The best plants in my summer garden are not the flowers of herbaceous perennials or annuals, but of woody flowering shrubs. It is these plants that I forgot about while I am bent over forehead deep in foliage, deadheading, clipping or digging up others needier of my attention, until I take notice as they reliably take their turn looking glorious without any bit of help from me. And just in time, too, for in the hot, humid days of summer, I’d rather be sipping and dipping than snipping and clipping.

Flowering shrubs are available in colours, sizes and styles to suit any garden or container. Dependably hardy, they fill up landscapes with a presence that outrivals that of most perennials, and with much less work. Familiar, omnipresent examples like hydrangeas and spireas, as lovely as they may be, are not the topic here. Following are three lesser known summer-flowering shrubs, each low in maintenance, but high in appeal.

Rugosa rose

Like a trusted old friend, ‘Thérèse Bugnet’ rugosa rose never lets me down. As a new gardener some 20 plus years ago I fell in love with her clear-pink ruffled, double-petaled flowers, her perfume, the pretty crimson rose hips that lure birds once flowers fade at season’s end, and the pinky-red that stains only the youngest woody stems. This superb reflowering shrub doesn’t ask much of me except that I give it a spot in full sun, though with diminished blooms, it will also do quite fine in part shade.

Because it is tolerant of salt and extreme cold, this rose is often relegated to the boundaries of landscapes where a row of rugosas serve as a lovely, but inhospitable, thorny mid-sized hedge. I prefer to situate mine closer, where I am more likely to appreciate her beauty and a whiff of her delicious fragrance.

Viburnum sargeantii ‘Onandaga’

This is a good choice shrub if you have space to fill. I planted Onandaga viburnum 10 years ago on the north side of my lot in front of a looming cedar hedge, a site shadier than recommended. It grew to a height that won’t surpass the hydro lines above it and I have never regretted my purchase. It undergoes a metamorphosis from one season to the next, each time revealing another facet — a true multi-season shrub.

In early June, white lacecap flowers emerge and stand out against deeply lobed, green foliage, which turns a glowing cardinal red in the fall. By the end of the growing season, flowers are replaced by berries, which birds relish. The greyish bark seldom needs pruning and it is unfussy about soil. Sergeant Onandaga Viburnum is a shrub for informal sites but is attractive enough as an accent plant in front yards.

Weigelia florida ‘my Monet’

This dwarf shrub — only growing 30 to 60cm — is perfect for filling containers or front borders in semi-shade. Aside from being cold hardy and not bothered by pests, “my Monet” is a unique, petite weigelia that produces an initial flush of trumpet-shaped pink flowers in June, then reblooms sporadically throughout summer, even attracting hummingbirds. But it’s the variegated foliage — cream and green tinged with pink — that really make it shine. Leaf colour varies with sunlight exposure.

So, if minimal maintenance is a priority — and for most home gardeners nowadays, it’s essential — skip the perennial aisles at the garden centre and head straight for the flowering shrubs. You won’t have to sacrifice beauty and you may have more leisure time. Hot summer days are meant for sipping cold drinks while the garden takes care of itself.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at

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