Familiar garden favorites get a new lease on life as modern plant breeders introduce dwarf and easy-care varieties along with improved color options of timeless shrubs.
The huge Lilac bush at your grandparents’ house where you’d cut flowers for the kitchen table…
The mature Camellia in the backyard of the house in which you grew up…
The vibrant Rhododendrons that electrified the garden for a brief window each year…
The mossy Rose of Sharon next door that drew every hummingbird in the neighborhood…
The towering Hydrangea that sprawled with huge, colorful heads full of flowers…
The musky Roses that filled the gardens of your childhood with scent…
These old-fashioned plants loom large in our memories, making us feel safe and secure and filling us with nostalgia.
Today’s gardeners working with reduced space in city lots and on balconies might think that these sentimental giants are unrealistic additions to their own gardens because of their size and maintenance needs. Or perhaps, while the memories are lovely, those with more elevated palettes would appreciate something with less intense colors for their own spaces.
Thanks to new introductions of classic, nostalgic shrubs, there are now Lilacs, Camellias, Rhodies, Rose of Sharon, Hydrangeas, and Roses that will feel right at home in modern gardens, just like they did in generations past.
Lilacs are deciduous shrubs that produce sprays of fragrant flowers alongside tender new green leaves every Spring. Blooming from April into June, depending on the variety, for many people the May flowers of classic Lilacs align perfectly with memories of Mother’s Day.
Lilacs can be very long-lived and grow taller and woodier over time. They will produce more blooms in full sun conditions but can tolerate part shade. Lilacs grow best in rich soil with lots of organic matter, and they help attract pollinators like butterflies and moths to the garden while remaining resistant to deer and rabbits.
Classic varieties of Lilacs have limited color options ranging from white to soft or rich purple, may have issues with disease, and can lose their shape over time, growing top-heavy and cracking under their own weight. New introductions have focused on smaller sizes, stronger forms, and more color options and bloom styles, like doubles.
Miss Kim Lilac
New & Improved Lilacs
Syringa ‘Miss Kim’ Korean Lilac – This dwarf Korean Lilac produces clusters of fragrant, miniature lavender to pale-pink blooms in June. Resistant to powdery mildew and slower-growing, this is a great shrub for garden spaces where height may be restricted but width is not; 6-8 feet high by 6-8 feet wide.
Syringa ‘Bloomerang’ Lilac – A new introduction, this reblooming Lilac puts on a show alongside traditional varieties in Spring and continues to produce it’s classic, sweetly fragrant, lilac-purple flowers in Summer and into Fall. Highly disease-resistant, this is the perfect plant for anyone looking for an easy-care, small-stature, long-flowering alternative to regular Lilacs; 4–5 feet high by 4–5 feet wide.
Syringa ‘Sensation’ Lilac – The highly attractive, large red-purple flowers on this shrub are each outlined with a fine white edge. Producing fragrant blooms in May, this is a fantastic Lilac for people looking for bolder, more interesting color options in their garden and who will benefit from the height and privacy that Lilacs can bring to gardens; 10–12 feet high by 6–8 feet wide.
Spring and Winter Camellias offer gardeners a combination that few other shrubs can compete with—rich, glossy evergreen leaves, the ability to grow in shade conditions, and a fantastic display of blooms during the quiet months. Camellia sasanqua (Winter Camellia) produces flowers from November through February, while Camellia japonica (Spring Camellia) produces flower from February into May.
Camellias are deer resistant, have few pests and diseases, and are a valuable food source for hummingbirds and other pollinators during Winter. They can be planted in full sun to full shade, but prefer protection from hot, reflective spaces and don’t like to compete with large evergreens like Douglas Fir trees for light and resources.
Classic, straight species of Camellias produce vibrant rose-pink blooms that fade to brown as they age. New introductions have been bred to offer a kaleidoscope of pinks, white, and red, with every gradient and pattern of petals available. Smaller cultivars are right at home in small gardens or containers.
April Remembered Camellia
The Best New Camellias
Camellia japonica ‘April Remembered’ – Soft pink and white petals are evenly arranged around yellow stamens on this long-blooming Spring Camellia; a perfect plant for gardeners who want a reliable new introduction and have more space to dedicate; 6–8 feet tall by 6–8 feet wide.
