Choosing shrubs

To some, shrubs might not sound like the most exciting of plants, but in fact they can offer gorgeous blooms, fragrance, colour and texture, not to mention being magnets for wildlife and functioning as screens.

Like trees, they are a major investment. They can form the backbone of a planting scheme, add vertical interest and structure, and once established are not all that easy to move or replace. You will therefore want to spend time making the right selection for your site.

Here are some favourites to consider.


The viburnums feature some stunners for autumn colour, eye-catching foliage, and blooms with knock-out fragrance.

Viburnum plicatum 'Mariesii'

With its tiered branching pattern and pretty lacecap type flowers, this romantic shrub can give the wedding cake tree a run for its money. Gorgeous autumn colour and easy to grow. The recent introduction V. Kilimandjaro is similar, with a more compact habit. Deciduous. H x S: 3m x 4m

Viburnum x burkwoodii

A semi-evergreen with glossy leaves and sweetly scented flowers in April. V. burkwoodii also blooms in mild spells over winter, offering interest when most other plants are asleep. A slow-growing stalwart that will grow in full sun and full shade. Semi-evergreen. H x S: 2.5m x 2.5m

Viburnum 'Le Bois Marquis'

Bearing glossy red-purple young foliage, deepening to green (akin to Photinia Red Robin), plus lovely flowers that develop into autumn berries, this vigorous viburnum is a low maintenance choice for multi-season interest. Semi-evergreen. H x S: 1.8 x 1.2m

Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' (Snowball bush)

The incredible ball-shaped flowerheads give this shrub its common name. They arrive in May, coloured pure white or tinged green, sometimes ageing to a pink colour in June. The pretty foliage is maple-like. Deciduous. H x S: 4m x 4m

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'

For winter fragrance, this is just about the top choice. Tightly packed clusters of pink flowers with a powerful perfume adorn the bare branches from November to March. Make sure to position where they will be appreciated on cold mid-winter days. 'Charles Lamont' is similar. Deciduous. H x S: 3m x 2m

Viburnum rhytidophyllum (Wrinkled viburnum)

If you want textured foliage, you have to see the wrinkled or leatherleaf viburnum. As well as the long, deeply creased leaves, attractive domed flowerheads followed by glossy red-blue berries make this a striking option where space allows. Evergreen. H x S: 5m x 4m


The genus Sambucus includes some intriguing relatives of our native elder, with fine textured and colourful foliage. And yes, many of them also permit the making of elderflower wine.

Sambucus nigra Black Lace (Purple leaved elder)

This well-known cultivar (AKA 'Eva') really is unsurpassed when it comes to deep purple-black, dissected foliage, similar to that of the cut-leaf Japanese maples. In May-June, pink buds open to creamy-pink flowers that stand out against the dark background - and yes, you can use these just like wild elderflowers for cordial etc. Deciduous. H x S: 3m x 2m

Sambucus nigra Black Tower

This burgundy-leaved elder has an upright shape, hence the name, so works well in tight spaces or where you need vertical interest. Deciduous. H x S: 2.5m x 1.5m

Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold' (Red-berried elder)

Here's the bleach-blonde sister of Black Lace! This variety of red-berried elder has bright yellow fronds of deeply cut foliage and spikes of cream flowers in spring, followed by a smattering of red berries.  Deciduous. H x S: 3m x 3m


Not everyone is a fan of the hortensias, with their famous ball-shaped flowerheads that turn pink in alkaline soil and bright blue in acid ground. However there's much more to the hydrangea family - it includes a range of classy numbers that work well in muted schemes that are a far cry from those eye-popping pastels. Their autumn colours and lasting dried flowerheads extend their season of interest.

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak-leaved hydrangea)

The large, lobed foliage contrasts well with finer leaved plants, and turns wonderful hues in autumn. Pointed panicles of cream-white florets, reminiscent of horse chestnut. Deciduous. H x S: 2m x 2.5m

Hydrangea paniculata 'Everest' (Panicle hydrangea)

Mini-mountains of white blooms erupt all over this panicle hydrangea in late summer, ageing to pink. Deciduous. H x S: 2.5m x 1.5m (prune hard to keep smaller)

Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' (Panicle hydrangea)

Similar to 'Everest', but with amazing green flowerheads that emerge in August, fading to cream then pink, slightly blunter in shape. Excellent for flower arranging. Try 'Little Lime' if you need a smaller version. Deciduous. H x S: 2.5m x 2.5m

Hydrangea villosa (H. aspera Villosa Group; Rough-leaved hydrangea)

Sumptuous, velvety leaves and cool mauve flowerheads that glow in twilight make this a really special plant. Grows to a stately size. Deciduous. H x S: 4m x 4m


The spindles are a truly varied group, including tough evergreen hedging, brightly variegated options for dull corners and the native spindle with its surprising seedheads. Here are a couple of our favourites.

Euonymus japonicus 'Aureomarginatus' (Variegated Japanese spindle)

A dense, domed shrub with glossy golden leaves, green at the centre. Tough enough for coastal sites.  'Bravo' is similar but with pale yellow leaf margins. Evergreen. H x S: 3m x 2.5m

Euonymus alatus (Winged spindle)

Unassuming, loose green leaves suddenly shout out  their presence in autumn with unmissable pinky reds. Meanwhile, curious cerise seedheads burst open to reveal shiny orange seeds. 'Compactus' is a smaller version. Deciduous. H x S: 2.5m x 3m


Cornus alba (Red-stemmed dogwood)

After the pretty autumn leaves fall, lucid red stems. Essential for the winter garden. Combine with the yellow-stemmed Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviremea' for maximum impact. Deciduous. H x S: 3m x 2.5m (stays smaller when pruned hard in spring)

Ilex x altaclarensis 'Golden King' (Golden variegated holly)

A versatile, variegated, not-too-spiky holly. The name is famously botanically 'wrong' - it's a female, berry-bearing plant. Evergreen. H x S: 6m x 5m

Myrtus communis (Myrtle)

A scented Mediterranean evergreen with fluffy, pincushion flowers. 'Tarentina' is a more compact version. Evergreen. H x S: 3m x 3m



There are no comments for this yet.

Add a comment

Your data will be used to display your comment, get in touch if you'd like to edit/remove it. You can find out more details in our Privacy Policy.