I asked one of the owner's sons if he might recommend something; he's always made good suggestions in the past so I trust his ideas. He suggested I consider this Common Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) pictured at right. I liked the reddish purple foliage and the pinkish white late spring flowers sounded nice. I wasn't sold on it though, so instead took a few pics to show my husband.
I checked my Manual of Woody Landcape Plants by Michael Dirr to see what he has to say about the Ninebark. From the section on landscape value: "Quite coarse and therefore difficult to use in the small home landscape; limited in usefulness because of rather meager ornamental assets; bark on older stems exfoliates into papery strips exposing a rich brown inner bark; unfortunately, this character is masked by the foliage and dense tangle of stems." Also, "The Minnesota Landscape Aboretum has a large collection of ninebarks and after looking over the entire group, I still came away with the opinion that about anything is better than a Ninebark."
Well... I guess that answers my question!
Do you have a favorite shrub or smallish tree? Can you suggest something that might be nice as a specimen for full sun in the middle of our back yard? I'd prefer something that blooms and has berries that the birds might find tasty. My husband is inclined to plant a pine, but I want something a bit more showy in such a prominent spot.