Camellia x williamsii ‘Buttermint’ – The petite, creamy white blooms help bridge the gap between Winter and Spring Camellias. Buttermint has lightly fragrant flowers and a tidy, uniform appearance; 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Pink-A-Boo’ – Fragrant, peachy-pink blooms with shocking yellow stamens are produced abundantly by this Winter Camellia; can be grown to its mature size as a specimen shrub or pruned into a hedge or Espalier plant to suit any garden; 8–10 feet tall by 8–10 feet wide.
Perhaps the most iconic Pacific Northwest garden shrub, Rhodies are beloved for their evergreen foliage and huge bouquets of blooms that come out each Spring in a display of colors ranging from white to pink, purple, red, and even orange, yellow, and peach!
Rhododendrons grow in shade to part sun and can tolerate our wet, clay-heavy soils in the Winter while surviving with minimal supplemental irrigation in the Summer. New pests like lacebug need to be addressed using horticultural oil or insecticide, but these disease-resistant plants are otherwise very easy to care for.
While tall, wide varieties were the order of the day in generations past, a host of new varieties mature around 3-4 feet or smaller, making them a great fit for modern gardens. Color palettes are no longer restricted to vibrant, saturated tones, though many modern options for dramatic colors are still available in compact forms—today’s gardeners may appreciate the range of cool whites, muted peaches, or soft yellows of Rhodies that are now available at garden centers.
Sappho White Rhododendron
Horizon Monarch Rhododendron
Our Favorite Rhododendrons
Rhododendon ‘Horizon Monarch’ – Deeply green, evergreen foliage provides the perfect backdrop to the gorgeous coral-pink buds that develop each Spring, opening to display creamy, peachy yellow blossoms. Horizon Monarch is a great fit for gardeners looking for a strong show in Spring on a plant that will provide a healthy backdrop to other plantings the rest of the year; slow growing to 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide.
Rhododendron ‘Anah Kruschke’ – The glorious reddish-purple blooms of Anah Kruschke are reminiscent of classic Rhodies, but arrive on a more compact, well-behaved plant; 4–5 tall by 4–5 feet wide.
Rhododendron ‘Sappho White’ – This open-structured plant produces crystal clear white blooms with an intense, purple black blotch held above the anthers of each blossom. A striking garden shrub with deep green, narrow evergreen leaves; 6 feet tall by 6–7 feet wide.
Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon, the cold-hardy, shrub form of Hibiscus, brings blossoms to the garden in late summer when many other plants are starting to fade. With smaller, more abundant blooms than their tropical counter parts, hummingbirds, bees, and humans all adore these plants and the display they bring in August.
Rose of Sharon grows in full sun to partial shade, is disease and pest-free and heat tolerant, and modern introductions require very little pruning to maintain their upright, vase-like shape. Find them in a true shrub form or as tree-form plants on a standard. In autumn, their small, duck-footed leaves turn golden before dropping, leaving attractive seed heads set on simple branches.
Mature specimens seen around town bloom in tones of pink or occasionally purple. Modern varieties have focused on unique coloration in the blooms, as well as double or semi-double blossoms. These sturdy plants are now available in white, soft pinks, and blues, in addition to the classic varieties.
Blue Bird Rose of Sharon
Fiji Rose of Sharon
Modern Varieties of Rose of Sharon
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Blue Bird’ Rose of Sharon – Lovely blue flowers with a maroon eye blanket this fantastic Rose of Sharon, which is equally suited to use as a specimen plant or as part of a mixed hedge; 6–8 ft tall by 5–6 feet wide.
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Fiji’ – This new introduction boasts white blooms streaked with rosy pink that feature small frills of petals around the center stamen. Fiji is a romantic and tropical-esque addition to the modern garden; 5–8 feet tall by 4–7 feet wide
Hibiscus syriacus ‘White Chiffon’ Rose of Sharon – The clearest, cleanest white Rose of Sharon ever produced, White Chiffon features a series of ruffled, clear white blooms produced en masse at the end of summer; 6–7 feet tall by 4–6 feet wide.
