November 21, 2011

Not Everyone's a Star

Recently Curtis at Native Plants With Adams Garden posted a profile of chokeberries, a lovely native shrub, and one that I grow in my garden.

Aronia, or chokeberry (it really does have an unfortunate common name), is a great alternative to invasive burning bush, mainly for its red fall color, as he writes.

But whoa, mine did not look anything like the photos he posted.

I have a small stand of Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima' in the center of a roundish bed.  They are leggy, bendy and tall, growing in a willowy vase shape.

Pretty in bloom (as you can see here next to a young Japanese maple 'Orange Dream'), but quite naked belowdeck.

The pictures he showed were of full, rounded shrubs, with brilliant red fall color.

My aronias are not full, not rounded and not so brilliant.  They have some nice red fall color above the bare stems, but it is a softer color compared to the deep garnet itea nearby.

The leaves drop earlier than the itea, so it is naked all over just when fall colors get going.  But it makes up for that with its red berries --- not an explosion like the winterberry hollies, but some nice red berries nevertheless.  Nobody out there likes the berries (hence the name chokeberry I guess) so the birds leave them alone.  The deer did sample them one cold winter.

Curtis suggested that I could cut back the older stems and encourage suckering below for fuller plants.  Aronia does send up shoots and form large stands, but rabbits seem to love this plant and they get all the suckers when they are a foot high.  My leggy plants don't get a chance to bulk up.

Besides, I kind of like the wavy, tall presence in the center of this garden.  The aronia's branches arch out over the top of the iteas and other shrubs and anchor the middle of this space.  There are too many full moundy shapes in here, and the tall arching aronia is a pleasant contrast rising in the middle.

In this garden chokeberry is a background plant.  It doesn't have the star attributes that Curtis profiles.

It has pretty apple-blossom like flowers in spring but they are subtle and brief.  It has a nice open shape but it is wispy and needs other things around it.  It has fall color and berries, but mostly serves as a foil to other deeper colors and fuller foliage.  It is too tall and too bare to be a specimen by itself.

But I really like it.  Not everybody needs to be the star.


  1. Laurrie, there's something sweet and touching about your leggy aronias, and I don't think every single plant has to be full and moundy - that would get boring. Your photos - esp that last one!- show how effective a little leg can be :)

  2. I agree with you - the tall arching shape of your aronias are perfect in this garden. Isn't it great how we can use the same plant for totally different effects?

  3. There's something to be said about ordinary and reliable--I kind of see myself as a chokeberry, too:) At a workshop on shrubs I attended last year, the presenter highly recommended chokeberries in the garden. I think your leggy specimen makes a nice contrast at the back of your garden, and those berries are gorgeous!

  4. Cyndy, I am liking a little bit of leg in this garden!

    Lyn, It's hard to design, though, when a plant looks completely different in two different settings. The challenge!

    Rose, I'm glad to hear aronias are being recommended by garden professionals. They really are a nice alternative to burning bushes or barberries.

  5. Your Aronia does look perfect in the center of that bed. Aronia grows wild here and yours look full in comparison to ours. lol. Talk about tall and leggy! It does have its own brand of beauty though. It always draws my eye to it in spring, fall and winter. The flowers are a lovely prelude in spring to what is to come in the rest of the garden.

  6. My goodness ... imagine how "in your face" each garden would be if every plant were a daily star! The visual noise would be unbearable. Every garden, like every show, needs bit players that take center stage briefly but mostly play back-up.

  7. Great attitude! A star with out a stage crew and behind the scenes people is just a maniac singing in the dark. I like the wispy chockeberries, too. They look a bit like supermodels - very wispy. :o)

  8. Laurrie, I've had Aronia on my wish list for years but never actually planted it. I've read varying views on it's deer-resistance. You mentioned the deer nibble it in your garden. How would you rate it's overall deer-resistance?

  9. Sweetbay, It seems like the natural state of aronia in the wild wants to be leggy!

    Joene, You're right, we do need those less noisy filler plants in every garden. I like the stage comparison.

    Tammy, Supermodels? Tall and all legs? Yes, indeed!

    Debbie, the deer do not touch my aronia, and even leave the berries alone most years. But rabbits get the low suckers. I lost all three of my first baby plants to rabbits, completely sheared to the ground with the tell-tale slanted bite. I then replanted with the taller ones you see here and the rabbits can't reach them, but they do take off any suckers that develop. If not for the rabbits I would have a big stand of aronia.

  10. Laurrie, happy to see you showcase this shrub - another of its great features are its fiery fall foliage...mine are leggy too but as you said, perfect as a backdrop to lower, mounding shrubs. I really like the combination of the berries and the Itea foliage in your photo...
    BTW sorry if this posts several times, this window is weirding out on me

  11. Ellen, thanks! I don't get fiery red autumn foliage on these aronias, but I do get a nice soft red that goes well with the iteas and other plants in this garden. (so far your comment only posted once!)


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