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Ornamental shrubs The ‘bones’ of your garden

These summer months offer the perfect opportunity for propagating ornamental shrubs. And it’s certainly the best time to observe the wide range of plants Nevada County gardeners have been growing for more than 100 years.

This week the magnificent Philadelphus (mock orange) in front of Holdrege & Kull in Nevada City is once again in full bloom, its age adding to its beauty.

While it’s hard to imagine that a small cutting taken in June will have roots in just a few weeks and become a robust 1-gallon plant in time for fall planting, that is how quickly a young plant can grow.



Even vegetative cuttings taken in mid to late summer will become strong plants in time for late fall and early winter landscaping.

Ornamental shrubs are the “bones” of the garden. Without them, a landscape has little definition. They may be used to create separate spaces within a larger area, to enhance intimacy and privacy, and to screen undesirable views or objects.




Of course I have favorites. At the top of the list is the tough evergreen Elaeagnus pungens (silverberry). This amazing ornamental shrub grows quite quickly by the third year after planting. Specimens near The Union building on the south side of the parking lot have been pruned to make a tight low hedge, but it could be pruned higher.

Mine is unpruned and has reached a 12-foot height and spread. Perfect for the barrier and wildlife habitat I wanted to create. Silvery green leaves contrast beautifully with the copper stems.

]In October tiny white flowers open for a month with an incredible fragrance. Silverberry needs no irrigation once established, especially if it has some afternoon shade. Deer may browse on young plants, so protect it for the first two years. Once it starts growing vigorously, the deer move on to other more desirable plants in the garden.

A more refined evergreen for partial shade is fragrant sweet olive, Osmanthus fragrans. This upright shrub is compact and dense, with a 6-foot spread and eight to 10-foot height. The deer have not touched it in my garden.

Dark green leaves almost obscure the tiny white flowers that open in early spring with a sweet fragrance. Once established, the irrigation requirements are minimal, though this ornamental shrub will be more vigorous with a deep soaking once a month during the summer.

The Spiraeas are all deciduous, but still make attractive screens. They certainly add definition to the garden. Spiraea vanhouttei is a focal point in early spring with cascading branches of white flowers, but the deer seem to favor this species. In my own garden I have used Spiraea cantoniensis, S. thunbergii, and S. nipponica ‘Snowmound’ to give definition to garden spaces. The deer have left all of these alone.

In the semi-shade garden, Choisya ternata (Mexican orange) and Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ are very attractive evergreens for a five to 6 foot-high screen. Deer do not seem interested in even young plants. Bloom is very welcome in late winter, and never damaged by snow or hail.

Elderberries are fast-growing deciduous shrubs that add volume and grace to a landscape. They may even be used to hide buildings. In one Cedar Ridge garden, the owners wanted a storage barn to disappear (without, of course, eliminating it altogether). The lacy-leafed elderberry (Sambucus laciniata) did this in just a few years.

For every landscape challenge, there is the perfect ornamental shrub. Take time to tour gardens and browse in local nurseries for great ideas.

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Carolyn Singer has been gardening in Nevada County for 30 years. She will be teaching propagation classes in July and August. Register at http://www.fcgardens.com.

Attend a workshop

Free workshops by the U.C. Master Gardeners at the NID Demonstration Garden on June 2:

Garden Pests – What’s Eating My Plants? 10 a.m.-noon

Gardening Techniques for People with

Disabilities, 12:30-1:30 p.m.

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Upcoming workshop at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply ($10, pre-

register at 272-4769, ext. 105)

Raising Organic Chickens &

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

June 9: PVFS workshop at 9:30-11a.m.


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