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Northern California Regional Reports

Shrubby Plants for Tight Spots in Northern California

Pack a lot of drama into a small space with one of these unique selections

‘Munchkin’ oakleaf hydrangea is a dwarf variety with big, beautiful blooms. Photo: courtesy of Monrovia

Gardening in a smaller space can be a challenge, especially if you’ve recently downsized and are more accustomed to working with larger landscapes and the full-sized perennials, vines, and shrubs that adorn them. But you don’t need to let limited outdoor space preempt drama, texture, and color in your garden. Whether you’re transforming a drab urban patch of grass into a colorful oasis or just filling a collection of pretty containers, you can bring beauty to your space and create a garden you can be proud of with these four petite varieties of much loved, full-size favorites.

Coffee Bean™ rose grows in a compact shrub form that’s perfect for containers. A white container will bring out the color of its dark red flowers. Photo: Fionuala Campion

Coffee Bean™ miniature rose

Coffee Bean™ miniature rose (Rosa ‘WEKdoudou’, Zones 5–9) is a petite, easy-care rosebush that grows into a rounded shrub measuring a scant 20 inches in diameter. It creates interest from late spring through fall with an abundance of gorgeous 2-inch blooms. The smoky, chocolate-coral rosebuds positively pop against the backdrop of deep green, glossy foliage and open to reveal brighter, bronze centers with a delicate tea fragrance. Disease-resistant, tolerant of cooler weather, and excellent at repeat blooming, Coffee Bean™ is an ideal patio container choice, but it looks just as lovely popped into a perennial border. Grow in full sun, in rich, well-drained soil.

If you find yourself without a trellis or a fence, consider this low-growing clematis you can treat like a shrub. Photo: Fionuala Campion

Sapphire Indigo™ clematis

From June through September, Sapphire Indigo™ clematis (Clematis ‘Cleminov 51’, Zones 4–10) produces masses of single, 4-inch-wide, deep purple blossoms centered with matching indigo anthers. This shrubby, low-growing clematis will stretch to 4 feet if grown on a trellis; if left untrained, it will form a 3-foot arching mound, which looks fabulous spilling out of a large hanging basket or meandering through a low fence or shaded perennial bed. No pruning is necessary for this variety, but cutting it back by half after it’s finished blooming will quickly encourage another spectacular bloom flush. Sapphire Indigo™ is happiest shaded from the afternoon sun and planted in well-drained, enriched soil. It also makes a great cut flower.

‘Munchkin’ oakleaf hydrangea blooms white in summer and brings on a vivid display of color from both flower and foliage in the fall. Photo: courtesy of Monrovia

‘Munchkin’ oakleaf hydrangea

‘Munchkin’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Munchkin’, Zones 5–9) is a dwarf hydrangea beautifully suited for a smaller garden that gives you everything its full-size relative would and more. It puts on a long-lasting summer display of abundant and sturdy 6.5-inch-long bloom clusters. These bloom in shades of snowy white, gradually gaining a subtle blush of dusky pink with maturity, and contrast beautifully with deeply lobed, dark green leaves. Fall brings splashes of vivid deep orange and bright mahogany to the foliage, adding an extra season of interest. Reaching a tidy 3 feet tall and wide, ‘Munchkin’ can be grown as a specimen in the shady border or massed as a low ground cover, and it also works well in a large container. This hydrangea should be planted in afternoon shade, in rich, well-amended soil, and given regular water during the summer months.

The more mature dark green foliage of dwarf golden Japanese yew contrasts delightfully with newer golden-colored foliage. Photo: Jason Jorgensen

Dwarf golden Japanese yew

Slow growing and reaching only 2 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide at full maturity, dwarf golden Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Nana Aurescens’, Zones 4–9) makes an excellent (if small) evergreen and textural accent for a limited-space landscape. It also performs beautifully in a container. This miniature yew has interesting textured foliage. Its most fascinating feature is its eye-catching new growth of 1-inch-long, linear, spiny-tipped leaves that emerge bright yellow in early spring, darkening throughout the growing season to match with the contrasting backdrop of deep-green, two-year-old foliage. This is a male cultivar and thus noninvasive. Grow in full sun to partial shade, in well-drained soil with regular water.

—Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.

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