Shrubs and perennials: Creating backbone and heart in the garden

Low-maintenance Euphorbia griffithii, or Fireglow, sets the spring landscape ablaze for weeks. This perennial is also reliable, easy to propagate, and ignored by deer. (Contributed)

Loretta Fritz | Contributed

Shrubs are woody plants that, along with trees, create an architectural backbone for any garden.

Because their above-ground parts persist over the winter, they provide a more-or-less fixed structure year round. The beautiful and ubiquitous rhododendron is perhaps the quintessential shrub in our area, offering just one more reason to love spring.

Herbaceous perennials, on the other hand, are non-woody plants that are often used to fill open spaces. Their above-ground parts die to the ground each winter, in effect “erasing” them from the landscape until they re-sprout from the roots in spring. Familiar examples include peonies, coneflowers, fall asters, hostas, delphinium, and many others.

With good planning, gardeners can select shrubs and perennials that not only beautify their outdoor space, but also serve a particular function – creating privacy, attracting pollinators, accentuating a colour scheme, ensuring year-round landscape interest, and so on.

It’s true that annuals fulfill many of these same functions, with the added benefit of summer-long colour and flower power. But when the season is over, annuals die; they need to be removed and replaced with new plants year after year. In large gardens, relying mainly on annuals can be a labour-intensive and expensive cycle.

Let’s face it, nothing that we intentionally grow in the garden is maintenance free, but some plants are much easier to look after than others. So it’s important to choose wisely and make sure that whatever we choose suits the conditions we have. The mantra “right plant, right place” comes readily to mind. Successful gardening, alas, depends on meeting a plant’s needs, not our own. This I know from personal experience: Wishing doesn’t make it so.

Fortunately, the world of shrubs and perennials is vast and offers a plethora of worthwhile choices. At this month’s meeting of the Sooke Garden Club, Diane Pierce will take us into this world, focusing primarily on plants that look particularly attractive in May and bring special features to our gardens. She will also talk about specific garden conditions and challenges such as dry shade, drought tolerance, and pruning.

Diane Pierce has worked as gardener, landscape designer and consultant. She currently teaches and volunteers at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific.

Join us on Wednesday, May 22, 7 p.m., at St. Rose of Lima Church on Townsend Road. A parlour show is also featured. New members are welcome. Questions? Visit our website at or email us at


Loretta Fritz writes for the Sooke Garden Club.

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