Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 New Introductions from Brigg's Nursery

I’m always on the lookout for new plants, especially when they have been grown by highly regarded nurseries. Briggs Plant Propagators, based in WA State, has been working with hybridizers worldwide since 1912 to supply nurseries with top quality plants. Take a look at this sample of 2011 introductions.

Agapanthus x 'Summer skies'

Agapanthus x ‘Summer skies’ (also known as African lily) was selected from tens of thousands of Headbourne hybrids. Large clusters of sky blue flowers, each accented with a midnight blue center stripe, explode from strong stems like fireworks. Pest free, drought tolerant, the basal clump of foliage grows to a tidy 2’ x 2’ with the flower spikes taking the height to 3’ in summer. Hardy to zone 7 these are suitable for massing in the landscape or using in containers. Gorgeous.

'Native blue' blueberry; a new evergreen variety

Blueberry ‘Native Blue’ (Vaccinium darrowii) brings us an outstanding evergreen blueberry in a compact size. At just 2’ x 2’ everyone will have room for at least one of these bushes. Their ornamental value alone makes them worthy of a space; pastel pink new foliage turning glaucous blue and white bell shaped spring flowers followed by masses of small, semi-sweet fruit (try and beat the birds to at least a few).  Grow them as a low hedge or as a container specimen. Hardy to zone 7, this variety is especially heat tolerant in the southern States.
The color of this Aloe intensifies in sun

Purple aloe (Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’) grabbed my attention with its dusky purple foliage. Even better it is hardy to zone 6, deer resistant and although drought tolerant it will also cope with wet areas. Excellent credentials for my garden for sure. A good alternative to Cordyline, this variety will grow 2’ in 10 years with waxy, white flowers taking this to 6’ in summer.

Tempted? Hunt them down at your local nurseries.

 Photos courtesy of Briggs Plant Propagators

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Duvall’s Garden Celebration – where flowers and friends meet.

Duvall is just a small town in the Snoqualmie Valley, WA. You’ll have driven through it by the time you say “double tall non-fat latte with a smidgen of hazelnut and no foam”. That doesn’t mean we can’t think BIG though! Thanks to the tireless organizing by resident and local designer Kirsten Lints of Gardens Design Alive and support from the Duvall Chamber of Commerce we are going to host our very first  Garden Celebration.

At 10am on Saturday July 9th I’ll be starting the day with a demonstration style seminar at one of our top local nurseries. I’ve set aside two gorgeous pots with very different ‘personalities’ to get your creative juices flowing! I’ll also be demonstrating how to set up a simple drip irrigation system for all your container gardens and baskets – no more watering by flashlight. Come and join me for some fun.

Then it’s time to tour eight wonderful private gardens in the Valley, many opened to the public for the very first time. From historic farmsteads to hidden forest retreats and views of Mount Rainier, be sure to bring your camera to capture new ideas, inspirational moments and innovative solutions to common gardening challenges.

The children aren’t forgotten either. There are kids activities planned at various locations throughout the day. There's even a burrito treasure hunt at one garden! Be sure to combine those fun adventures with the simple pleasures of smelling fragrant blooms, watching hummingbirds and looking for ladybugs. Sometimes we need the children to slow us down long enough to appreciate not just the dry river bed but that one heart shaped rock at its edge.

Finally you have the opportunity to enjoy the container garden competition. Businesses in Duvall have sponsored local designers and nurseries to create a unique container garden and you get to vote for your favorite. So grab that gourmet coffee or ice cream treat and wander along Main Street enjoying all the artistic creations. You’ll be inspired to try new things.

Tickets are only $5 and are available at True Value Hardware in Duvall from July 7th onwards. Full details of all the events are on the Duvall Chamber of Commerce website.

So what about those of you who don’t live in the Seattle area? I hope this inspires you to join a local community garden tour. Check out garden club websites and nurseries for details. Or perhaps you need to step out as Kirsten did and put something like this together for your own community.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Garden Party the Stress Free Way.

