Gorgeous Golden Shrubs – Part 1

Foundation border with Viburnum lantana 'Aureum' and Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus'

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

As exciting as it is to see the first few blooms of spring, it’s hard not to be greedy and wish for more color now. Hooray for years’ worth of digital photos to supply a quick color fix! While I was filing some newer images, I came across pictures of some of my favorite yellow-leaved shrubs, and, knowing that many of you too enjoy great-looking foliage, I figured I’d share them. I decided to divide them into two posts: those that are grown for flowers as well as foliage and those prized mostly for their leaves.

Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus' with Rose 'Ghislaine de Feligonde'

Mock oranges (Philadephus coronarius) normally aren’t the most interesting-looking deciduous shrubs, and their bloom period is quite short: just about 2 weeks in late May to early June in this part of Pennsylvania. But once you’ve experienced its sweet fragrance, it’s hard to resist making a space for it somewhere, especially if you can find one of the colored-foliage forms, such as yellow-leaved ‘Aureus’. Even it isn’t exactly a multi-season shrub: its leaf color is most pronounced in spring, turning an ordinary green in early summer. But still, it increases the interest from about 2 weeks to 8 weeks or more, so it definitely has an edge over the straight species.

Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus'

Mine does well in morning sun only (until about 11 am), and even there, it can get a little crispy around the edges if the soil gets very dry. I’d guess it might be even happier in light all-day shade. The trick is giving golden mock orange a spot where you can enjoy the scent and color in spring and then let more-interesting companions carry the show for the rest of the growing season. (Mock oranges make great supports for hybrid clematis, by the way!) You can acquire golden-leaved mock orange through Gossler Farms Nursery.

Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus'

In contrast to the single-season mock orange, viburnums hardly need any improvement to earn a place of honor all year long. But if you’re going to have flowers, berries, and great fall color, then you may as well go all the way and get colorful foliage for spring and summer as well. One option is yellow-leaved European cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus ‘Aureum’).

Viburnum opulus ‘Aureum’

Like the golden mock orange, the leaf color is most outstanding in spring to early summer. In shade, it turns mostly green after that; in sun, it stays yellowish, but it tends of bleach out. I suspect a morning-sun site might be best for this one.

Viburnum opulus ‘Aureum’

Another option that I’ve become even more fond of is the yellow-leaved form of wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana ‘Aureum’).

Viburnum lantana 'Aureum' with Syneilesis aconitifolia

The branching form is dense and well-balanced, the plump flower buds add winter interest, the dense white bloom clusters are pretty, and the red-turning-black fall berries are fantastic (if you have another clone or seedling nearby for pollination). But my favorite feature of ‘Aureum’ is the color of the leaves, which lasts through spring into early or midsummer.

Viburnum lantana ‘Aureum’

I have this one in the same bed as my golden mock orange (below, the mock orange is on the left and the viburnum is on the right). It too seems quite happy there, with the added advantage of being less prone to crisping during dry spells.

Foundation border with Viburnum lantana 'Aureum' and Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus'

Greer Gardens carries both V. opulus ‘Aureum’ and V. lantana ‘Aureum’. Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) is a shrub that looks good on paper (and in pictures) for multi-season interest, with showy yellow flowers in spring and bright green stems for winter interest. In the garden, though, it’s one of those suckering plants that can easily earn the status of being aggressive: maybe not a problem if you put it in a tough site such as dry shade, but a quickly-regretted choice if let loose in moist, rich border soil. I should mention here that Japanese kerria is also considered invasive in some areas, as are the species Viburnum opulus and V. lantana, so you may want to check out the lists at the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States to see if they’re a concern in your area before you consider adding them to your garden.

Kerria japonica 'Chiba Gold'

If you think you’d still like to try Japanese kerria, then consider tracking down the yellow-leaved selection called ‘Chiba Gold’. I’ve been begging this one to sucker, even while I’m pulling out dozens of spreading shoots of the variegated form ‘Picta’ growing in the same border. This yellow-leaved beauty gets even less sun than the other shrubs I’ve mentioned (just from dawn until about 9 am); it bleaches quickly in much more sun than that.

