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Native Plant Choices

'Winterthur' Viburnum

Three Tried & True Premium Native Shrub Choices for Southern New England

By Andrew Bachman, MA Certified Horticulturalist and Arborist

   One of the extreme joys of growing my business has been discovering “best practice” that the market desires and is also good for the ecosystem. When a practice (such as planting native plants) is  in demand AND an environmentally conscious decision, then it’s a happy choice.

I personally plant native shrubs in my own garden because of their sensory beauty and ecological belonging. Here are healthful berries and nectar that birds and pollinators evolved to eat rather than the exotic popular plants they can’t. Native shrubs were once considered bulky and “out of scale” in normal gardens. Luckily they have been refined, domesticized and dwarfed over generations to develop first rate flower displays, and shapely profiles.  Read on for my favorites....

1 )    Viburnum Nudum ‘Winterthur’ is a well loved native shrub both for the spectacular fall fruit display, and for the shiny green leaves  coated with a high gloss finish.  The flowers are a cream white in May and June before they turn to berry clusters.  The berries mature at different rates, so  reds, purples, and blues are present together. The leaves turns a lovely wine-red color in the Fall, offsetting these rainbow clusters of fruit.

       Wet or dry sites are fine with some shade, and mostly sun or full sun is preferred.  It is cold hardy for most of New England.  Winterthur is a clone so it needs a companion of a different Vibernum nudum variety to improve fruiting volume and display.

     Viburnum Nudum is an underused, yet attractive and dynamically colorful addition to the edge of any formal garden or the center of a cottage garden.  It offers changing seasonal interest and is very easy to establish after planting

2 )   Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is a prolific and promiscuous mid to late summer-flowering fragrant shrub. It is valuable for gardens because it attracts a wide range of pollinating insects, including predatory wasps, which control pests. Hummingbirds also frequently visit the flowers.

Clethra is suitable for wet areas, or the edge of a pond, and grows well in average garden soil. It is flood tolerant AND drought resistant. It takes a year to get established, but the fragrant showy blooms are worth it.  Many New Englanders grew up with this plant in our woods and stream beds, but didn't know it, and its candy frangrance can be youthful river-swim nostalgia inducing!

I believe it is the highest “energy” plant in the garden as everytime I visit a blossom, I count 5 different insect pollinator species on the flowers  It is my overall favorite plant because of its power of survival, and its over-the-top flower abundance.

          Ruby Spice, Hummingbird, and Sixteen Candles, and other cultivars have been introduced, aiming at a fuller bloom and more dwarf size. 

 Potentilla fruticosa, also commonly known as Cinquefoil,  has been used as an ornamental shrub for decades, and is a native to most of the U.S., where it grows on the edge of wetlands. In my travels to Colorado and the midwest I have found this plant performs exceedingly well in the heat and is a favorite for commercial and city roadside plantings in open areas.

Potentilla has abundant and long bloom. It is a cold hardy shrub, easy to establish and maintain. The flowers are visited by many pollinators and the seeds are eaten by songbirds, which build their nests in the dense shrubby foliage. The leaves are rodent and deer resistant.

The plant comes with white, orange, red, or pink flowers.  Place potentilla in full sun areas and in front of dark-leaved shrubs, where the light colored flowers can really shine.