The backbone of any garden, adding structure and autumn/winter interest – it’s time we really started to appreciate these underrated plants.
We seem to have fallen out of love with shrubs. They struggle to compete with the vast array of colourful perennials that sing out loud in every season, and they have never been the fashionable choice on the style catwalks of the summer flower shows. Add to this the damage to their reputation from misuse and neglect in supermarket and airport car parks and it’s not hard to see why shrubs have fallen out of favour.
But this plant group is long overdue a revival in our gardens and, with autumn fast approaching, it’s the perfect time of year to plant them.
Used effectively, shrubs are incredibly versatile. Adding structure and seasonal interest to any garden, they are the perfect choice to fill gaps in formal or informal designs, in sunny and shady spots, whether planted singly or in groups.
Useful at any time of year, it is in winter that shrubs really step into the spotlight. If you’re looking for a reliable evergreen, try choisya, hebe or a Viburnum tinus. The brilliant red berries of skimmia will really liven up a container in the colder months. And, if you want to fill your garden with midwinter flowers and scent, hamamelis, Chimonanthus praecox or Sarcococca are obvious contenders.
For strong shape and texture, the twisted stems of Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ are wonderfully sculptural, while the red stems of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ will dazzle in the winter light. Then, of course, there is the clipped geometry of box, yew, holly and bay.
Punctuate your borders with shrubs that complement surrounding perennials through the seasons.
If you have a shady garden, there are plenty to choose from. Create layers of planting with taller trees above, and underplant with spring bulbs or ground cover, to mimic a woodland glade.
And why put up a fence when you could have a natural screen? Mixed shrubs will give you flowers and fruit (and attract wildlife), while clipped evergreens look smart and flowering hedges offer a seasonal splash of colour – try forsythia for a yellow sunburst in spring.
Need more convincing? Shrubs are usually relatively low maintenance. As with any plant, you’ll need to consider your soil type and aspect, plus your available space. With shrubs, you’re in it for the long haul, so avoid fast-growers if room is tight. But once you have your shrub checklist, you’ll find plenty of options to rekindle your passion.
Our native guelder rose is a good all rounder, with lovely spring flowers and bunches of decorative crimson berries in autumn. A medium-sized shrub, its berries will attract birds and small mammals. H&S: 13ft (4m).
Top tips for successful shrubs
■ Think about your soil type, and how and when the sun hits your garden.
■ Autumn is optimum planting time: when the soil is still warm.
■ Dig a generous hole, adding in a spadeful of well-rotted manure for drainage, and a sprinkle of micorrhizal fungi to
assist root development.
■ Check your plant for advice on when to prune – some shrubs flower on new growth; some on year-old growth. If you are renovating an overgrown shrub it’s often best to approach this in stages, pruning by one third at a time.
Thanks for sharing! Camilla Phelps.