Floating candles and bountiful containers welcome guests

Planning a special summer celebration this year? Whether it’s just a few friends over for a BBQ or you’re hosting a wedding for 100, parties seem much easier when they’re held outside. Elaborate time consuming menus are replaced by simpler fare thanks to plenty of wonderful fresh produce available at Farmers Markets or from your own garden. Have your guests pick the salad and harvest the berries for dessert!

While planning the menu, don’t miss out on the opportunity to add special touches to your garden party. Here are some easy ideas to transform your everyday patio into an elegant destination.

The planting style and color palette were
selected to complement the country feel
of this garden celebration.
My design and photo

Marking the way. Do all your guests know where you live? It can be frustrating looking for a house number while driving on a busy road. Make it easy by tying balloons to your mail box or gate post. Choose colors which either complement your garden scheme or tie in to the theme of the occasion. For example a baby shower might suggest a bouquet of pastel colored balloons whereas a wedding reception could call for pearl white with silver accents.

Would a sign be helpful? Country lanes may not provide an opportunity to tie balloons without causing a traffic hazard. Instead fill a container with colorful flowers and foliage and add an attractive sign to indicate the way to your home and guest parking.

Fragrant 'Blue Zephyr' Brachyscome add a subtle perfume
in the background

Using fragrance

Many different flowers can be used to scent the air; perhaps the best known of these are lilies and gardenias. However the scent from these can be overpowering so a little goes a long way. You don’t want your guests choking or to be put off their food! I prefer to add just one or two fragrant blooms at the entrance to the garden or perhaps near a seating area but set back somewhat rather than at nose level. Flowers which can easily be combined into the garden, containers or a vase include roses, heliotrope, peonies and phlox. For evening events remember that some flowers only release their perfume at dusk such as the 5' tall annual flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), angel's trumpet (Datura sp.) and night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis).

Mood lighting
Lighting plays a special role in the evening. Task lighting for the BBQ and good lighting for steps are essential of course but a pathway lined with large hurricane lamps holding chunky candles, votives as table place settings or tiny lights strung from a tree or arbor all add delicate layers of sparkle. Remember that many of your guests will enjoy an evening stroll around your garden so placing luminaries or lanterns at strategic points will draw their attention to areas of special interest and beauty such as a fountain or a special tree.

'Dainty delight' Supertunia and 'Emerald lace' Ipomoea
planted in a simple white vessel dress up the 
buffet table.
Flower and foliage
As dusk turns to dark the party will linger on the patio so make that the centerpiece. Whether you are planning a sit down dinner or desert and coffee by the outdoor fireplace, this is the place to cluster container gardens for maximum color and impact – bringing the garden closer and creating a sense of intimacy rather than feeling as though you are sitting in a void. To make it quick and easy choose a monochromatic scheme such as white (and green), make a note as to whether you need plants for sun or shade and head to the nursery. A simple mass planting of white impatiens with curly willow twigs for height and variegated ivy as a trailer is inexpensive and takes minutes to plant up for the shade. In sunnier areas use white million bells (Calibrachoa) or Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ to surround green Dracaena spikes perhaps with a chartreuse variety of sweet potato vine (Ipomoea) to trail around the edges. This is all about quick, inexpensive designs and easy to find plants. Need something bigger? What about 'Limelight' hydrangea placed in an urn, nursery pot and all. You can plant it properly after the party!
A froth of Euphorbia 'Diamond frost' in a low planter would
be the perfect size for a dining table.

For the table be sure that floral arrangements are not so tall as to obscure the view of your guests. Low dishes or baskets filled with sedums or herbs are quick and easy to do and don’t even need to be planted. Just hide the pot rims with Spanish moss. Or use decorative terracotta pots, often found at craft stores filled with tiny herb topiaries, finished with a bow of raffia for a Mediterranean feel. Single open blooms floating in a sundae dish are pretty as place settings or lined up down the center of the table.

To me the theme of any summer garden party should be simplicity. I’m more relaxed, I fret less over the dog fur that might be lurking under the sofa ready to drift out the moment someone sits down, and I can focus on friends and making the most of a special time. Create some special memories in your garden this summer.

All photos courtesy of Proven Winners unless otherwise marked

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Artist Spotlight – Blue Collar Artwork

A discarded metal cone takes on a new life as an over-sized bell.

