Perhaps you have seen some unfamiliar shrubs at flower shows, and you surely will see many at "Plantasia" Garden & Landscape Show through Sunday at the Agri-Center at the Fairgrounds, Hamburg. Another good way to study them is to walk through the woody ornamentals departments at nurseries or the shrub garden at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.
This kind of plant shopping should be like a slow courtship. Ask questions, read the tags, take notes. The goal is not to fall in love with a gorgeous plant in flower. It is about making a careful match for your existing site. And carefully note the "mature" plant's size so you don't have to move it, cut it back or give up looking through your windows because the shrubs have wiped out the sun!
Here are some shrubs to consider:
Amelanchiers (Serviceberry or shadblow). The several species range in size and can be grown as small trees or shrubs. Great features include three seasons of interest (white flowers, red/purple berries, red/orange fall color), bird-appeal and berries for jelly.
Aronia arbutifolia (Chokeberry) is a tough native plant often considered a poor shape for a single specimen, but the dazzling berries of 'brilliantissima' were the reddest red at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Clethra alnifolia is called Summersweet for its sweet scent; requires moist sites.
Cornus species, the Dogwoods, deserve many pages but I know you'll be seeing some of the red, lime green or yellow stems, the variegated leaves and white flowers. There is a Cornus for most sites, several essential in wet places.
Fothergilla is loved for the little bottle-brush-like flowers and spicy fragrance; check your pH as it requires acid soil.
Hamamelis or Witch-hazel species include several sizes of shrubs or small trees, loved for the yellow or orange blooms in late winter. Watch for rust-colored 'Diana.'
Physocarpus opulifolius (Ninebark) was considered a dull, old-fashioned standby around Grandma's house -- but that's before 'Diablo' appeared with the bold bronze leaves. Watch how it is used and which bulbs or perennials are under-planted to play off the copper tones.
Sambucus, American Elders or Elderberries are now hot in the plant market because of the dramatic newer cultivars with gold, nearly black and variegated leaves. However the soft, lacy texture has always been a winner, not to mention those berries for jelly, tea, wine or birds!
In future columns I will write about many more. I haven't mentioned so many, starting with the most familiar ones: Azaleas, Forsythias, Hydrangeas, Lilacs, Rhododendrons, Spireas, Weigela. We'll talk Viburnums another day. Other stellar shrubs include Caryopteris x clandonensis (Bluemist spirea or Bluebeard), Cotinus coggygria (Smokebush), Rhus (Sumacs) and so many shrub roses.
So walk "Plantasia" and see which ones you like. My lists reflect my biases, naturally. After all, even after a slow courtship, falling in love -- even with a shrub -- is a very personal matter!
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer and former Cornell Extension educator.