple branches stand out well against the snow.
Royal Purple Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’)
Zone 5 Ht: 7-8’ Spr: 7-8’
A great substitute for Purple Leaf Sandcherry (Prunus x cistena) when you want a shot of burgundy on the landscape. All the sandcherries I’ve ever had have been very vulnerable in often complete sections have died out come spring. The Smoke Tree has the same burgundy colour but is much hardier and has the advantage of having long lasting airy flower clusters that look like ‘smoke’ from a distance.
Slender Deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)
Zone 5 Ht: 3’ Spr: 4’
An underused small shrub with masses of flowers in spring on arching, bright green branches. So pretty!
Winged Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
Zone: 3 Ht: 8’ Spr: 6.5’
Funny how Magnolia can be on “beloved but Faulty” list with its fast-fading beauty whereas Burning Bush has similar faults and it makes my Favourites list! Oh well – the bush is not much during spring and summer but what a blazing autumn show it puts on even for a few short weeks. It comes in a smaller form as well (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’).
Goldflame Spirea (Spiraea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’)
Zone 2b Ht: 2.6’ Spr: 3’
A wonderful small shrub that goes from bright golden foliage in spring and summer to copper orange in fall. Other good spireas are ‘Anthony Waterer’ (beautiful mauve pink flower heads in mid-summer) and ‘Alpine Spirea’, a tiny dainty, fine-textured shrub great for grouping, edging or as a ground cover.
Marie’s Doublefile Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’)
Zone 5 Ht: 8’ Spr: 8’
Try to find space in your garden for one of my all-time favourites Marie’s Doublefile Viburnum. A gorgeous, dark green foliage shrub that holds large creamy white flowers “horizontally” on its branches. Will grow in sun or shade. Another beauty I’ve had in my garden for many years (it even survived a transplant) is Viburnum burkwoodii, with its glossy, semi-evergreen leaves and very fragrant white flowers in early spring. I have it right outside the back patio doors so I can smell it in May!
Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
Zone 5 Ht: 4’ Spr: 4’
Another all-time favourite! A completely different shrub from the regular snowball hydrangeas. It’s huge oak-shaped leaves turn bronzy copper in autumn but not before it produces huge, long conical flower clusters that start out white, then turn pink and finally bronze. Mine grows really well in very dense, dark shade, whereas the guide books often say to grow it in full sun or semi-shade.
Variegated Weigela (Weigela ‘Nana variegata’)
Zone 5 Ht: 4’ Spr: 5’
Lovely light pink flowers grown on the green and cream variegated leaf branches. A real stand-out!
Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris)
Zone 3 Ht: 13’ Spr: 6.5
Who doesn’t love a lilac in the garden? Wonderful fragrant deep mauve flowers in June. Great for cutting and bringing into the house but here’s a practical trick: smash up the ends of the branches with a hammer and then place them into the vase. They last a full week this way, because there’s lots more surface area for the water to get in!
Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)
Zone 4 Ht: 6.5 Spr: 6.5
Nothing says spring has arrived in Ontario like a forsythia in full golden yellow bloom!
Diane Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’)
Zone 4 Ht: 8’ Spr: 6.5
An excellent specimen with colourful bright red flowers in spring and red, yellow and orange fall colours.
Great but Underused
Here’s list of wonderful shrubs that hardly anyone knows about or uses:
Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Zone 4 Ht: 16’ Spr: 13’
Called a tree but really a large shrub. In July, this gorgeous specimen has masses of outstanding white flowers.
Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles japonica)
Zone 5 Ht: 4’ Spr: 4’
Terrific small shrub with spicy fragrant fruit, vivid clusters of orange-red flowers and dense bushy growth. But watch those thorns!!
Red Vein Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus)
Zone 5 Ht: 10’ Spr: 5’
Stunning shrub for shade with pendulous creamy yellow flowers and a brilliant orange-red autumn foliage.