by Matt Gibson
Shrubs play a pivotal role in garden aesthetics, providing a backdrop for colorful floral standouts. Most shrubs are the unsung heroes of the garden. Their solid green and variegated foliage is the perfect canvas for a gardener who paints with flowers.
But not all shrubs are suited to the supporting role. Some produce vibrant colorful foliage that can turn the shrubs into the standouts of the garden. With shrubs like these, flowers aren’t really necessary. These 10 shrubs are covered in showy, colorful foliage that draw the eye of passers by, and some that could even be the star of the show in a flower garden.
“Purple Picture” Hebe
The spikes of brilliant purple flowers that bedazzle the, “purple picture” hebe during the summer months, as well as its deep purple evergreen foliage, have made the purple picture hebe a go-to shrub for gardeners looking for a flowering shrub that provides a splash of color in the summer and a beautiful but subtle background of showy purplish leaves.
Hebe is hardy in USDA zones 8-9, this bushy shrub grows up to four feet tall and three feet wide. The purple picture variety is deer and drought resistant.
“Wine & Roses” Weigela
The medium size shrub, “Wine & Roses” Weigela is a showstopper when in bloom and a beautiful evergreen nearly all year long. The wine and roses shrub is actually quite large. If left unpruned, it can grow up to five feet high and six feet wide. Many gardeners prefer to keep their shrubs trimmed back to just over four feet high and wide, but pruning is completely optional. The weigela’s thick covering of dark purple foliage keeps the plant looking healthy and attractive from spring to fall each year. In the spring and summer months, the wine and roses weigela becomes a showstopper. Tons of light pink five-petaled flowerheads sprout up atop the bed of dark purple leaves. The contrast of the gentle pink against the bold purple leaves are a sight to behold. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8.
There are several other varieties of weigela that deserve an honorable mention on this list that were bred by hybrid farmers to create more compact varieties and more flower color options. “Fine Wine” weigela grows to about four feet in height. “Midnight Wine” is a much more compact variety, clocking in at a modest one foot high. “Ghost,” is another compact cultivar that produces golden leaves.
“Dart’s Gold” Ninebark
The “Dart’s Gold,” variety of ninebark is another shrub that doesn’t know how to play a supporting role. Though the ninebark does look wonderful in the background with flowers highlighted in the forefront, it could just as easily become the star of the show. Growing six feet tall and eight feet wide, Dart’s gold gets its name from the bright gold-yellow foliage which is so vibrantly yellow that it is often mistaken for forsythia.
Ninebark has become a popular shrub amongst gardeners because of its extreme resilience. For those who need plants that do not require much care, the ninebark shrub is about as close as you can get to a plant it and leave it undertaking. Hardy in USDA zones 3-7, Dart’s gold Ninebark’s chartreuse colored leaves turn a bright yellow in autumn. The Dart’s gold variety is more resistant to powdery mildew than the purple-leafed varieties of ninebark.
Gold Dust Plant
From a distance, the gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica “Variegata”) looks like any other shrub. Its leaves appear to be a yellowish-green from afar, but as you approach the six foot by six foot shrub, the deep green oval leaves that narrow to a point at the tips are all dusted with bright yellow specks. The name gold dust plant is a solid descriptive title that fits like a glove but the yellow blotches look more like flecked yellow paint on the leaf’s green canvas. Each leaf is like a miniature oval-shaped Jackson Pollock painting.
Those who live in cool climate areas may be familiar with the gold dust plant as an easy-to-grow houseplant. Gardeners who live in warm climate areas know the gold dust plant as a dense evergreen shrub that’s easy on the eyes. Hardy in USDA zones 7-10, this six foot tall shrub enjoys partial shade to full exposure.
Variegated False Holly
The foliage of the variegated false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus, G) without a doubt, the most interesting, showy, and unique of all the leaves from the shrubs on this list. The leaves of the variegated false holly start off bearing a reddish-pink tint and then gently fade to show cream, white, and gray, all highlighted by yellow spotting.
The variegated false holly is hardy in USDA zones 7-9. It grows up to four feet tall and five feet wide. A slow-grower that thrives in sunny locations, the false holly’s leaves are simply spectacular. The leaves are so unique, in fact, that viewers might not notice that the shrub also produces pretty, delicate, white flowers.
“Carol Mackie” Daphne
The star shaped clusters of leaves on the, “Carol Mackie,” variety of the Daphne burkwoodii shrub, are each composed of around 20 leaf petals, all extending outwards from the core, Each leaf is dark green with a pretty cream-colored trim around the outside of the slender oval-shaped leaves. The showy foliage of this ornamental shrub are plenty pretty all by themselves, but when spring rolls around, the, “Carol Mackie,” begins to put on a show, producing clusters of fragrant bright pink flowers atop the compact bi-colored foliage for an elegant combination all in one shrub.
Hardy in USDA zones 4-7, the Daphne shrub grows to three feet tall and four feet wide. It’s low-lying size makes it the perfect shrub for pathways and borders. Grow ground covers around their base or add a thick layer of mulch to protect the roots during hot summer weather. .
“My Monet” Weigela
The second variety of weigela to make the list, “My Monet,” weigela (Weigela florida ‘Verweig’) produces large bluish-green foliage that is widely edged in a cream color with an underlying pink hue. That pink tint works perfectly to compliment the plant’s lovely pink springtime blooms. The shrub tends to grow in a very compact form, making it the perfect choice for garden bed edges.
“My Monet,” weigela is hardy in USDA zones 4-8, growing 18 inches high and three times as wide. Pairs exceptionally well with, “Midnight Wine,” weigela. These similar sized varieties produce contrastingly unique foliage. The blue-green leaves with pinkish cream trim looks outstanding next to the dark purple leaves of the midnight wine variety.
Diabolo is the second variety of ninebark to make this list. The diabolo ninebark stands out in a crowd due to its beautiful, deep-purple to maroonish foliage. Hardy in USDA zones 3-7, the ninebark grows to a massive ten foot by ten foot size. In the early summer months, the shrub produces clusters of white flowers, while in the winter, the stalks and branches begin to peel away and fall to the ground. If you love the way ninebark shrubs look in your garden but you don’t have the room to devote to such a massive ornamental plant, try your greenthumb out on one of the dwarf varieties that only take up half the space that the diabolo occupies.
“Rainbow Fizz” Spirea
The “Rainbow Fizz,” variety of spirea is somewhat like a rainbow that sprouts up out of the soil of your garden. The new leaves that appear in spring start off coppery-red, but as the summer heat rolls around, the foliage starts to change to various hues of yellow, orange, and gold simultaneously. The fuzzy pink blooms sprout atop the spirea’s stems throughout the summer months. Autumn weather brings the foliage back to its original coppery-red tint. At just three to four feet high and wide, the rainbow fizz spirea is a wonderful addition to garden walkways and large containers.
“Sutherland Gold” Elderberry
The “Sutherland Gold” variety of Elderberry can be spotted from a block away due to the electric, eye-catching, finely-cut, fern-like, chartreuse-colored foliage. The Sambucus racemosa or, “Sutherland Gold,” grows to a massive size of ten foot by ten foot, and thrives in partial sun and partial shade. Like any other variety of elderberry, the sutherland gold variety produces clusters of red fruit that attracts birds to your garden.
These 10 colorful shrubberies are all perfect examples of how the shrub doesn’t have to be a backdrop for flowers and other ornamental plants. Many of the shrubs on this list are so ornamental in their own right, that using them as background filler seems out of the question. So, the next time you are planning out what you are going to plant in the coming growing season, consider adding one or more of these standout shrubs with colorful foliage as a garden centerpiece.
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