Foundation Shrubs

(Question)

I want to purchase 2 shrubs to give and plant for my family who live in downtown Toronto, I think zone 6. They have southwest exposure so lots of sun and the hot setting west sun. Their front yard is small and has a previously planted tricolor beech tree…beautiful, but doesn’t like the hot sun. I am not sure how long it will live, so thinking that in time these shrubs will be the attraction for the front of their very tall house, as well as complementing the pink colour of that tree. The only other planting in this very small front yard is a little boxwood hedge along the sidewalk, making a border between yard and the sidewalk. These shrubs would fill in a blank basement wall, at this point very bare. This is a heritage home in Cabbagetown.

(Answer)

What a big job it is to find the best shrub option for your family’s garden! There are so many good choices, it’s hard to narrow it down – you’ve got a sunny spot, with a lovely tricolor beech.  However, on the one hand you mention that you want plants to complement the beech, while on the other you express concern that the tree may not live long in the yard.  My recommendations below apply regardless of whether the beech remains.

A shrub that came to mind immediately is the hydrangea – there are lovely crisp, white hydrangaeas like the ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’). The Missouri Botanical Garden provides a good profile of this lovely shrub.   Note that this hydrangea is a good size for the garden, and should be in proportion to the beech and the “tall” house; it will grow up to 5 feet high, with a spread of 4-6 feet.  It blooms from June to September, which might suit the garden very well. Hydrangeas also provide winter interest in the garden.

That same site also has helpful information about the tricolor beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor’), which you may find of interest.

However, as I have no idea what your taste might be,  I suggest that you consider shrubs that have leaves/blooms in the colours that you feel are most beautiful, and most fitting to the overall look of the garden.  Here are a couple of resources that should keep you interested for quite some time:

Blooming deciduous trees and shrubs: a Toronto Master Gardeners Guide  – this includes issues to consider to select the best shrub for the garden spot – location, hardiness zone, sunlight and soil requirements, and maintenance issues.

See also Ornamental shrubs for various light conditions: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide.

Once you have a few shrubs in mind, I’d suggest that you go to your local nursery and speak with knowledgeable staff, who can help you select the best shrub for the garden.