Accent Plants: Shrubs
4. ACCENT PLANTS – SHRUBS
Yucca filamentosa Tufts of spikyleaves up to 3ft (90 cm) high with peeling threads from the edges. Towards the end of summer a magnificent 4-5 ft (1.2- 1.5 m) spike of ivory coloured bells emerges. Don’t crowd the plant in or the effect is lost. The clump slowly spreads by suckers. Even more dramatic is Yucca gloriosa (Adam’s needle) which has broader leaves, with no threads, and a more spiky appearance. It slowly forms a short trunk on which new rosettes appear. May not flower every year.
Cordyline australis (Cabbage palm) Not really a palm but a sheaf of narrow spiky leaves on a rugged trunk and related to. Can be grown out of doors in the extreme south-west counties where it makes a small tree. It is also very useful as a pot and tub plant with a strong contrast to the rounded line and form of the pot. The leaves need tying up in winter to protect the ‘heart’ from the frost. The variety ‘Atropurpurea’ has rather coppery purple leaves for where a dark accent is needed or against a whitewashed wall. They can both be kept in a pot for several years before they get too big.
Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax) Like a huge evergreen, New Zealand flax can be used to break up a monotonous border to great effect. The green one reaches 8 ft (2.5 m) high in a warm but ‘Purpureum’ has bronzy-purple leaves with a bloom on the back and is shorter growing. ‘There are countless variegated varieties coming on the market but they may not be fully hardy. Strange heads of bronzy-red flowers can tower over the foliage but the coloured leaved varieties rarely flower.
Fatsia japonica A handsome big-leaved evergreen shrub oj rounded form that is especially good in shade. The fingered, pointed leaves can reach a foot (30 cm) across and are deep glossy green. ‘The big open clusters of small, creamy white flowers come in autumn and lighten up the bush as the days get duller. Dramatic as an accent on its own in a shady corner or as a contrast to small leaved plants.
(Bay) More of an accent for the shapes it can be pruned into than for the plant itself. Left to its own devices it makes a big multi-stemmed shrub, not fully hardy in cold areas. Planted in a tub or in the ground it can be clipped into a formal pompom shape, a pyramid, a cone, a cylinder or whatever shape you fancy. The leathery dark green leaves can also be used in stews. Small white flowers in spring.
Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrocket’ ‘This juniper is naturally upright and rocket-shaped. It makes a striking exclamation mark of slightly bluish foliage and stays slim without pruning. Up to 10ft (3 m) high.
Arundinaria viridistriata (Variegated bamboo) In contrast to the juniper, bamboos are evergreenwith broad leaves. This one only grows about 2—3ft (60-90 cm) high and has startlingly yellow and green longitudinally striped foliage, if grown in sun. Can be cut down to the ground each spring for a fresh crop of variegated shoots. (Don’t try this with other bamboos or they will die.) There is a wide choice of bamboos which are better than the plant most people call ‘bamboo’. Perhaps the best that is reasonably easy to obtain is Arundinaria murielae which can get 12ft (3.5 m) tall and become a feathery plume of foliage as the leaves are rather small. Quite upright for the first few years, so does not take much space. (Watch out for some of the others which are extremely rampageous.)
Ficus carica () There are a few accent plants and one of these is the . The big lobed leaves can reach afoot (30cm) across and are borne on stout shoots which make a very robust winter skeleton. Small form on these in late autumn and only ripen into figs after a mild winter. Can be trained flat on a south wall or grow it on a 1fit -4ft (30 cm- 1.2m) stem; otherwise it will become a mass of unmanageable shoots from the base. The most reliable variety is called ‘Brown Turkey’.
Paeonia lutea ludlowii (Tree peony) Where the fig leaves are big and rounded, these are big with pointed divisions creating a sharper effect. Several very stout stems grow from the base and create the same robust winter skeleton. There are also the true tree peonies with big flowers in May but these are not usually easy plants to grow. Ludlow’s peony has large, slightly drooping yellow cups just above the foliage in May. It grows up to 10 ft (3 m) tall in an open ‘V’ shape in sun or shade.