This morning, just before 7 AM, a pair of Cardinals sat side by side at the top of the bird feeder. Bright male turned his head and gave what looked like a kiss to his demure partner on his right. A few moments later, she turned to him and did the same. Pure charm and love is in the air in Green Jeannie’s garden. I know, though, that they were waiting patiently for me to come out with seed, as I do daily around 7 o’clock. Usually I hear the Cardinal’s “peep-peep” before I even see them, but today, I had a different first look at them. As they are more timid than most of the other birds, they tend to stay on the perimeter, away from the action and away from the bickering sparrows who jostle for position once the seed is in the cylinder. Last week, Katie and I encountered a pair of Mallards waddling down 10th Avenue, stopping to splash in the large puddles left from the afternoon rain. I’m not sure who was more surprised but I can say that Katie was extremely interested and I glad she was on a leash. Birds are welcome in and near my garden anytime.
Shrubs are really important to have in the garden if you want to attract birds. Depending on the kind of trees you have and how tall, they don’t always provide refuge for small song birds if a hawk threatens, so you will want to have a shrub layer below. Also, shrubs help to bridge the space between the ground plane and the tree tops so the experience of the garden space is more integrated, connected. Lastly, shrubs are easy to care for, requiring little work, making them garden must-haves. Here are my Top 10 Favorites:
1. Bottlebrush Buckeye—This is uite large shrub, spreading to about ten feet wide and about eight feet tall, has huge blooms like bottlebrushes, hence the name. I do not exaggerate when I say that the blooms are over a foot long. It is one of our very best native plants and I would say it is on my Top 10 Overall list. The leaves are a nice, medium green, the bark gray and smooth in winter, and the stems sport large buds. The foliage is dense enough that no weeds grow below it. The fall color is golden yellow. Now that my plant is mature, it even has, true to it’s lineage, chestnuts, and come fall, the squirrels feast on many, and bury many more;
2. Hydrangea—Nearly everyone’s favorite. Of late there are new and very colorful varieties for which I would urge you to proceed with caution if you decide to plant any of them. Bear in mind there is only so much drama one garden can hold. Hydrangea flowers are striking enough before adding splashes of magenta pink and purple. When you do plant, think in sweeps of color, keeping the “likes” together and minding the overall color scheme you want to achieve in the garden. Three I love: “Little Lime,” which was the 2016 Shrub of the Year, “Invincibelle Spirit,” a variety bred to raise money for breast cancer research, and our native Oakleaf. The “Little Lime” might be the longest blooming shrub in the garden with flowers that begin to bloom late June and go strong until frost;
3. Boxwood—The backbone of many gardens, this evergreen likes bright sun, well-draining soil, and winters on the milder side. Please make a decision to prune yours by hand instead of with a gas-powered tool to keep them healthy and robust. Some people take offense to the aromatic smell of the Boxwood leaves, especially when they are wet. As in neighborhood kitty as been about. My mother used to say she like the smell as it reminded her of trips to the UK. Still, you might not want this by a doorway;
4. Summersweet—There are not a whole lot of plants (aside annuals) that bloom in July; Summersweet is one. Another native for us, this shrub not only blooms in July but is highly and delightfully fragrant while also attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The fall color is bright yellow. For suburban gardens, look for a dwarf variety called “Hummingbird.” This shrub prefers to be a bit wet and in a bit of shade. If you have time for a canoe trip in the Pine Barrens this summer, you will experience it in its natural environment along the river banks and the fragrance will follow you around each bend;
5. Sweetspire—This May or June blooming shrub, has flowers that cascade in what I call a “shooting star” formation. The flowers are white and have a sort of honey fragrance. The fall color of the foliage is orange and red and in winter, the newer stems are a burgundy color. This plant spreads by suckers, which is ok and not overly aggressive. Look for a variety called “Little Henry;”
6. Fothergilla–This is new in my garden since last year. The fall color was spectacular—another one with shades of orange. It is flowering now in these puffy, fluffy white poms. So far the plant has been vigorous and I admire the scalloped edge on the leaves as well as the sort of dusty blue-green color of the foliage;
7. Viburnum—there are very few Viburnum I don’t like. Just finished blooming in my garden is Korean Spice, and up next is the Cranberry. Last year I planted one called ‘Kern’s Pink’ and noted in my garden inspection today that it is going to have several blooms—which is great considering it is a very young plant. Fall color ranges from deep reds to yellows. Many have berries the birds like and some berries persist into the winter. Research varieties appropriate for your garden as some do get quite large;
8. Japanese Plum Yew—this is a great evergreen for shade that is deer-resistant. The foliage will remind you of yew except the color is much deeper a green and the leaves are longer and glossier. This grows slowly and makes an excellent ground cover. Companion plants to this would be Hosta, Hydrangea, and other shrubs with large and broad leaves;
9. PJM Rhododendron—One of my favorite Rhoddies because it has a nice fall color to the foliage. It blooms very early; mine is just about finished. Pretty lavender-colored flowers on the delicate side. It also doesn’t get quite as large as many Rhoddies do so it is easily part of a suburban garden;
10. Carolina Allspice—another new plant for me from last year and it has one bud—I am so excited. The variety I planted is called, ‘Hartlage Wine;’ it has a deep red, rose-like flower. I saw this first at my wholesale nursery and it stopped me in my tracks. Had to have it. Right now the foliage is a bright, glossy green and since the plant is so young I didn’t expect to have a bloom this year so even one is a great thing. Nurseries should be stocked to the hilt right about now so it’s a great time to shop. And plant. And watch some kissing Cardinals.