By Nancy Brachey
This native shrub bears flowers of a very unusual shape with an even more unusual color. The flowers, a frilly assembly of strap-shaped petals, emerge red in late spring to early summer as reddish maroon, then become brownish around mid-summer. The brown, urn-shaped fruit that follows is also interesting and persists until fall. This plant, often on lists of old-fashioned shrubs, requires space and looks best standing alone to allow the loose and airy shape to be revealed. It grows 6 to 10 feet high and wide, will tolerate the shade of filtered sunlight and has the bonus of good yellow color when the foliage turns in autumn.
While gardenias get the most attention as perfumer of the landscape, summer sweet is even better because it blooms longer, often through June, July and August. It makes a roundish shrub. A named variety called Hummingbird grows 3 to 4 feet tall and a bit wider. This compact size and shape makes it suited for smaller landscapes and mixing with other flowering shrubs. Summer sweet is one of the few good shrubs that will tolerate wet soil. The fragrant blooms are made up of little florets arranged in an attractive elongated cone shape. It also comes in varieties with pink and rosy-pink flowers such as Ruby Spice and Rosea.
The hardy hibiscus shrubs have been eclipsed in recent years by the bolder, more vivid tropical hibiscus plants sold widely as potted plants in late spring. But new colors revived interest in the old-fashioned rose of Sharon, which makes a quick-growing, summer-flowering hedge that can reach 10 feet. Better pinks, glowing whites and vivid blues offer interesting and better choices to the washed-out pinks and blues of another day. And if you wish to go really vivid, there are the bright reds of Hibiscus moscheutos, named Lord Baltimore, which blooms midsummer to autumn and can reach 7 feet. Its good companion is Lady Baltimore, which bears pink flowers but is shorter, growing 4 to 5 feet tall. All require full sun and grow rapidly.
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