Shrubs, like clothing, go in and out of style. Today, some of the old-fashioned shrubs grown and loved by our grandmothers are now back in fashion – and for good reason: Most of these selections have few or no pests, grow fast and get quite large, filling up empty garden spaces quickly. Here’s a look at some of Grandma’s full-sun favorites.


Who doesn’t like lilacs? Whether in your yard or in a vase, they’re hard to beat for beauty and fragrance.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Exochorda racemosa

Pearl bush is a standout in spring with its white buds and flowers, but it virtually disappears into the garden after blooming.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


It’ll take more than a picket fence to contain the exuberance of this pink weigela.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are easy to grow for gardeners in the Midwest and North. Their beautiful flower panicles are 6-12 inches long and highly fragrant. The flowers open in midspring, but if you’d prefer your blooms a little earlier, try a hybrid lilac such as Syringa × hyacinthiflora. Grow the old-fashioned kind for single lavender flowers, or be daring and grow a double-flowered pink or white type. Lilacs reach 8-10 feet tall and about 6 feet wide, and they can be grown in climates as diverse as Alaska and Arizona. The best soils to grow them in are neutral to alkaline (pH around 6.5 or higher).

Two spring bloomers that are much less well-known than lilacs but just as stunning are beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) and pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa). Beautybush has small, pink flowers that cover the arching branches of the shrub in late spring. It can reach 8 or 10 feet tall and about as wide. It’s pretty care-free, although it benefits from pruning out old wood. Pearlbush gets its name from its pure-white buds. In early spring, plants are covered with the purest white buds you’ve ever seen! Pearlbush is hard to find unless it’s in bloom. Its bluish-green foliage blends in with many other plants, so put it at the back of the garden border. It’ll be easy to spot in bloom, since plants grow 10-15 feet tall and wide. Both shrubs like well-drained, acidic soil.

Weigela (Weigela florida) is so easy to grow – the most puzzling thing about it is how to pronounce its name. (The best pronunciation is “why-jee-lah,” but “why-jee-lee-ah” is often heard, too.) Its late spring flowers are pink, red or white. The shrub looks a little rangy, so be sure to site it in just the right place – like at the back of a border. Single plants can really make a statement, but placing weigela in a formal garden is usually not a good idea. There are many new variegated and red-leaf weigelas on the market that provide interest throughout summer and fall, as well as spring. The plant grows 6-8 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide, depending on the cultivar and where it’s placed, so give it a lot of room. It prefers neutral to alkaline soil (pH around 6.5 or higher).

If you’re trying to fill a big hole in your garden and you’re tired of growing fussy plants, take a tip from your grandmother and try one of these old-fashioned favorites. These shrubs will give you years of flowers that your children – and grandchildren – will appreciate and treasure.