Shrubs are a useful asset to any garden. They add height and architectural interest. Evergreen shrubs added to herbaceous borders can give substance to a border and hold interest during winter months when most perennials die down. For the most part they are hardy and easy to maintain, requiring little pruning, and long lived. Here is a guide to a few of my favourite shrubs which will add interest to a garden at different times of the year.
Shrubs for a winter garden
Hamamelis or Witch Hazel has to be a favourite to add winter interest to any garden. It is a winter flowering shrub with spidery flowers and a spicy scent. Flowers come in shades of yellow, orange and reds. Witch Hazel will thrive in any garden but an open sunny position is best. It is quite a large shrub and can grow up to 4m in height. They require little pruning, especially if you have the room to let them grow to their full potential. Just remove any dead or diseased wood. They also have few problems with disease, but look out for honey fungus and vine weevil larvae amongst those grown in containers. Particularly good varieties include Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’ with bright yellow flowers and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ with its rich red spidery flowers.
Daphne is one of the best shrubs you can buy for winter scent. It flowers in January/February and has scented pink or white flowers. This shrub is very hardy and can grow up to 2m in height. They grow very well in borders and also in semi-woodland areas. Place them near to paths where their fragrance can be easily enjoyed. But beware, once planted they do not like to be moved. Daphne prefers a well-drained lime-free soil in a sunny spot, although it will tolerate semi-shade. They have few problems, but watch out for aphids and leaf spot. Two lovely varieties include Daphne bholua which has highly scently pinkish white flowers, and Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ which has pretty evergreen leaves and fragrant white flowers.
There are some shruby climbers you can buy to add winter colour to deciduous trees. Lonicera standishii ‘Budapest’ is one such example. Semi-evergreen this shruby honeysuckle has many scented pink-tinged white flowers in mid-winter, followed by red berries. It will grow up to 2m in height and prefers a sheltered position.
Shrubs for spring
Camellias are probably one of the most popular shrubs for early spring flowers. They can be problematic as they need acidic soil, but they can easily be grown in containers in the right compost. Because Camellias are native woodland plants, they grow best in shade or semi-shade. They prefer free-draining conditions with plenty of organic matter and can grow up to 3m in height. Perhaps the main problem for Camellias is frost which can damage flowers. A Good variety is Camellia x williamsii ‘Saint Ewe’ which has rose-pink flowers from January to April and seems to be quite resistant to frost. Azaleas are beautiful spring flowering shrubs. Growing in sun or shade in well-drained soil, varieties can grow up to 15ft and have flowers ranging from white to deep purple/pink. Azalea ‘Adonis’ has gorgeous white flowers in May and grows up to 75cm. Azalea ‘Aladdin’ also flowers in May but has strong red flowers. You just can’t ignore the gorgeous yellow flowers of Forsythia in early spring. It can be grown as a stand-alone specimen or as part of a border and is a useful shrub for hedging. It likes moist but well-drained soil but will grow well anywhere. Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’ is a vigorous variety which has deep yellow flowers from mid to late spring and grows up to 300cm in height. Kerria Japonica or Japanese Yellow Rose is another spring flowering shrub with sunny yellow flowers. Varieties can have either single or double flowers. It is suitable for a border or a woodland garden and grows to around 2m in height. Pieris Japonica is an all-year-round shrub, with attractive foliage in summer and slightly fragrant clusters of bell-shaped white, pink or red flowers in early spring. They can be grown in a shrub border but are just as at home in garden planters. ‘Mountain Fire’ has particularly attractive glossy red leaves.
Summer flowering shrubs
Hydrangea is a deciduous shrub that can suit any type of garden. There are many varieties that are divided up into two main groups. ‘Lacecaps’ that have flattened flower heads, and ‘Hortensias’ that have spherical flower heads of large flowers. Flower colours range from pinks to blues. He more acidic the soil, the bluer the flower will be. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ is a spectacular variety, with large conical blooms from July to September which open in a soft shade of pea green and gradually change to cream and finally a delicate soft pink as they mature. It will grow to up to 250cm. Hibiscus syriacus, also called Rose of Sharon, is a deciduous flowering shrub that can reach a height of around 4m. It likes very warm conditions in full sun where it displays an abundance of attractive white, pink, red, lavender, or purple flowers. It is an easy plant to grow as it develops quickly once planted and doesn’t mind being moved. Buddleja’s are also very easy to grow. They like well drained soil and plenty of sunshine. Their flowers of pink to blue/purple provide a summer spectacle in August when they are covered in butterflies which feed on their nectar. They do require hard pruning in spring to encourage plenty of new growth. ‘Pink Delight’ has conical spikes of claret buds opening to produce lovely, orange-eyed flowers in a strong pink.
Shrubs for autumn interest
Euonymus can be deciduous or evergreen shrubs or small trees, often with fine autumn colour. The leaves of Euonymus alatus turn a beautiful rosy-crimson in autumn. It is very hardy and grows up to 2.5m in height and spread. Cotinus or Smoke Tree is a true delight. They are large deciduous shrubs or small trees whose leaves produce wonderful autumn colour from yellow to deep reds. Very hardy, they have a bushy habit and can grow up to 8m in height. Berberis can also be large deciduous shrubs or small trees with spiny shoots bearing tiny leaves. Berberis thunbergii has leaves that turn a deep orange/red in autumn followed by red fruit. It has an ultimate height and spread of around 1.5m and is therefore suitable form most gardens.