Asian Style Shrubs in the Prairie Garden

My favorite pastime when not working or gardening is traveling! And when I do, I often end up in a gardening zone that is milder than our Canadian prairie zone 3.  On these journeys, certain plants delight me visually and I often return home with short lists of plants that I’ll bring to my local garden centre in hopes of duplicating some element of the landscapes I may have seen in BC, southern Ontario, lower United States, Europe or Asia. 

In your travels, are you attracted to plants that have an Asian or Zen like appearance that you want to ‘bring home’ to our zone 3 garden?  For example, many prairie gardeners are attracted (justifiably) to the elegance of Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum).  Unfortunately for us, Japanese maples are normally not hardy enough to be used as reliable shrub in our area.  (A few prairie gardeners have been blessed with their own micro-climate where a Japanese maple has been successful).  Luckily, there are some useful hardy alternative plants that offer that distinctive Asian style in zone 3 gardens.  Some of my favorites are:

Trost’s Cutleaf Dwarf Birch
A small arctic-hardy birch shrub (zone 2) that has delicate looking lacy leaves. The green foliage turns a brilliant shade of yellow in autumn. 3-5’h x 3’w.

Prostrate Rock Cotoneaster
A low. Spreading groundcover with thick ‘wiry’ stems that knurl and twist horizontally above the ground. Tiny leaves, twisted stems and cherry-red berries make this a delightful ‘surprise’ plant to place on or near a rock or Buddha garden figure for great effect.

‘Dwarf’ Burning Bush
Stiff bark with ‘winged’ ridges give the bark a one-of-a-kind look in the prairie shrub world. Branching is quite horizontal lending itself to an Asian style. Dark green summer foliage becomes one of the most fluorescent red fall-coloured shrubs. 5’h x 5’w.

‘Flame’ Amur Maple
This version of the Amur Maple has a very intense bright red fall colour. Amur Maple stems gracefully wind and twist in alternating horizontal and vertical directions creating a look that reminds us of perhaps being in a small forest in southern Europe or Asia.

Great Wall Clumping Bamboo
This thin-branched bamboo has outward arching slender branches on a dark purplish cane. Creates dramatic vertical height with an Asian inspiration. It is rated zone 4, so it may only perform well for you if you’ve been previously successful with other zone 4 plants. A non-invasive variety. 5-8’h x 3’w.

Morden Golden Glow Elder
Unlike larger elders, this mid-sized elder can find a home in almost any yard. Fine textured, lacy-cut leaves are golden and then age to a rich green creating a unique two-toned effect. Creamy white flowers in mid-summer are an added bonus! 5’h x 5’w.

Black Lace Elder
Lacy deep-cut foliage is an intense purple-black shade. Blooms in midsummer with massive lemon-scented pink flowers. This is more of a zone 4 plant, so it will generally die down closer to ground level over winter, but its hardy roots will regenerate an amazing new plant each season. 3-6’h x 3-5’w.

This small, aromatic rounded shrub has the appearance of a delicate fern. But, in reality, it’s not a fern at all, it is a very robust, hardy zone 2 plant that can add an amazing dimension of colour and texture to the garden. Beautiful forest fragrance when leaves are brushed. 4’h x 5’w.

Want to learn more? has an amazing plant search engine. Simply enter ‘zen’ in the search area and start exploring a vast array of plants that will help you design your own Asian garden.

Happy Gardening!

For more ideas ask your local garden center professionals and make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest for other help tips and hints.


Guest post by Jan - Bylands Account Representative

I’m very proud of my 4 children.  All 4 of them, worked many summers in the garden centre, they love plants and gardening too – but opted for totally different careers.  You can sometimes find Jan as a guest on ‘The Gardener’, a radio progam in Winnipeg on Sundays.