I had a wonderful gift to start my Mother’s Day and I thought you might relate. I was enjoying a few moments of solitude on the deck before everyone started stirring and the first hummer of the season flew up to say hello. He was quite large and looked very healthy, so he probably arrived a bit ahead of the others. It was a wonderful start to the day to know those busy little birds are back.

After saying hello, he went buzzing off to the cherry hedge whose blossoms had opened just the day before. That is what inspired this column. I realized that sometimes we concentrate so much on the showy flowers that we forget the shrubs that provide a lovely background and have their own attractive features.

So, I thought some information on various shrubs might inspire your own creativity.

Shrubs and small trees are perfect for many settings in the garden, including hedges; as focal points in large gardens creating what gardeners like to call “bones;” to line a walkway; as foundation plants; and to bring height to otherwise low growing beds.

I have created hedges from forsythia and hedge cherries. Now the forsythia is easy because three to five bushes planted in a row will create a lovely free-flowing hedge in about five to six years. You can prune them into a more controlled hedge but they arch nicely if left to their own devices.

Blooming bright yellow early in spring, their wonderful green leaves fill in, require little and make a perfect backdrop to other plantings. But they do need to be pruned right after they bloom to insure next year’s blossoms.

I don’t see many hedge cherries around but I have been very happy with mine. They are now at least a decade old and stand about 10 to 12 feet tall. They are one of the first things to bloom, about the same time or a little earlier than forsythia. They are white with a bit of pale pink and produce hundreds of old-fashioned sour pie cherries. I don’t use them but the birds eat for a month and probably lots of other creatures as well.

Weigela is a beautiful addition to a garden or as a focal point. There are several kinds blooming in various shades of pink, some in white and a few in red. They grow about 8 to 12 feet but can be pruned and kept shorter. They are very hardy, require a bit of pruning after they bloom, and the butterflies love them. Their blossoms are incredibly delicate close up and make quite a show when the whole thing is blooming. They bloom in late spring and, depending on the variety, will last two to three weeks if we don’t get a windstorm.

Hydrangeas are one of my favorite bushes, or in my case, trees. These useful garden shrubs can be grown as a bush or pruned into a tree form. If kept in tree form, you have the gift of the blooms in fall which you can dry and you also have a lovely planting space for other flowers underneath. My tree is about 6 feet tall and I underplant it each year with patio dahlias that keep lots of color in the area for the whole summer.

There is a new hydrangea out this year called “Endless Summer.” It is being touted as the first true “mophead” hydrangea that is hardy enough to take our winter. Mopheads are just what they imply, those big, big blossoms. This particular one, in addition to being hardy, blooms on both old and new wood which means it will bloom much longer than the hydrangeas we normally have. It is also bred to bloom pink in alkaline soil and blue in acid soil, which is pretty much what Maine has courtesy of the coal-fired generation plants in the Midwest that cause our acid rain. I will put in an “Endless Summer” soon; so I will let you know if it does all the things it is supposed to do.

Both cotoneaster and euonymus make nice foundation plantings. Cotoneasters come in a number of varieties, including spreading and arching. They are hardy, like poor soil, stay wonderfully green all summer and make great red berries in the fall. The berries are not only colorful but the wildlife loves them. I frequently look out my window where a cotoneaster arches and see chipmunks and birds feasting. I have a spreading variety which is huge, grows under a maple and in about 8 inches of native soil over ledge – absolutely terrible conditions and it continues to flourish. The only chore with this plant is digging all the leaves out of it each spring.

Euonymus is a useful small spreading bush that comes in several variegated varieties with yellow on green, with white and some with pink. Planted together along a walkway, they fill in nicely. They do not bloom but their leaves add interest all season. They winter well and fill in quickly. You can prune them to keep them within your specified boundaries.

Don’t forget to check out lilacs and mock orange if you want something that smells good. Lilacs come in pinks as well as yellow now, and if kept pruned, can add a lot to a landscape. Pay attention when buying some of the new colored lilacs, however, because not all of them have the fragrance of the old-fashioned ones.

Until next time, enjoy all the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, watch for the daisies that will be here soon with the lupines soon to follow, be conscientious about pulling the weeds now because it will save you much time later and enjoy the hummers and flutterbys – Mother Nature at her finest.

Happy gardening.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 20 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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