Ray Hammar, owner of Blue Collar Artwork is a fun guy who likes to play with metal. Turning discarded ‘junk’ into interesting pieces that nurseries and homeowners are clamoring for takes ingenuity, guts and a good dose of charisma, all of which Ray seems to have in abundance. That’s not to say Ray isn’t artistic – but he sets himself apart as being very down to earth and up for a challenge regardless of how much work or time might be involved. I recently caught up with him at one of my favorite funky nurseries; Dragonfly Farms Nursery near Kingston, WA. I had suggested Ray meet the nursery owner Heidi Kaster……… the time I arrived Heidi had scrambled into the back of Ray’s old pickup truck and declared “I want all of it!” Sadly that load was for another local nursery but you can be sure Heidi will be getting some great pieces very soon.
A simple but stunning table

Let me introduce Ray to you;

How did you get started in metalwork?

After starting three small companies and working almost 7 days a week for 17 years I decided it was time for a change and so took my savings and traveled first to Zion National Park and then Washington State. At that point I contracted a severe lung disease and found myself with no insurance and $9000 a day medical costs for almost a year. I lost everything – savings, home, retirement…

During the recovery period a friend lent me a portion of his shop and I just started working with scrap metal because I was able to borrow a welder and I got the scraps for free. I had never welded or worked in metal and had no art background but I soon came to realize that I had a huge appetite and passion for art. 

How do you find the raw materials?

I collect materials from all over the northwest United States; local farms and scrap yards as well as private individuals. A lot of my stuff comes from industries that I research and contact including railroad, mining, farming, marine, logging, refrigeration and airline industries as well as sanitation companies. I find machines and materials that are being replaced and usually work with the industry to get access to some very unique and rare pieces. 
An old propane tank finds a new role as an architectural
element in a garden border.

Do you incorporate any other material into your pieces besides metal?

I specialize in recycled metals but I am starting to incorporate a lot of glass and am beginning to use plastics also.

Give a few examples of the interesting materials you have used and what you have created from them.

The list of materials I use is vast. For example I have used farm machines and handmade chain built in the late 1800's. I use plastics from surfboards and copper from electric boat motors. I also use an old style of propane tank as well as cable made in the 1940s for the Public Utility District (PUD).

I have only been involved in the art world for a few years but I have created stair and deck rails, entryways, gates, fireplaces, water features, ladders, tables, kinetics, unique art pieces for homes and gardens as well as lighting and chandeliers. I have also created abstract and other types of 3 dimensional art.

Where can readers find/buy your work? Can they order online also?
I have only recently begun to sell in the public. I have art and architectural pieces at Dragonfly Farms, Savage Nursery, Molbaks, McComb Gardens, and Dig Nursery. I was commissioned to create a piece for the city of Port Townsend and my work has also been on display in Port Angeles. I enjoy being contacted directly and working with the customer and other artists. I invite people to my shop so they can create or help create their own art pieces.  For those unable to visit I am happy to discuss projects by phone and email.
An intricate stair rail and post

Have you ever wondered “what on earth can I do with that?” 

When I first began creating it took a lot of material in front of me to create art; now I don’t sleep much and ideas for designs are constantly buzzing through my head! 

What has been your most challenging project so far and why? 
I would say my most challenging project so far are the two chandeliers that I am working on currently; hundreds of parts all designed to be used in a particular order. I am learning year’s worth of machining and lighting in a few weeks. Everything is a learning curve – a challenge which I love and thrive on.

What new ideas are you working on?

I am trying to create 5 art pieces a week and so I am working on many new ideas. I am trying to create useable art for organic farms as well as new ideas for nurseries and designers as well as some specialty stores.

Thanks Ray!

