Sunshine Privet at the Linnaeus Teaching Garden.

When I survey the current nursery market, I see four genera of shrubs that talented plant breeders have greatly improved. They include Abelia, Spirea, Nandina and Ligustrum (Privet).

Older varieties within each genus were decent garden performers. But new and improved varieties are spectacular shrubs that thrive in our hot, challenging climate. Better still, they rarely suffer from insect or disease problems. I can’t imagine designing a garden without the following shrubs:

Abelia hybrids

Question. How many shrubs currently growing in your garden are smothered in flowers from July through late October? Not many, I suspect. Two new Abelia hybrids, Rose Creek and Canyon Creek, get my vote for their star quality foliage and flowers. I can hardly walk past these shrubs in the Linnaeus Teaching Garden without admiring the many tiny, cream-colored flowers that virtually hide the foliage. Bees and butterflies are similarly attracted to these shrubs. Plant in full sun or part shade. Height and spread 3 to 4 feet.

Nandina hybrids

Nandinas have come a long way from the leggy giants of yesteryear. Modern hybrids are much more refined and much more effective in urban garden settings. Among my favorite new varieties are Pink Blush, Lemon Lime and Obsession. Each sports magnificent evergreen foliage that changes colors throughout the growing season. Medium green summer foliage changes to bright red or orange during fall and winter. There is even a new super dwarf ground cover nandina called Flirt that rarely grows more than 2 feet high. Plant in full sun to part shade. Height and spread of Pink Blush, Lemon Lime and Obsession is about 3 to 4 feet. Modern nandinas thrive in Oklahoma heat and are virtually immune to insects and diseases.

Spirea hybrids

Spireas also have undergone a huge transition over the past few decades. New dwarf hybrids are much more refined yet as weather-tough as the gangly old spireas from the past. I’m particularly fond of a petite variety called Little Bonnie. It produces lavender-pink flowers in late spring and blooms throughout the summer. Height and spread 2 feet.

Ligustrum (Privet)

A few short years ago, I would never have planted a weedy and invasive privet. But that was before the new dwarf variety Sunshine hit the market. It sports bright yellow-gold foliage all year long. It absolutely lights up a garden. This sterile, non-invasive cultivar will not re-seed in the landscape. In fact, it doesn’t bloom at all, which is great news for allergy sufferers. It even performs well in clay soils! Heights and spread 4 to 5 feet.

Barry Fugatt is director of horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden. He may be reached at 918.576.5152 or email