Native shrubs to replace roses

Blooms are fairly sparse in my fall garden.

What do you do when the shrub you based your entire English-cottage-style garden upon dies? The rose, that fair-blossomed beauty, fell prey to an ugly disease which we’ve discussed here before, Rose Rosette Virus. You might begin to invest heavily in new native shrubs, choosing hardiness and diversity for your garden. If you want native shrubs, they aren’t that easy to find locally in Oklahoma. I can’t imagine why, but they just aren’t. Well, maybe I can think of a few reasons why.

Rosa 'Carefree Beauty'
Rosa ‘Carefree Beauty,’ another one I still have.
  • Maybe it’s because plants native to the U.S. don’t grow in as tidy a fashion as smaller cultivars.
  • It could be because natives are often dioecious, needing both a male and female plant to produce fruit.
  • You also can’t trademark natives so there’s no money in them.
  • Some natives grow slowly too–not a good quality in a society used to gratification at the click of a trackpad or mouse.
Rosa 'Mutabilis' rose
Rosa ‘Mutabilis’ in better days. It’s still alive, but maybe not for long.

Replacing roses is complicated because most roses grow in the 3′ x 5′ range. Although my garden is large, it is comprised of small “rooms” laid out in a geometric design. A 3′ x 5′ shrub is the perfect size for these rooms. Some of the natives I’m replacing the roses with grow much, much larger. There is definitely some shifting going on at my household and in my garden. Also, I’m putting young plants in holes where fully-grown roses once resided. I think it all looks like a mishmash, but what’a girl to do? Losing the backbone of your landscape certainly gives you opportunities for personal and physical growth. In some places, I’m repeating existing shrubs like the non-native Pinus mugo in one of the diamond shaped beds. I still haven’t decided if I’ll plant another one on the stone’s other side or not. Mugo pines are good for year-round color.

As for the native shrubs, I had to buy most online, and they came in very small pots. It will be a while before they grow and look good, but I’m willing to take the time for a more natural landscape. Gardeners grow and change over time just like their gardens do, and I’ve become more interested in the birds, lizards, snakes–yes, even snakes–and pollinators than the plants themselves. That doesn’t mean the garden won’t still have its English cottage flavor. I’ve just evolved a bit, and as I wrote previously, I’m growing older. Taking care of 100 plus roses takes a toll each spring. Even though I’m sad about the roses, I’m also relieved. It’s forced me to do something I needed to do anyway–adding grasses and shrubs.

After reading The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, I want a garden rich in texture and built layer upon layer. Another good book on this subject is The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage, by David Culp, the man behind some of my favorite hellebores. I don’t live in a climate similar to any of these authors. I am smack-dab in the middle of the Great American Prairie and the beginning of the deciduous forest. Each author encourages us to plant a very diverse landscape from tree canopy to the smallest forest plant or the grasses in a meadow clearing. If there is one thing I’ve learned from my experience with Rose Rosette Virus, it’s to never plant too many of any one plant again. Oh, and within that, I have a caveat. Daylilies don’t count. They are pretty easy to replace when necessary. Everyone has their soft spots. I’m told my garden will be on the regional daylily tour in 2017 so I’ve been buying newer cultivars and sending some of my older ones up to my church for their gardens. They’re still beautiful even if they aren’t the newest fashion.

The four B's to daylily garden zen
Zen Frog in Hemerocallis ‘Concorde Nelson’ daylily

My dear friend, Gail from Clay and Limestone has been the best help suggesting native shrubs to replace my sad roses. I’m so grateful for her knowledge. These are the native shrubs I’ve bought so far.

  • Ribes odoratum or R. aureum var. villosum, clove currant, which Margaret at A Way to Garden profiled. Gail also profiled clove currant here. I don’t know if it’s different from R. aureum or just a close relative, but either way, I’m excited about the scent. I love a scented garden and already have lilacs and Viburnum carlesii Korean Spice which aren’t native, but I’m not going native all the way. I’m also pleased that it will grow in a spot in the lower tiered bed. It can handle the wetter soil, and the leaf shape is pleasing.
  • Viburnum rufidulum, southern blackhaw or rusty blackhaw, which Gail calls the Mother Tree because it provides her with seedlings to grow elsewhere. I am so excited about this shrub because I’ve wanted one forever. They can be hard to find, but I was so excited when Dave Edwards, suggested rusty blackhaw in a talk he gave at the Oklahoma Horticultural Society meeting last winter.
  • Viburnum prunifolium ‘McKRouge’, Forest Rouge blackhaw so that, one day, I should get drupes (fruit) from my two blackhaw trees/shrubs. Both bloom and have beautiful fall color.
  • Ceanothus americanus, New Jersey tea is another shrub I’m trying in the garden. It is native to Oklahoma and many other states. I placed it in partial shade where I hope it will be happy.

I don’t have photos of most of these plants because they are so new here.

Celastrus scandens, American Bittersweet
Celastrus scandens, American Bittersweet

I also bought Celastrus scandens, American bittersweet vine, and placed it behind the two ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas, also native to the U.S., on the side arbor. Plus, I got Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ honeysuckle for the other side of the main arbor. This is to replace one of the ‘Cl. Old Blush’ roses that died. On the other side of the same arbor will grow crossvine.

Bignonia capreolata, crossvine,
Bignonia capreolata, crossvine, in my friend, Cindy’s garden.

Tomorrow, I’m headed to Tulsa to speak about Enchanting April at the Tulsa Botanic Garden. I hope to see you there.