abc logo Selecting Compatible Shrubs and Small Trees
Rhododendron ABC's #21

Ground covers and low growing plants as rhododendron companions were covered in the last ABC's issue. I should now like to mention some shrubs which can be used to make a rhododendron collection more interesting and attractive. In this issue, I shall briefly describe some shrubs that will remain less than 10 feet tall when grown over a period of 10 to 15 years. There are so many candidates from which to choose that it is really hard to say that any one is really better than the others, so I will just mention a few that I have found to be satisfactory.

Among my special favorites are the various color forms of the Butterfly Bush,Buddlea Davidii. This plant from China, where it grows in the midst of rhododendrons, is attractive in several ways. It blooms profusely and, as the name implies, is a magnet for butterflies. I have seen in my garden as many as two dozen swallow-tails at one time in and around one flowering clump. Also, it is easy to keep the plant in bounds as it can be cut back severely in the winter and this causes it to bloom even more profusely. The best clone appears to be one called, Royal Red. Another Buddlea, which is a little harder to find, Buddlea globosa. This plant is called Orange Balland hails from Chile. It is interesting, but is not as hardy as the Davidii species.

Just about the very best shrub for Fall color is the European Smoke-tree, Cotinus coggygria This plant was once placed in the same Genus as poison ivy and was called Rhus continu.s Fortunately, it does not contain the poison principal common to the Genus Rhus and one can grow it with no chance of being stricken by it! The name, Smoketree, comes from its large panicles of feathery, filmy, fruiting panicles. Its best characteristic is, however, its outstanding leaf color in the Fall. This past season, the colors were especially vibrant orange, yellow and red. There is also a form called, purpureus, which has purple leaves and panicles with dark purple hairs.

A number of conifers, which are normally large forest trees, have small varieties that are very interesting and worth growing in gardens where space is limited. About the best of these for me is a form of the Japanese timber tree,Cryptomeria japonica. Interestingly, this plant has no common name and normally can be grown to more than 100 feet tall in its native habitat. Several low growing clones have been found and these can add interest and beauty to any garden. Generally, these low growing plants form themselves into rounded, very attractive ball-like specimens and as cold weather approaches, their branches can take on a bronze-purple hue which is very striking.

Unfortunately, with limited space, it is not possible to describe many other very nice shrubs as companion plants, but I should like to at least mention a few that are worth considering. The Red Osier Dogwood,cornus stolonifera, is notable for its dark red-colored branches in the winter. Several species of Daphne make fine interest points in the garden, especially Daphne mezereum with its fragrant lilac-purple flowers which are followed by scarlet, berry-like fruit in the summer. It is well to remember that these berries are poisonous and can cause trouble if they are ingested. Lastly, I should at least mention some of the small, shrubby Maples.Most of the Maples tend to become rather large and should be considered as trees and will be covered in the next ABC's issue, which will be devoted to companion plants of a tree-like nature. A few of the Maples, such as the Field Maple,Acer campestre, and forms of the Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum, are rather shrub-like and have outstanding Fall colors of yellow, red and purple. They are certainly candidates for growing in small gardens.

There are certainly many other shrubby plants that one can obtain and enjoy. I suggest looking in catalogs and other reference works. You may find something that can nestle into a small space and can be a real focal point for your collection, no matter how large or small the collection is!

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Dave Goheen