See regional picks for showy shrubs, and read the article by Paul Cappiello for even more ideas.
“Show-stopping shrubs—you know the kind. You’re leading a group of friends around the garden, and they’re politely following you with gin and tonic in hand, oooing and aaahing in slightly hushed tones. And then it happens. They spot something in the distance that throws the whole shebang into chaos. The formerly demure and proper garden folk are throwing sharp elbows as they vie for the best path to whatever it is that caught their collective eye. After all, they’ve got to be the first to Instagram the heck out of it.” Read more Show-Stopping Shrubs.
1. Sapphire Surf™ Bluebeard
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Blauer Splatz’
Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun; average, well-drained soil
Native Range: Mongolia, China, and Japan
Sapphire Surf™ bluebeard shines with rich blue blossoms that cover the plant from head to toe in late summer through fall, putting on a show when the rest of the garden is winding down. Plant masses of this low-maintenance shrub, and pollinators (butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds) will enjoy them almost as much as you. Bluebeard provides a hardy alternative to rows of lavender (Lavandula spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9) used to line walkways—and it also has aromatic foliage. This shrub resists deer and rabbit browsing and is drought tolerant once established. The compact habit is perfect for containers too.
2. Funshine® Abelia
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Minacara1’
Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil
Native Range: Interspecific hybrid; parent lines from China
I love abelias for their hardiness and versatility. They bridge sun and shade seamlessly, tolerate even the toughest planting sites, and are extremely deer resistant. And with radiant foliage and trumpetlike blooms, they never stop showing off. The outstanding foliage color and tidier habit of Funshine® abelia offer even more to love. You can expect glossy, lime green leaves frosted with golden yellow, marmalade, and caramel hues. Throw in fragrant lavender blooms teeming with butterflies and hummingbirds, and you have one unbelievable shrub. And best of all, it’s easy to grow.
3. Summertime Blues™ Chaste Tree
Vitex ‘Helen V. Froehlich’
Size: 5 to 6 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun; average to moist, well-drained soil
Native Range: Interspecific hybrid; parent lines unknown
Finally, a shrub-size chaste tree! Summertime Blues™ packs everything we love about chaste tree and repackages it into a manageable, rounded bush of pure delight. Oversize blue-violet flowers dazzle on sturdy black stems, attracting butterflies all summer long. The blossoms are also sterile, so there’s no need to worry about weedy seedlings. Improved hardiness allows gardeners as far north as Chicago to enjoy this selection, while reducing the risk of winter die back in the Southern states. Excellent drought tolerance makes Summertime Blues™ ideal for the hot, dry summers common throughout our region.
4. Night Light™ Hinoki Cypress
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Conschlecht’
Size: 4 to 5 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; adaptable to a wide range of soils
Native Range: Japan and Taiwan
This evergreen beauty shines like a beacon. In full sun, the dramatic yellow-green foliage glows in golden hues along the leaf tips and demonstrates remarkable resistance to heat and sunburn. Dense layers of flat, fan-shape branches form a loose, rounded mound that makes a lovely accent or focal point. The plant takes on a bronze coloration in winter and displays good winter hardiness, tolerating wind and winter burn. Night Light™ hinoki cypress is an excellent choice for year-round color and structure.
Kimberly Toscano is a garden designer and educator from Stillwater, Oklahoma.