Most people don’t realize that woody plants can be an extremely important part of a perennial garden. They can provide structure, architectural contrast, winter interest and habitat or food for wildlife.
Upright barberries like ‘Rosy Rocket’ or ‘Orange Rocket’ are great vertical elements that also provide a different color that can be hard to get from perennials in a full sun garden. ‘Rosy Rocket’ is a great burgundy color with the new growth swirled with pink. ‘Orange Rocket’ has new growth that emerges an orange-red shade and gets darker as the foliage matures. Both varieties grow to 3-5′ tall and 2′ wide.
Weigelas can give structure and color to the garden. Small varieties like ‘Minuet’ blend well with perennials like daylily, iris, and coral bells. ‘Minuet’ has rosy pink flowers in late May to mid June and reaches 30″ tall x 3′ wide. Medium sized varieties like ‘Wine and Roses’, with its dark foliage, make a great backdrop for bright perennials like black-eyed susan and purple or white coneflower. At maturity ‘Wine and Roses’ can reach 5′ tall and 5′ wide.
Conifers provide great winter interest and structure to the garden. A great one for the perennial garden is Compact White Fir, Abies concolor ‘Compacta’. It’s a slow-growing and compact version of white fir that reaches 4-5′ tall x 2-3′ wide in about 10 years. It will exceed this size, so plant it in a space that can accommodate a larger plant eventually. The needles are fairly long for a fir and blue-green like a blue spruce and citrus scented. Full sun is best, but it will tolerate some shade.
Bristle cone pine is another slow growing conifer that can work great in a perennial garden. Needles are short and usually a bluish-green. Ultimate size can be fairly large after many years, but 10 year growth is only 4-5′ tall and 3-4′ wide. Bristlecone pine prefers well-drained soils and full sun.