If you head to the nursery in May, clouds of white and pink flowers bedecking cherry, crabapple and Bradford pear trees dominate the scene. Rhododendrons clad in purple and raspberry flowers will vie for your attention, making a perfect palette for a pretty spring garden. That’s fine, but think about when you are actually IN your garden. Grilling on the the July 4th? Playing badminton on a sunny weekend in June? That pretty purple rhododendron calling your name in the spring will be a quiet spot of green in the summer or early fall, when you are likely hanging out in your yard. Meanwhile, languishing in the nursery are the plants like bottlebrush buckeye (described below) that will take center stage in mid-summer.
Take a look at this beauty! It’s bottlebrush buckeye or Aesculus parviflora, a grand shrub reaching a height of up to 8-10 feet with about equal girth. It tolerates full sun through nearly full shade. For the giant candelabras of buckeye flowers in this image, give it at least 4 hours of sun. Unfussy about soil and usually unbothered by deer, the coarse foliage creates a weed-proof spot perfect for the woodland edge or tucked under large deciduous trees. In my landscape, a sunny hillside with unamended clay soil was planted with gallon pots of bottlebrush buckeye over 20 years ago. Today, they create a dramatic show, covered with bees and butterflies, making the garden gorgeous when we’re outside sipping rose’ and listening to the BOOM of fireworks on the 4th of July. The bottom line- ask your local nursery staff to steer you toward plants that will make your garden shine when you are outside enjoying it with your family and friends.