Unusual plants add unique look to landscape

“Gee, I hadn’t thought of that!”

It’s something I often hear from friends and visitors to the nursery. They ask me for some suggestions for shrubs and trees to add to their landscape. I ask them a few questions about the lot size, the amount of shade, drainage and soil conditions, and so on. Then after a few moments thought, I suggest some plants that I believe will work for them.

And that’s when they look (pleasantly) surprised and tell me they hadn’t thought of THAT one!

Today, I have a few ideas for you as you begin to think about next season. These plants aren’t particularly exotic or unusual. But maybe they weren’t the first ones that come to mind...

Althea Pink Aphrodite
I immediately thought of this one because we’re approaching the end of summer and Altheas just seem to thrive at this time of year, when many other plants are past their prime, yet it’s too early for those fall colors.

Cheryl and I enjoy the sight of the large flowers on our Altheas. We’ve found that frequent, quite severe pruning in late winter or early spring creates the large blooms we love to see. But if you prefer the sight of a large number of smaller flowers, simply leaving the pruning shears in the shed.

We’ve found that Altheas do well in just about any type of soil and like sun or partial shade. They’re slow to moderate growers but can top out at between 6 and 10 feet if left to their own devices.

To add variety, mix the Pink Aphrodite with one or both of these other Althea varieties: Diana (white) and Ardens (purple).

Pink Flowering Almond
Prunus glandulosa rosea plena is the “official” name of this attractive shrub that blooms in early spring. If you have recently moved into a newly-constructed home that still has that “bare” look, this could be an excellent shrub for you. Group a few together or create a small hedge and these fast-growing shrubs will soon add an established look.

Avoid deep shade and plant Pink Flowering Almonds in well-drained, light garden soil. They’ll reach a mature height of 3 to 6 feet.

Serviceberry Autumn Brilliance
Also known as Amelanchier x grandiflora, I happen to think this variety is superior to other Amelanchiers for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it gives you a spectacular display of white flowers that are larger than you’ll see on the other varieties. Secondly, Autumn Brilliance is particularly adaptable: Let it spread out into a lush bush or prune it carefully and create a small tree.

As for ease of growing, it suckers less, is adaptable to a wide variety of soils and is fairly drought resistant.

I mentioned the white flowers. In fact, the flowers start out as pale pink then turn to a beautiful and fragrant snowy white. The purplish leaves turn to red, yellow and orange in the fall. And there’s a bonus: the fruit is safe for consumption both by wildlife and humans!

Autumn Brilliance is still not as easy to find as other varieties, despite being featured in a lot of magazines recently. If you’re having trouble finding it, drop me an e-mail at steve@landsteward.org

Sourwood Tree
Despite the “sour” name, a highly attractive tree! The Oxydendrum arboretum has masses of unique, drooping panicles of brilliant white that persist through summer to early autumn. Then in fall the leaves transition from orange to brick red to scarlet. Sourwood trees prefer light shade and moist, well-drained soil that is high in organic material. A planting tip: Choose container-grown plants rather than bareroot because Sourwoods are tricky to transplant.

Want some more plant ideas that you might not have considered? Send me an e-mail with a few details about your landscape and what you want to achieve and I’ll do my best to come up with some fresh concepts for you.