Kerria japonica 'Chiba Gold'

I see that even though a few nurseries carried ‘Chiba Gold’ a few years ago, no one seems to have it available right now, so unfortunately, I can’t provide a mail-order source at the moment. And finally, my favorite of my yellow-leaved shrubs for sheer gaudiness: Briant Rubidor weigela (Weigela florida ‘Olympiade’).

Weigela florida Briant Rubidor ('Olympiade')

The late-spring show of hot-pink blooms against the emerging golden foliage is absolutely outrageous; the leaf color stays distinctly yellow through the growing season; and it’s fine even in full sun here with no signs of crisping or bleaching.

Weigela florida Briant Rubidor ('Olympiade')

I cut the whole thing back to about 1 foot every 3 years or so to keep it small enough for a narrow foundation border, and it doesn’t seem to mind at all. And it too makes a perfect partner for supporting a clematis. One source for Briant Rubidor (also sold simply as ‘Rubidor’) is Lazy S’s Farm.

Weigela florida Briant Rubidor ('Olympiade') with Clematis seedling and Vernonia

Next time, even more woody ways to brighten your life – and your garden – with glorious golden-leaved shrubs (and a few trees, too).

15 responses to this post.

  1. nan – thanks for posting about the japanese kerria. i bought one back in the fall when i bought all my “charlie brown shrubs” not knowing anything about it. these are all really pretty.

    Hi Gina! Kerria *is* a very pretty shrub for spring – as long as you keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t spread out of bounds.
    -Nan

  2. Nancy what a great post !
    I love golden plants in the garden . I also have Gold Mock Orange (all sun all day and it is very good not to get crispy so far) but no blooms .. 4 years old .. so I am puzzled.
    Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ .. with its lovely cut leaves .. morning sun for that.
    Cotinus Golden Spirit – Smoke Bush, planted close to Royal Purple .. so they will look fantastic together .. morning sun for them as well.
    Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’ .. I have 2 of them in the front bed for colour and the ouch factor for naughty cats and squirrels ..
    Duetzia Chardonnay Pearls .. so gorgeous when the pearls open to those star like flowers ..
    I guess you can see I love GOLD in the garden !
    Thank you for listing more that I can investigate !
    Joy ( a GOLD nut !)

    Yay – another gold fanatic! I think this is one group of plants that we northern gardeners have an advantage with; I’m not sure how they’d do for our friends in Florida, Texas, and other hot areas. I love all of your choices, especially ‘Sutherland Gold’ elderberry! I could have included them here, and spireas, as well. So many choices, so little time…
    -Nan

  3. Nancy, a wonderful post that has a lot of the shrubs I love and in their chartreuse forms. Can’t get better than that. I have Kerria and a variegated Weigela. I can’t remember it’s name right now. Again, great post.~~Dee

    I’m glad you have luck with many of these too, Dee!
    -Nan

  4. Thanks, Nan! These sunny shrubs were just what I needed this morning! And what great photos (and, as always, great information, too). I really appreciate your listing the sources so the rest of us gold-diggers can find them!

    Hey, thanks! But you’re supposed to be on vacation, not on line!
    -Nan

  5. Lots of great choices to light up the border and yours looks positively radiant! I just received the AHS magazine and they gave your book on color a great review! Congrats! I am going to add that one to my collection!

    Thanks so much for the kind comments, Layanee!
    -Nan

  6. That Weigela has my kind of color! Congrats on the AHS award, I love your book ‘Foliage.’ The award was well deserved.

