Shrubs are the backbone of the garden, with evergreens providing the base and deciduous flowers the pizazz.  Here are some of our favorite deciduous shrubs we’ve grown this year.  These are in no particular order and were chosen based on three criteria:  Beauty, usefulness in the landscape, and ease of growth for zones 6-7 in Western North Carolina.  This area is known for its diverse plant life, heavy clay soil, and yo yo spring weather.

Be sure to check out our other lists as we look back on our favorite plants of the 2023 season!

1. Buddleia, Miss Molly

Breeding of butterfly bushes has come a long way.  Most of the newer varieties have a much better growth habit than the older, wilder varieties and don’t self-seed all over the place.  You can now enjoy these very long blooming plants almost anywhere you like in the landscape.  Miss Molly barely edges out the Pugster series because of the beautiful Fuschia blooms and almost as compact of a growth habit.  If you want something even more dwarf, look to the Pugster series, also from Proven Winners.  We’ll be growing a lot of these in 2024!

2. Callicarpa X, Pearl Glam

Pearl Glam is an improvement in almost every way to American beautyberry.  We love its dark foliage, which keeps it interesting from the minute it wakes up in spring.  Long blooming in the summer, then beautiful berries in fall.  It’s also much more compact, growing just 6′ or so, and easily pruned if needed.

3. Calycanthus X, Aphrodite

Like Pearl Glam above, Aphrodite is a big improvement over the straight native species.  The blooms are much larger and it just keeps on re-blooming well into summer.  We haven’t noticed much scent on this one, but it’s a beauty, and a fast grower too!

4. Hydrangea paniculata, Little Quick Fire

We love panicle hydrangeas of all kinds for growing around Asheville, NC.  They bloom late spring to fall on new wood and don’t seem to be bothered by much of anything except the occasional deer.  Little Quick Fire is an interesting variety out of the many on the market today.  The blooms aren’t as big and showy individually, but it’s unique to the species as they have a nice bronze/yellow fall color.  It won us over this year.

5. Hydrangea arborescens, Incrediball Blush

Native hydrangea arborescens are often thought of as ‘snowball bush’ down here in the South.  We especially like Incrediball, and this one, Incrediball blush.

6. Clethra, Ruby Spice

Clethra is a great native plant that’s easy to grow, versatile, and doesn’t take over your garden.  Fragrant summer blooms that the pollinators love and brilliant yellow fall color too!

Illicium, Star Power Scorpio

7. Illicium, Star Power Scorpio

A fantastic shrub for shade.  Illicium is normally a little touchy here because of the cold, but the Star Power series was bred to be hardy down to zone 6.  If you have a lot of deer, or tougher areas with a lot of moisture, Star Power Scorpio would be an excellent choice.

Don’t forget to check out our other 2023 favorites!

Oh, and an honorable mention, Fizzy Mizzy Itea.  This is a really cool breakthrough for our native sweetspire, with a compact habit and blooms that stand up above the plant.  We are looking forward to growing more of that one.


One of the most confusing things about gardening is how to fertilize. There is A LOT of misinformation online about it and just as much marketing hype.

When we were starting we fell for most of it. We bought fish fertilizer, got our soil tested, and bought bags of bone meal.  Lots of money poured down the ole shoot.  The outhouse.

Robert Pavlis, and his blog Garden Myths, helped a lot to sort things out. We highly recommend a follow on his site, as well as his books.

If you don’t want to deep dive into the topic of fertilizer, here is the bottom line: Add some nitrogen during the growing season and/or just before, and keep adding organic matter (like mulch) to lighten up the soil.

The safest and easiest way to fertilize is with a good slow-release fertilizer like Ozmocote. Alternatively for general landscape use, a generic bagged fertilizer will work.  Look for a ratio of 3-1-2, but 10-10-10 or similar is fine. The main thing is the nitrogen.

If you do want to go a little deeper on the topic, here is an excellent place to start:

Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on Epsom salts or fish emulsion!

It’s December and we thought it would be a good time to reflect on some of our favorite plants this year.  For this list, we are only including herbaceous perennials, more to come for shrubs and other plants.  Plants are in no particular order and are chosen both for beauty and ease of growth for us in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

1. Baptisia, Lemon Merangue

We LOVE baptisia, and Lemon Merangue might just top the list.  There is something perfect with its silvery leaves and bright yellow flowers in spring.  If it underwhelms at first, just give it a year or two to find its stride.

2.  Monarda punctata

This bee balm took us by surprise this year.  This native is tough to find and doesn’t love being in pots, but if you can find some, scoop it up.  Not only are the flowers unique and long-lasting, it also attracts unique pollinators like wasps.

3. Gaura, Whirling Butterflies

Never mind the bad pic on this one, it’s a beauty in the landscape.  The pink varieties of Gaura are nice too, but there is something about the tall classic Whirling Butterflies variety.  If you trim these back after flowering, the show will extend up to fall.

4. Iris Germanica, My Friend Jonathan

Iris isn’t a huge favorite of this author, but this is a show-stopper.  What really sold us on My Friend Jonathan, besides the name, was another big fat fresh bloom in October.

5. Allium, Lavender Bubbles

You can’t go wrong with any of the summer-blooming alliums in Western North Carolina.  They are easy as pie, deer-resistant, and take the clay like a champ.  We love how they look like grass early in the season, then pop out purple pom pom flowers in the heat of summer after many flowers are fading.

6. Coreopsis, Enchanted Eve

Coreopsis is another family that does very well in this area and comes in a big range of colors.  Enchanted Eve is in the “Lil Bang” series so it stays shorter than other varieties.  Any of them are great plants, but we liked this one for its paint brush-like effect with the red and yellow, vigorous growth, and flower power.

Stay tuned for more of our favorite plants of 2023!