Stunning Shrubs

By Andy McIndoe

I have a new book out soon: The Creative Shrub Garden, published by Timber Press. I really enjoyed putting together the palette of shrubs for the book, but ever since I finished it I’ve found so many more that I wish I had included. Here are a few that I’ve been taken with this spring, most of which never made it into my book. If you think of shrubs as boring, bony characters for dreary gardens, think again. I’m still amazed by the range of plant forms, leaf shapes, flower colours, textures and heights and spreads that this plant group offers.

 1 Acer palmatum 'Kagiri-Nishiki'

There are so many varieties of Japanese maple, Acer palmatum and new ones appear on the scene every year. Acer palmatum ‘Kagiri-Nishiki’ has long been a personal favourite, even if it does have a tendency to revert and produce plain green shoots. The fine leaves are pale green, salmon pink and cream and often the fingers of the leaves are charmingly distorted. It is slow, growing light and airy and ideal for the small garden. I have a large plant outside the kitchen window which moves gently in the breeze and provides a stunning contrast to the heavy green foliage all around it.

2 Calycanthus raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine'

Although I have not planted it alongside Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ would make a wonderful planting partner. It has large coppery, wine-red blooms that resemble lotus blossoms against broad mid-green shining foliage. This is always a head turner at RHS Chelsea Flower Show; it looks almost too exotic to be hardy. However my plant in the garden has proved hardy and reliable and very free-flowering from an early age.

3 Ceanothus 'Italian Skies'

I also love the copper-red tones of Calycanthus ‘Hartlage Wine’ with the rich blue of ceanothus. The evergreen Californian Lilacs are such stunning shrubs with their explosion of sapphire blooms. As a colour blue works with anything and is particularly lovely with white or silver. I planted Ceanothus ‘Italian Skies’ with the silver-leaved Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’. This combination works from spring to autumn; the dark green foliage of the ceanothus contrasting with the elaeagnus even when the former is without its blue flowers.

4 Toona sinensia 'Flamingo'

Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’ is normally considered a tree rather than a shrub. It can be grown as a tall multistem rather like an aralia; I think it is more effective like this. Certainly not for the smaller garden it can grow to 5 metres, 15ft but is light and airy in character. The new foliage is brilliant pink fading to cream and then soft green. Even a young specimen is a spectacular sight in spring.

5 Cornus kousa

The flowering dogwoods can also grow to tree proportions and there are few more wonderful woody plants when in bloom. There are many varieties of Cornus kousa, some with pink bracts and some with variegated foliage. The species often produces wonderful blooms with pointed petals that turn from white to pink before they fall. The fall foliage colour is rich and showy. The flowering dogwoods are hardy and easier to grow than many think. Although they do not like very dry soil or shallow chalk they will usually succeed if plenty of organic matter is added to the planting site and the shrubs are watered in very dry weather. They start to flower in late spring and are often stars at RHS Chelsea Flower Show; I have included several varieties of flowering dogwood in the book.

6 Carpenteria californica - good

Another stunning shrub that causes a stir at Chelsea when it appears is the Californian tree anemone, Carpenteria californica. This is an evergreen shrub for a warm, sunny sheltered spot where it produces upright stems with green leathery leaves. The flowers are carried in short spikes at the top of the branches, shining white with golden stamens; they resemble the blooms of the autumn flowering herbaceous Japanese anemones.

7 Leptospermum 'Red Damask'

Leptospermum scoparium ‘Red Damask’ also needs a warm, sunny spot to thrive. This is an evergreen with tiny dark leaves and straight, whippy stems. The small very double flowers are deep red and are carried all along the branches in early summer creating a velvety effect. Leptospermum needs good drainage and this one can be grown in a pot. ‘This one and some of my favourite deutzias also made it into The Creative Shrub Garden.’

Deutzias are much hardier deciduous shrubs which deserve wider planting; in some areas they have lost popularity in recent years. Gardeners tend to choose philadelphus in preference because if their fragrance. Deutzia ‘Strawbery Fields’ is a beauty with upright stems and soft green foliage. Clusters of strawberry pink blooms adorn the shrub for a long period in early summer. The tan coloured stems with peeling bark are not unattractive in winter. The secret of success with deutzias is to cut back some of the stems that have flowered right down to where new shoots are emerging low in the shrub. This will result in graceful, arching branches that will bloom the following season.

9 Crinodendron hookerianum

At the time of writing Crinodendron hookerianum, The Chilean Lantern Tree is putting on a spectacular show right outside our kitchen window. This dark-leaved evergreen has the shelter of the house wall and has thrived in semi-shade. In early summer the branches hang with crimson lanterns; spectacular. Often recommended as a subject for semi-shaded, sheltered woodland situations this does make a wonderful wall shrub and it has grown well with us despite or rather cold winter conditions.

· Undoubtedly I will come across many more shrubs I wish I had included, but believe me there is a rich palette of shrubs in my new book to inspire you. Published in August 2014 The Creative Shrub Garden, (publisher Timber Press, ISBN-10: 1604694343, ISBN-13: 978-1604694345) is available to pre-order

Andy McIndoe

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