From personal experience I have to tell you that I am seriously impressed by Ray’s work ethic. When my husband and I met Ray recently we peered into his truck (an Aladdin’s Cave if ever there was one) and pointed to a few pieces to ask if he could create a water feature out of them for us. The three of us immediately started brainstorming as to how it could be constructed to have moving parts, water dripping from several places….and not rust! Now there’s a challenge. Bear in mind that the beauty of his work is the weathered, rusted appearance but we couldn’t have rust clogging the fountain pump or discoloring nearby stone. Most artists would just dismiss this as being either impossible or simply not worth their time to research and fiddle with. Not Ray. He has spent the past few weeks talking to marine specialists and powder coating companies amongst others, researching what materials and methods might work best for us. He is even willing to build a prototype as a learning experience. Now that is enthusiasm, dedication, amazing customer service and a true artist.
Glass accents add a beautiful detail.

See more of Ray's work on his website or if you’re in the Seattle area make an appointment to visit him or see his work at the nurseries linked above.

All photos courtesy of Blue Collar Artwork unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Edible Pots – the perfect gift

Rustic style containers add the finishing touch

Looking for a great gift for Father’s Day (June 19th in the USA) ? These small edible pots are always a winner and easy to put together in just a few minutes.

Use a well drained potting soil with about 10% very fine compost. In small containers I keep the percentage of compost a little lower than usual (see the post Planting Hanging Baskets) to optimize drainage. I also prefer to sprinkle in a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote so that Dad doesn’t have to remember to water with a soluble form every two weeks! Then all you have to do is plant up the recipes.

Spaghetti Pot

  • Basil (I like Genovese)
  • Tomato plant (choose a bush/determinate type such as Roma unless you are using a very big container)
  • Oregano

Salsa Pot

  • Tomato plant as for spaghetti recipe
  • Cilantro (coriander)
  • Jalapeno pepper

Mixed Herbs
Choose your favorites! Select those with contrast in leaf size and color for the best effect such as curly parsley, golden thyme, purple sage and bronze fennel.

Now watch the smiles as you deliver your special gift. Much more exciting than a pair of socks! And of course it’s not just Dads who would enjoy this treat. What about making one up to welcome neighbors to their new home or as a thank you for that special teacher?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Color Echoes – the easy way to play with color.

When plants are at head height you can't help
but notice them! Here the purple tall verbena
(Verbena bonariensis) plays off the purple freckles
of the Turk's cap lily.
There are times when I read articles and books on using color in the garden that I feel as though I need a fine arts degree to understand it. I soon as I read the words ‘triadic’, ‘harmonious’ and ‘split complementary’ my eyes glaze over and I turn the page. All I want to know is what looks good together for heavens sake – not a lesson in color theory or a vocabulary quiz. It’s not that this information isn’t valuable and indeed it does offer a way to explain which colors reliably work well together; I just find it incredibly boring! Oops. That was probably very non-PC…

So considering I design container gardens and small landscapes for a profession how do I work with color to achieve an overall artistic and pleasing effect? The key to inspired design comes from the careful observation of the smallest detail. Learn to read the color cues presented in petals, buds, leaves and stems and you are on your way to creating something special. 
Geranium 'Rozanne' has hidden beauty

Rarely is a flower ‘just blue’. Look deeply into the delicate bowl of the ‘Rozanne’ geranium for example, and note how the periwinkle petals are punctuated by dark threadlike veins leading the eye down to the white throat from which rise rich purple stamens. 


'Diamond head' elephant ears offers
many possibilities. Color cues could be 
taken from the glossy black mature
leaf, the new green growth or the deep
red veins on the undersides

For outstanding foliage the giant elephant ears ‘Diamond Head’ (Colocasia esculenta) is one of my favorite tender plants. Standing erect on thick black bamboo-like stems the tightly rolled green spires slowly unfurl to reveal huge heart shaped leaves of glossy black. Peer underneath the canopy to discover the striking network of cranberry colored veins spreading like fingers across the green tinged plane. Who needs flowers with drama like this?

Memorable plant combinations are often those which display both repetition and contrast. A tapestry of plants is woven, linking together the individual threads of color so that the whole becomes even more beautiful for the relationship. A sense of belonging is achieved as repetition establishes and unifies the theme.

Flower combinations.

Breathtaking - the Westerland rose
seen here with a serendipitous
sweet pea.

