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Summer Flowering Shrubs
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter


Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at

August 12, 2007

We enjoy so many flowering shrubs in spring, but we tend to rely on annuals and perennials for summer colour, overlooking the dimensions some interesting and fragrant shrubs can add.

The city of Portland, Oregon uses one flowering shrub extensively on roadway medians. 'Glossy Abelia' (Abelia grandiflora) is a great plant because of its dark bronze foliage and contrasting white flowers that just don't quit blooming until October. Its cousin, Abelia 'Edward Goucher', is smothered in lilac-pink flowers all summer. Both are hardy for Lower Mainland and Valley gardens and during a mild winter, will keep their colourful foliage. They only grow three to four feet in height, making them useful in so many sunny areas. I find them quite drought tolerant too, which is an asset during hot summers with watering restrictions.

Perhaps the most fragrant shrub at this time of year is the buddleia. It attracts all kinds of butterflies and appropriately, is commonly called the 'Butterfly Bush'. Starting in July, this plant will fill your garden with a delightful perfume from its long spikes of flowers. On sunny days, you will seldom see this plant without a huge butterfly nestled on one of its blossoms. The standard varieties grow up to ten feet high with white, blue, deep purple, pink or soft yellow flowers. Each spring they should be cut back to about ground level to keep them low and bushy. The new larger-flowering, lower-growing ‘Peacock Series’ can be enjoyed in small space gardens.

The hardy garden hibiscus is every bit as beautiful as its tropical counterparts. Growing anywhere from six to twelve feet high, Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon or Shrub Althaea - it goes by many names) will flower from July until late October. Double varieties, like 'Collie Mullens', a magenta-rose or 'Blushing Bride', a soft pink with a red-throat, are delightful, but I'm really fond of the single varieties. 'Red Heart', a pure white with a scarlet centre, is my favourite. The blue toned 'Blue Bird' and the magenta-rose 'Woodbridge' are also very attractive in the landscape. Most varieties have a deep coloured centre, creating quite a wonderful bicolour effect. If you plant one, it will quickly become one of your favourite plants.

In many shady gardens we see hydrangeas in various colours of blues, pinks, purples and whites. They need moisture and shade from the intense heat of summer to perform their best, but some of the longest lasting and perhaps the most beautiful, are the 'Lace Cap' varieties. 'Lace Caps' have unique flowers: the centre blooms are sterile and never open up, leaving a delightful outside ring of single flowers that create a lacy effect. They also come in blue or pink, but remember: their colours can change with the acidity or alkalinity levels of the soil. Lime tends to keep them pink, while a few applications of aluminium sulphate will turn them blue. The new ‘Endless Summer Series’ from Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota is one of the first to bloom on new growth.

For the very hot sun, take a look at the huge family of 'Peegee' hydrangeas for late summer and fall colour. They are very hardy plants. There are so many new varieties today that it’s hard to keep up. Some of my favourites are the lime coloured variety, ‘Limelight’; the white turning pink variety, ‘Pinky Winky’; the lacy patterned, ‘Unique’; and the variety with unusual petals, ‘White Swan’.

I'm really surprised more folks don't plant the true hardy fuchsia. The tiny blossoms of 'Fuchsia magellanica 'Riccartonnii' flower in absolute profusion from July until the first hard frost. They prefer a sunny location and well-drained soil, and they can stretch up to six feet in height with thousands of tiny red and purple blossoms. After being established for a few years and with just a little mulch protection, they tend to be quite hardy even in tough winters. There are many varieties to choose from these days, but to be honest, it's only the very tiny blossomed 'magellanicas' that will consistently make it through each winter.

Something relatively new in this part of the world is caryopteris. It's a fairly compact, deciduous mounding shrub, growing three to five feet high with a profusion of small powder blue flowers all summer long. It's hardy to zone five and stands up well in our region. The newest varieties, 'Worchester Gold' and ‘Summer Sorbet’, have golden foliage that provides a fabulous accent for the soft blue flowers. I've admired this plant in English gardens, and I'm delighted to see it being used more in our area. It's a keeper.

Now is a great time to plant these terrific summer-flowering shrubs. Don't settle for just one of them - try them all for a delightful effect in your garden.

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