Hydrangeas make a statement with their larger-than-life clusters of flowers that arrive on scene in Summer and hold on through Autumn. Mophead Hydrangeas bloom in pinks, purples, and blues, and Panicle Hydrangeas, with their cone-shaped, white-green flower heads and ability to tolerate a bit more sun have given gardeners another way to use these classic shrubs in the landscape.
Hydrangeas thrive in full shade, partial sun, and some newer breeds will even bloom happily in full sun. Proper pruning of larger, classic varieties is key to maximizing blooms and creating a strong plant that doesn’t give in under the weight of its blossoms.
Fortunately, many new introductions of Hydrangeas stay much smaller and don’t require the same precision when pruning in order to perform at their best in the garden. The color offerings of new Mophead Hydrangeas are less fickle and changeable with the pH of the soil, and Panicle Hydrangeas now come not only with a shorter stature, but with warm pink tones that age beautifully on the plant or as cut or dried flowers.
Little Lime Hydrangea
New & Improved Hydrangeas
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ – A shorter, more compact take on Limelight, the Panicle Hydrangea that started it all. Little Lime has subtly cone-shaped flower heads that emerge with a green tone, age to white, and ultimately have a blush of pink as the bloom ends; 3–5 feet tall by 3–5 feet wide.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bloomstruck’ – Bloomstruck is a sport of the wildly popular Endless Summer Hydrangea and is prized for its rich rose-pink to blue-violet coloration that changes with the pH of the soil. Strong sturdy stems and repeat blooming, along with a more compact shape make this a superior Hydrangea for lovers of the classic Mophead look; 3–4 fet tall by 4–5 ft wide.
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ – A PeeGee Hydrangea with a new twist, the bubble-gum pink tones produced on these exaggerated cone-shaped blooms arrive late in Summer as the white flowers fade. The strong red stems of this variety can get tall over time, but with aggressive pruning in Fall or Spring, a smaller stature can be achieved; 6–7 feet tall by 4–5 feet wide.
Roses are perhaps the most nostalgic of all garden plants. Whether you’re familiar with them from wedding bouquets, Valentine’s Day, or walks through the many Rose gardens in Portland, everyone has memories that Roses instantly evoke.
For many gardeners, care for Roses might be associated with endless deadheading, the need to frequently treat for diseases and pests, and to spend hours attempting to create the ideal conditions for their blooms. Finding the perfect spot for a rose was like an art form, with in-ground, full sun, protected conditions seen as the only option.
New breeds of Roses allow gardeners to utilize them in a broader range of environments than ever before, from sunny, exposed slopes, to sheltered, partially shady gardens and even containers. Disease resistance, reblooming, and easy care have been the focus of new introductions, much to the relief of gardeners everywhere.
While Roses have always been available in a wide range of colors, many newer introductions prioritize fragrance alongside unique coloration and a tidy appearance.
The Poet’s Wife Rose
Our Favorite Modern Roses
‘White Drift’ Rose – The Drift Rose series is prized for its compact shape, long bloom season, and for the lack of precision pruning needed to produce a landscape-worthy shrub. Drift White is a favorite, thanks to its clear white, double blooms that blanket the plants all summer long; 1.5–2.5 feet tall by 2–3 feet wide.
‘The Poet’s Wife’ Rose – Strongly fragrant blooms and ruffled petals immediately indicate the hallmarks of a David Austin Rose. This stunning yellow rose can tolerate partial shade conditions and can even be cultivated in a container; 3–4 feet tall by 3–4 feet wide.
‘Peace’ Rose – Bred in 1939, the Peace Rose set the standard and showed gardeners just what was possible when bloom, disease resistance, and foliage were all considered with equal importance. Massive blooms display an ombre arrangement of dense petals from soft pink through cream to buttery yellow and are held high above deep green, glossy foliage that is strikingly disease resistant; 4-5 feet tall by 3–4 feet wide.
Thanks to the efforts of plant lovers and breeders to revive classic garden shrubs, every gardener can enjoy the beauty and nostalgia of an old-time shrub in their own, contemporary landscape.
Not sure which plant is the right fit for your aesthetic and space? Our knowledgeable garden center staff would love to show you the full range of our offerings, available all year round!