It is when flowers intertwine that we can perhaps best appreciate color echoes. For that to occur the flowers of adjacent plants need to be at a similar height or else a climber used to nestle in amongst the flowers of its host. Westerland is a delightful climbing rose with a delicious citrus scent and flowers which transition from yellow through apricot to amber. It makes a remarkable pairing with pale magenta sweet peas and as you are seduced closer to enjoy the perfume, you can also appreciate how the blush of the sweet peas highlight the delicate magenta margins of each rose petal.
The 'peek-a-boo' effect. 

The element of surprise enhances our experience of a garden, and it may be something as simple as an unexpected splash of color peeking through a veil of leaves. The mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is a dome shaped tree with light green fern-like foliage, best known for its pink powder puff flowers which give the effect of a polka dot umbrella. While hummingbirds, butterflies and bees relish this sweet bounty above the canopy, the dappled shade beneath is perfect for hydrangeas. To make the most of this opportunity, select the variety ‘Buttons ‘n' Bows’  (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Monrey’) which adds a perfect color echo with its bi-colored pink and white blooms in late summer. When glimpsed through a framework of low tree branches decorated with the mimosa’s pom-pom flowers, the effect is remarkable.

Foliage combinations.

Using shades of copper and peach to create a memorable
 Rhododendron ‘Teddy Bear’ is a delightfully compact cultivar which benefits from container culture or a raised bed so one can appreciate the deep rust indumentum on the stems, the undersides of the leaves and the new growth. Attention is further drawn to this feature by adding companions such as orange hair sedge (Carex testacea) with its wispy blades of olive green tipped in orange, and coral bells ‘Caramel’ (Heuchera) whose soft leaves range in shades of peach and apricot with the reverse side and stems in raspberry. The older dark green rhododendron foliage adds a necessary anchor to the colorful display.

Variegated weigela and this spotted
dead nettle are unlikely partners yet
repetition of the yellow note makes
this work.

Combining leaves which are of similar shape and size and are also both variegated may sound startling yet can be used to draw attention to an otherwise unremarkable plant. The spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Aureum’) can be lost as a groundcover since the color is a rather pale yellow with a white midrib doing little to add interest. I usually combine it with a high contrast leaf such as that of the black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’). It was an inspired choice on the part of the homeowners, however, to pair it with a variegated weigela (Weigela florida ‘Variegata’). Since the weigela foliage is a more elaborate bright green with a double margin of white then yellow, far from clashing with the dead nettle, the shrub both echoes its color and adds necessary contrast, thereby improving its visibility.

Flower & foliage combinations.

An easy color echo between the white
blooms of the phlox and the
variegated grass blades. Both stand
4-5' tall.

Green and white color schemes are always fresh and elegant. In late summer the fragrant stands of phlox ‘David’ (Phlox paniculata) are a welcome sight but can appear commonplace when grown in isolation. Pair it with the boldly variegated green and white maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegata’), however, and the phlox assumes a far greater presence with the duo making a striking statement. A group of Joe Pye weed ‘Gateway’ (Eupatorium purpureum maculatum) towering behind the grass would extend the theme, repeating the soft pink of the grass plumes with its large pink flowers and deep burgundy stems, creating a secondary combination which will last long after the phlox has finished blooming.
A gentle color association between the purple
fountain grass and a purple barberry.

When we think of ‘flowers’ we don’t usually think of grasses yet many produce beautiful feathery plumes which can be used to great effect in summer and fall combinations. Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) may be only hardy in warmer climatic zones but is worthy of inclusion even as an annual. The narrow, curving foliage has a rich burgundy cast while the pink, purple and tan foxtail-like flowers rise above this soft mound on slender stems to sway gently in the breeze. Movement adds a new element to our experience of a garden and can be used to heighten our awareness of otherwise overlooked elements. Placing the soft feathery grass with spiky purple barberries (Berberis) provides contrast in texture and form yet offers a subtle repetition of color. Both the grass and barberry are extremely drought tolerant and need full sun so make excellent cultural companions as well as design partners.