    Knowing your great appreciation for things chartreuse, I thought you’d like it. And thanks about the book. Rob’s photos are amazing, aren’t they?
    -Nan

  7. What a treat to find some lush golden foliage photos. Thanks for sharing them with us. Lots of good info there besides the eye candy. Our kerria, a passalong with the double flowers has not been invasive, in fact I would like to see a little more of it, maybe it is in such a dry spot that keeps it from suckering more? Love the goldey stems it has right now, before blooming or leafing out. Can’t wait to see part two!
    Frances

    I’ll bet it *is* the dry soil keeping your kerria in check, Frances. I have ‘Chiba Gold’ in my very best spot and have plied it with alpaca manure in the hopes of encouraging its spread; so far, it’s just sitting there, but I still have my hopes….
    -Nan

  8. Nancy, I just heard about your AHS Book Award. Congratulations. I will definitely add this book to my library. It’s so nice to read a gardening book writen by someone who is knowledgeable.

    I appreciate your comment, Catherine. I hope you enjoy the book as much as Rob and I enjoyed working on it!
    -Nan

  9. Now, Nan, you KNOW I love gold-foliaged plants, so this post has me in raptures…the viburnums definitely intrigue and tempt, but that Briant rubidor weigela is awesome. Now, I can’t tell; are the leaves gold or are they gold-on green? Because I have an unnamed/mislabeled weigela in our garden that is amazing with gold-green leaves and flowers the same colour as yours. I’ll have to look the plant up.
    And yes, let me offer my heartfelt congratulations for your AHS Book Award… I can’t think of a more deserving recipient. With any luck Fallscaping will be a future recipient, too.

    Oh really, Jodi – you like chartreuse too? I hadn’t noticed. (Just kidding!) If memory serves, the new growth of the weigela is greenish yellow, turning more yellow in summer (the opposite of the usual process). I think the amount of green can vary, though, depending on how much sun it gets. Since yours has the intense flower color, it probably *is* Briant Rubidor. There is another one, ‘Looymansii Aurea’, but it has pale pink flowers.
    -Nan (P.S. Thanks about the book too!)

  10. Another very informative post Nan. Thank you for taking the time to share all this info with us. I especially love that Weigela. My Weigela flower is a similar color but the leaves are just a regular green.
    Our weather sure doesn’t feel very springy! Snow on the ground, frigid wind and flurries…blowing straight across the landscape. Ugh!
    Happy Easter to you!

    Happy Easter to you too, Kerri, though you’re right; it sure doesn’t feel much like spring today. We’re not having flurries yet (they’re due tonight), but we certainly have the mighty winds!
    -Nan

  11. Nan: I have a question for you. Would you be willing to send me an email? I don’t see a contact email for you.

    Done, Layanee. (I do have a contact e-mail address on my bio page, but it’s spelled out in the running text, so it’s a little hard to find.)
    -Nan

  12. Nan, this was just a fantastic post. I’m going to sit here now and pour over my catalog from our local wholesaler and see if I can find any of these beauties listed.

    I’m happy that you found it of interest, Melanie. I hope you can find them!
    -Nan

  13. Nan, is that Gaillardia in the photo with the Viburnum? If so, does it over winter for you?

    Yep, it’s Gaillardia, and no, I usually have to grow it as an annual. I think these might have been from a few bits that squeaked through one winter, though; I’ve not had such good luck with it since.
    -Nan

  14. I have had good luck with Weigelia ‘rubidor’ although it was a tough sell with some clients. How about the various golden Spireas and some of the euphorbias for a splash of gold color.

    I had a Kerria japonica ‘variagata’ that after many years reverted and outgrew its space. I moved it to the woodland last year. The vertict is still out on the reverted plant.

    I look forward to seeing more pictures.

    I tend to forget the fact that many people equate yellow foliage with the plant being sickly. I guess that’s why you encountered the resistance? It does take a bit of getting used to, I think. And yep, spireas are coming next time.
    -Nan

  15. Posted by pvaldes on November 12, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Nice photos. I never heard of a yellow V. opulus. I see an “onondaga” Viburnum like mine also, and I just realise now how dark this shrub can appear.

    Thanks for visiting. It’s tough finding the right spot for that golden V. opulus, since it’s so prone to scorching, but it’s a beauty in spring, at least.
    -Nan

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