Many gardeners facing cold, snowy winters simply let their dreams of garden color go as dormant for those dark months as their sleeping spring bulbs. That outlook might brighten considerably, if they investigate and plant some all-season ornamental shrubs. From the time their spring leaves appear through the winter, these shrubs accent gardens with fragrance, color or form.
Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) is a 10-to-15-foot deciduous shrub common throughout the eastern United States. Its fragrant grayish-green leaves emerge in late spring, followed by clusters of fragrant white flowers suspended from the ends of bright red twigs. Summer brings clusters of white berries that contrast with the twigs. Autumn leaves have shades of purple, and in early winter, the red twigs take center stage again.
The Missouri Botanical Garden suggests using gray dogwood in groups and allowing it to naturalize or to create a screen. It also works in shrub borders, especially near streams and ponds. Plant this drought-and-pollution-tolerant shrub in average, well-drained soil and sun to partial shade. It's not fussy about soil type.
Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is the only shrub found in all of America's lower 48 states. Its leaning habit and toothed green leaves make smooth sumac easy to recognize. Those same leaves bring vivid color to autumn gardens. Between May and August, the female plants have hanging clusters of small yellow-green flowers. They give way to spikes of brilliant red berries that remain all winter.
Smooth sumac, according to the the Texas A&M University Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is seeing increased use as a landscape planting. It tolerates sun, shade, and dry poor soils where little else will grow. Cutting them to the ground in mid-winter re-invigorates the plants. Make sure your original plant is female, because smooth sumac forms single-sex colonies and only females produce flowers and berries.
Linden Viburnum 'Erie'
'Erie,' a linden viburnum cultivar (Viburnum dilatatum) is a deciduous mounding shrub up to 7 feet high and 10 feet wide. Its dark green leaves have a wrinkled texture. In May and June, it has showy, 6-inch clusters of white flowers. 'Erie' also has clusters late summer drupes--fleshy fruits with hard stone centers. Ripening to red-orange, they complement the shrub's vivid red, yellow or orange autumn foliage. The color of the fruit deepens with each frost and stay on the bush until late winter.
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society named 'Erie' a Gold Medal Plant in 1993. Plant it in groups, advises the Missouri Botanical Garden, for best fruiting and the most dramatic fall and winter show. It's effective in hedges, shrub borders, as a foundation planting or as a screen. 'Erie' prefers sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained loam. Prune to shape right after flowering.