The lesson then is to be playful, have fun and experiment. Start by reading the color cues provided by key plants and using them to establish color echoes. By linking the color while contrasting the texture and form you have a fool proof recipe for success, providing that the cultural needs of the plants are also compatible. As you gain confidence introduce a contrasting color. It could be something as simple as adding black foliage to a sweep of yellow flowers, or planting a mass of the red crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ amongst dark green conifers. Decide whether your aim is to transition into a new color scheme, to draw attention to a particular feature or to cause a scandal amongst plant critics! Use these ideas as a springboard for your own imagination, to help you design a garden which is uniquely yours, yet with a greater understanding of color becomes an artistic expression rather than resembling a jar of jelly beans.

This article is an excerpt from my book ‘Garden Moments – designing with color’ which is in development.

Photo credits indicated on each image; One Thousand Words Photography and Le Jardinet

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Great Trees and Shrubs for Wet Soil

The beautiful river birch (Betula nigra) thrives in wet soil and looks 
perfectly at home near water. The variety 'Heritage' has exceptional 
bark coloring.

Moist, boggy, marshy, saturated, damp; these are just a few of the terms we use to describe soil that is basically WET. It’s a bit like a Seattle weather forecaster (or a British one for that matter); how many words can you think of for rain……

Regardless of what you call it, when the soil retains water to any degree you need to think carefully about your choice of plants. Also bear in mind that soils may flood in winter but be bone dry all summer or just moist year round, depending upon the factors which cause water to be retained in the first place.

When I found myself in this situation I quickly realized that whereas it was easy to find references to moisture loving perennials and grasses, it was much harder to find information on interesting trees and shrubs so I thought I’d share a few that I have discovered and am trying in various parts of our 5 acre ‘pond’. By the time I’ve finished you may be hunting for marshy spots in your own garden just to have an excuse to grow some of these.

Evergreen trees

Alaskan cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) - a slow growing conifer to 50’ with foliage which drapes gracefully from the branches. This makes an interesting specimen, especially in the weeping form. Although it does well in wet soil it will not tolerate flooding.

Deciduous trees
This golden variety of dawn redwood
sparkles amongst the evergreens

Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides & cultivars) – this deciduous conifer is noted for its strong pyramidal shape, bright green spring foliage and stunning fall color in shades of orange and cinnamon. It does well in extremely  wet soil and although the species will grow to 50’ there are several smaller varieties including ‘Gold rush’ which has golden foliage and grows to only about  2/3 the height of the species.

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) has become a favorite of mine being a tall (eventually 40’) but relatively narrow tree with an upright pyramidal shape. It is slow to leaf out in spring but then shows off its glossy green leaves which turn stunning shades of red, orange and gold in fall. In our previous garden, I allowed the trunk of mine to reach the height of the fence (6’) so that the canopy above effectively screened out our neighbors. In winter the corky bark provides an interesting texture.
Sweetgums (Liquidambar sp.) have spectacular fall color.

Birches (Betula species) are primarily known for their bark color. The whitebarked Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) has the whitest bark of all and a grove of these is spectacular. In smaller spaces try a single multi-trunked specimen to get a similar effect. In certain parts of the country, however, these birches have become infested with the birch borer so the resistant river birch (Betula nigra) is increasingly being used. The bark of these is a soft salmon pink with shreds of peeling bark giving an amazing 3 dimensional texture. I’m planning to plant a group of these in one of the wettest parts of our back garden where it can be enjoyed year round and its silhouette seen to advantage against the winter sky.
It may be a few years before my 'Niobe' weeping willow
looks this good but it will be worth the wait. Beautiful.

Willows (Salix species). When I realized just how wet our land really was for 5-6 months of the year, with a significant area having standing water I was pretty dismayed as you can imagine. This did not fit with my plans at all! However as with most die-hard gardeners I was determined to plant something and since we have plenty of space I bought the ‘Niobe’ weeping willow (Salix alba ‘Trista’) which has bright yellow branches to provide interest even in winter and have it planted where it marks the entrance to a wet meadow. It was planted bare root last year into saturated soil (the hole kept filling with water as I dug!) and has been underwater since December yet it has leafed out beautifully and has grown about 12” in height since last year so I have to say it’s a trouper.

