As gardeners, we often gravitate towards flowers to bring that pop of color to our landscapes. And not to bag on flowers, but did you know that shrubs can also add vivid color to your garden? It’s true! In my work as a landscape designer, I often reach for shrubs with colorful and interesting leaves to create a stunning backdrop for flowers and ornamental grasses. From silver and pink to burgundy and chartreuse, here are my Top 7 varieties — which one is right for you?
1. Loropetalum: (Loropetalum spp.) This is one of my go-to shrubs for color, form, and size. If you love the green-tinged bungundy leaves, and adore the bright pink fringey flowers, this is the shrub for you. And did I mention there are varieties from low groundcovers up to 8’ tall shrubs? Try ‘Crimson Fire,’ ‘Purple Diamond’ or ‘Jazz Hands.’ Zones 7 – 10.
2. Abelia: (Abelia spp.) While some abelias are the standard dark green, other varieties offer stunning citrus-hued foliage with a 3-4’ size. And with the charming white Spring flowers, it’s one of my favorites. Look for ‘Twist of Lime’ and ‘Kaleidoscope.’ Zones 6-9.
3. Artemisia: (Artemisia spp.) Looking for a cool silvery gray shrub to add to your garden? Artemisia is a perfect choice — the leaves are soft and even wispy, and the lighter color is an unexpectedly delightful contrast to other shrubs and perennials. I love ‘Powis Castle’ (2-3’ tall and wide) and ‘Silver Mound’ (12” high by 18” wide). Zones 3-9.
4. Elderberry: (Sambucus spp.) Elderberry is an ideal choice for those who adore the Japanese maple kind of foliage, but in a shrub. It’s also ideal because the elderberry shrub has an enticing array of leaf colors from purple-black to gold, with charming pale pink flowers. Depending upon variety, the elderberry shrub grows 3-10’ tall and wide. Consider ‘Gerda,’ ‘Eva,’ and ‘Sutherland Gold.’ Zones 3-8.
5. Nandina: (Nandina domestica) Nandina is a chameleon among the colorful shrubs, with leaves changing from green to russet and bright red depending upon the season. Some nandinas are rather tall, but many of the colorful varieties stay compact at 3-4’ tall and wide. In some areas, nandina is considered invasive, so please do your research before you plant! ‘Firepower,’ ‘Gulf Stream,’ and ‘Tuscan Flame’ are good choices. Zones 6-11.
6. Barberry: (Berberis thunbergii) With small leaves ranging in hues of deep crimson, gold, and rose, barberry is a dramatic addition to any garden. Most have thorns, so it’s best used at the back of the border or in a spot that won’t bother passersby. Try ‘Rose Glow’ (5’ tall x 4’ wide), ‘Crimson Pygmy’ (2’ tall x 3’ wide), or ‘Monlers’ (12” tall x 18” wide). Zones 4-8.
7. Wintercreeper: (Euonymous fortunei) I love a variegated leaf, and wintercreeper certainly delivers there! Green centers with yellow or golden outer edges provide a bright and warm presence in the garden. ‘Sunrise’ (2’ tall x 4’ wide) and ‘Moonshadow’ (3’ tall x 5’ wide) are great choices. Zones 4-9.