Plant Profile: Ninebark

Sarah Nixon explains her design style to garden bloggers.

Sarah Nixon explains her design style to garden bloggers.

During the recent Garden Bloggers Fling, I had an opportunity to watch Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard demonstrate how to make a bouquet using the flowers and foliage from typical gardens. Sarah runs a service in Toronto where she provides bouquets to homes and businesses every week during the growing season — sort of like a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm for flower lovers.

One of the plants she used in the beautiful bouquet she did with early June blooms was a ninebark. She used both a bright gold-chartreuse variety and a deep maroon one. Together, they added depth and pizzazz to the arrangement.

Ninebark (Physocarpus) is a flowering shrub that should be in almost every northern garden. A native to Minnesota and hardy as far north as USDA Zone 2, common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) grows up to 10 feet tall with green to greenish yellow leaves. You can hardly kill a common ninebark: It can handle sun or part shade, sand or clay, dry soils or wet ones, drought or flood, compacted soils or loose ones.

Little Devil ninebark in bloom

Little Devil ninebark in bloom

It’s only problem was that as a landscape plant, the common ninebark was a bit ho-hum. In the 1990s, hybridizers started to work with ninebark and since then have created several stunning varieties that can add dark contrast or brighten a corner.

A few favorite varieties include Diabolo®, a tall, maroon-foliaged shrub with attractive spring flowers. While popular, Diabolo is a bit large for smaller garden spaces. This led local hybridizer David Zlesak to create Little Devil®, which has the same deep color and pretty flowers of Diabolo but smaller. Little Devil tops out at about 3 feet in height compared to almost 10 for Diabolo. It has smaller leaves, smaller blooms and is just plain cute. I love that David is a local hybridizer, so we know that Little Devil is hardy in the North. (This is the plant Sarah Nixon used in the bouquet she made for the garden bloggers.)

Other dark ninebarks include ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Lady in Red’. Another dark option is Center Glow® ninebark, which has bright yellow to orange foliage when it first emerges before deepening to a burgundy, almost brown shade.

Little Devil has impact in the landscape.

Little Devil has impact in the landscape.

In addition to the red to burgundy ninebarks, breeders have also developed several  plants with unusual colors. Dart’s Gold is a 5-foot tall yellow to lime colored plant with sweet white flowers in early summer. (Most ninebarks are blooming about now.) ‘Nugget’ ninebark is a real beacon in the landscape with bright yellow to lime foliage and white flowers. First Editions® Amber Jubilee® starts each season with foliage that is orange, yellow and red all at the same time before mellowing to green.

Do you have a ninebark in your yard?

—Mary Lahr Schier

 

Share