Evergreen shrubs
The aptly named 'Heather bun'
white cedar. (Cham. thyoides)

I was excited to discover that the white cedars (Chamaecyparis thyoides cultivars) tolerate winter wet and heavy clay soil as I am particularly fond of the variety ‘Heather bun’ which maintains a tidy dome shape. The green threadlike foliage takes on a burgundy cast during winter adding an additional layer of interest. Also look for the varieties ‘Red Star’ with its tight upright shape – great for containers and ‘Northern skies’; a dwarf, feathery mound.

Glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant spring flowers are the hallmarks of the Mexican orange blossom (Choiysa ternata). This easy to grow shrub reaches 6' or so and does well in waterlogged clay soil.

Deciduous shrubs

There are lots of deciduous shrubs to choose from and many could arguably be called small trees. Serviceberries (Amelanchier sp.) are perhaps the best known of these with their white spring flowers and red berries beloved by the birds. They vary in height from 8-20’ depending upon the variety and give stunning fall color, especially ‘Autumn brilliance’. Avoid planting these near the front door, however, or you'll get squished berries tracked through your home!
The foliage of 'Coppertina' ninebark glows when backlit.

I fell in love with the ninebarks (Physocarpus opufolius) when ‘Diablo’ first appeared in the nurseries with its rich mahogany leaves. Now the selections include ‘Coppertina’ (my current favorite), ‘Darts gold’, ‘Center glow’ and ‘Nugget’. They are really tough, coping just fine with drought or drowning, sun or shade. You can prune them or leave them as the mood and need strikes. Sadly the deer also like them but I’m ready to battle with them just to enjoy these shrubs in my soggy spots. Spring flowers are followed by seed heads which the birds enjoy, while the vibrant fall color and ridged bark add new elements for the colder months. What’s not to love?

Just when most shrubs are done for the season summersweet  (Clethra sp.) blooms with fluffy pink or white racemes, smelling of vanilla and honey. They like part shade but also cope with reasonable sun. Look out for ‘Ruby spice’ with its rose pink flowers which grows to 6-8’ tall and 4-5’ wide, or ‘Sixteen candles’, which unlike its parent ‘Hummingbird’ does not sucker but rather stays nicely where it is put! The white flower spikes on this variety stand upright on the branches, hence its name. It's a little smaller too at 5’ x 5’.  Put these late season stars shrubs near an area where you can enjoy the summer perfume. Summersweet is another of those useful transitional shrubs which work beautifully bridging the more ornamental garden and wilder areas beyond.
Summersweet 'Ruby Spice' -pretty as a picture

Shrub dogwoods (Cornus sp.) are perhaps one of the most adaptable plants. They cope with hard clay with its inevitable standing water in winter yet don’t complain when the soil then turns to concrete in summer. Plain or variegated leaves in white or gold, stems in red or yellow and summer flowers all make these a mainstay of the garden. Some species are prone to ‘running’ (stolonifera species syn. sericea) but others are better behaved (sanguinea species which includes the variety ‘Midwinter fire’). Choose carefully.

Other options;

Curly willow shrubs - but they do sucker. Great for floral arrangements.
Hydrangeas – most tolerate winter wet but not summer drought. Perform best with afternoon shade.
Elderberries (Sambucus cvs.) are arching shrubs which grow 12-15’ depending upon the variety. I have the native variety in our garden and it is both in the wrong place and proving difficult to get rid of! I believe the newer cultivars are much better behaved. Look for 'Sutherland Gold', 'Black beauty' and 'Black lace'.
Viburnum sp – there are many deciduous varieties of this shrub, many of which tolerate wet soil but not standing water. The cranberry viburnum (V. trilobum) is one of my favorites with clusters of glossy red berries and vivid red fall color. A mass of these in front of solid evergreens would make a striking fall vignette.
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) - large shade tree with late fall color
Swedish aspen (Populus tremula 'erecta'). An alternative to the disease and insect prone quaking aspen.
Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) - black or red berries and unbelievable scarlet fall color. A shrub for the more naturalistic areas of the garden. 

Recommended book;

Right Plant, Right Place by Nicola Ferguson, Fireside 2005. This is a wonderful reference book which covers everything from plants which have winter interest to those which thrive in wet soil.