Accent plants in the garden are able to draw one’s attention because of their unique qualities. Both evergreens and deciduous plants are suitable as specimen shrubs or trees. Evergreens are treasured for their unusual and distinct shape or color. Deciduous plants, those which lose their leaves in the winter, are usually noted for their flowers, interesting bark and their colorful fall foliage.
Placement is important when including accent plants in a design. Larger plants, such as the beech tree need lots of room to grow. They stand out in the garden and contrast with their surroundings. Placing accent plants around a house can help emphasize certain architectural characteristics. Tall, narrow growing evergreens can frame a doorway, for instance. Smaller accent plants such as a dwarf false cypress, are effective in a patio setting where they can stand out among the flowers. The following is an introduction to a few commonly used specimen plants.
Evergreen Trees & Shrubs
Weeping Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis var pendula) is an interestingly shaped evergreen shrub which is great as an accent plant. Within the foundation planting or on their own it will draw the attention of visitors to your garden. Its foliage is similar to the tree hemlock but its branches hang down.
Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtuas crippsii nana) is a stunning specimens used for hedging, screening and windbreaks. These are slow growing evergreens, tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. The dwarf cultivars are valued in rock gardens and as specimen shrubs. The smaller cultivars are used for hedges and foundation plantings while the larger cultivars are perfect s specimen trees. Hinoki false cypress provides attractive soft and stringy reddish brown bark, and drooping dark green foliage.
Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo) is small mounding specimen evergreen and is normally used in foundation plantings, shrub borders and in groups. They make great rock garden specimens as well. In fact, mugo pines, with their dense foliage and a fine to medium texture work well in most landscape settings.
Deciduous Trees & Shrubs
White Birch (Betula papyrifera) and Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana) trees are prized for their distinct, tall and narrow form. The river birch tree is a beautiful landscape tree whose smooth spring bark begins flaking as the season progresses. Both types of birch and ironwoods have interesting bark making them great for great specimen trees in the winter as well as summer.
In the spring, the Magnolia (Magnolia sp.) is an outstanding tree noted for its large, extremely fragrant white flowers. During the summer, it’s foliage provides dense shade. Be aware that this tree is difficult to plant beneath as it forms a dense mat of roots.
The yellow and gold flowers of the Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) turn into pink seed pods in the fall. The oriental look of the golden rain tree makes it choice to grow as a specimen tree in garden landscapes.
Beech (Fagus sp.) trees are great specimen trees that produce nuts that attract wildlife. This very large growing shade tree has smooth grey bark and colorful fall foliage. Some varieties have crimson colored foliage which contrasts nicely with the surrounding green leaves.
Along with being a great specimen shrub, Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a useful species for shrub borders, and naturalizing. Witchhazel’s most prized characteristic is its flowering time. It flowers in late winter when other blooms are scarce. It’s branches can be cut and brought indoors. It’s fall foliage is wonderful as its leaves turn yellow.
Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) is noted for its colorful foliage. A great specimen shrub, the smokebush can also be blended with other species in a shrub border. The purple-leaved varieties can be used to form a dramatic dark backdrop for summer’s bright flowers and bright green foliage. Then, as the flowers fade in the fall, the smokebush will take over and light up the landscape with brilliant fall color. The unique billowing cotton like flowers are unlike any other flowering shrub.
A favorite of the gardener is the Hydrangea (Hydrandea sp.) which works as well as a specimen as it does as a background for white or light colored flowers. As a specimen, it can be fabulous, and the larger the more so. Minimal pruning is recommended for most prolific flowering. Flowers are easily air dried and are long lasting. This easy to grow and readily available shrub boasts large, dark, luxuriant foliage with round ball shaped or lace-capped flowers.