Choosing Shrubs and Climbers

How do shrubs differ from other garden plants?

Whereas herbaceous plants – the familiar annuals and perennials of a mixed border – have soft stems, shrubs have woody stems and branches that live throughout the year. Shrubs differ from trees mainly in growing habit: while most trees develop a single main stem (trunk) that branches out at some height above the ground, a shrub has branches near (or even below) the soil surface.

What is a sub-shrub, and should I treat it any differently from an ordinary shrub?

A sub-shrub is a plant that is woody at the base but has annual stems like those of a herbaceous plant. These stems die back every year to the older woody growth. The rose-of-sharon (Hypericum calycinum) is a good example. The stems should be cut back every spring, not to ground level but to the woody shoots at the bottom.

What is the difference between a heath and a heather?

Heathers (also known as ling) belong to the botanical genus Calluna. While the heaths are species of Erica-, both are members of the Ericaceae family. It is heather which forms most of the extensive moorlands in this country. Leaves of heathers tend to be very small and closely packed; the flowers are on one side of the stem, and are smaller than those of the heaths. Both show a preference for acid, peaty soil in full sun; although several of the most popular ericas, including E. herbacea (syn. E. carnea), will thrive on chalky soil.

Some of the shrubs I see in gardens and read about in books are not available in my local garden centre, so how do I get hold of them?

The answer is to go to specialists. Some will exhibit at the regular Royal Horticultural Society Shows in London, others will advertise in the gardening magazines. Many of the private gardens that open under the National Gardens Scheme also have small numbers of plants for sale.

My soil is exceptionally limy. What shrubs will do best in these conditions?

There’s plenty to choose from. If the site is sunny try rock roses (Helianthemum), with red, yellow, or white flowers; sun rose (Cistus) with purple and white flowers; berberis (orange); buddleias (purple. Lilac, or white); potentillas (red, orange, yellow or white); and lilacs (purple, lilac, or white). In shade, go for aucubas (with red fruits); euonymus (variegated foliage); Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) with yellow flowers and purple fruits; and the periwinkles (Vinca), with blue or white flowers.

I have an acid soil in which rhododendrons do well. What other shrubs can I plant with them?

The number one choice must be the pierises with their lily-of-the-valley-like flowers and scarlet young shoots. Try in particular ‘Forest Flame’. There are also camellias, pernettyas, with their large berries in reds, pinks, and whites, heaths and heathers (Erica and Calluna), most magnolias, and the pink-flowered calico-bush (Kalmia latifolia).

The soil in the garden of my new house has been made very hard by all the traffic from the builders’ equipment. Are there any shrubs that will put up with these conditions?

Cotoneasters will grow well, as will buddleias. Flowering currants (Ribes), weigelas, rose-of-sharon (Hypericum calycinum), and potentillas. If you can dig a good-sized hole and add plenty of organic matter when planting, it will help. It might also be worth hiring a heavy-duty rotary cultivator to loosen the soil before re-planting.

My city garden is dark and shady from the houses and trees around me. What are the best shrubs to grow?

In the drier spots both the deciduous and evergreen berberis will thrive as long as it is not foo dark; evergreen euonymus and other evergreens such as spotted lauren (Aucuba japonica), butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus), skimmias, and the periwinkles (Vinca) will also survive. In moist sites, try Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), camellias, rhododendrons, the guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) with its white flowers and red berries, the various elders (Sambucus), and hydrangeas.

I have a dry sunny bank where the soil is gravelly, and I would like to plant some shrubs there. Any ideas?

Thorough preparation of the soil will help a wide range of shrubs thrive in these conditions. Best bets are rock roses (Helianthemum) – a range of different colours could look very dramatic on their own; sun roses (Cistus), prostrate cotoneasters, such as C. horizontalis or ‘Skogholm Coral Beauty’, the coloured foliage varieties of sage, and aromatic lavender

My garden slopes in one corner to a rather wet patch where nothing except weeds seems to thrive. Are there any shrubs that will grow there?

Very few shrubs will grow in this situation, but if there is nothing you can do to improve the drainage. I suggest you try the dogwoods (Cornus), especially the varieties of C. alba which have bright stems in winter. Willows (Salix) will do well too; try S. caprea, with grey leaves and woolly catkins, and S. purpurea ‘Eugenei’ with yellow-green stems and grey-pink catkins. The varieties of elder (Sambucus) with variegated or yellow leaves are also worth growing.

My seaside garden is constantly buffeted by salty winds off the sea, and many of my favourite shrubs are scorched. Are there any that will flourish in these conditions?

You can help protect your plants by screening them when they are young with plastic windbreak netting and by planting windbreaks of plants such as evergreen oak (Quercusilex), hawthorn (Crataegus), and willows (Salix). Shrubs which will tolerate salt spray include shrubby veronicas (Hebe), escallonias. Firethorns (Pyracantha), and snowberries (Symph oricarpos).

What plants can you suggest that will grow well in the cold winds that seem to be so destructive in my exposed garden?

You can help by planting a windbreak, but there are plenty of attractive yet very hardy plants to choose from. Both evergreen and deciduous berberis, all the cotoneasters, all the hollies (Ilex), buddleias, all the elaeagnuses, with their bright foliage, plus deutzias, philadelphuses, and spiraeas.

I have a small trough in which I want to grow some rock plants. What shrubs would be suitable to go with them?

First choice should be a tiny juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’). which grows into an upright column about 600 mm (24 in) high at the rate ofabout25mm(l in) a year. The dwarf form of Canadian spruce (Piceaglauca ‘Albertiana Conica’), with grass-green foliage and a neat cone shape, is also very small. Among shrubs try the dwarf willows, such as Salix reticulata and S. boydii, and the tiny shrubby veronicas Hebe buchananh’’Minor’ and H ‘Carl Teschner’. The dwarf purple-leaved berberis (Berberis thunbergii’Atropurpurea Nana’), is a little vigorous for a trough, but it can be pruned.

Can you suggest one or two scented plants to put outside the window so that the scent wafts indoors?

The three I would strongly recommend are the June/July-flowering mock orange (Philadelphus), especially the hybrid ‘Belle Etoile’; May/June-flowering lilacs (Syringa), especially double ones like S. vulgaris ‘Katherine Havemeyer’ and ‘Mme Lemoine’, which flower for longer; and lastly the July-to-October-flowering butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), which will attract butterflies.

There are also many attractive shrubs with fragrant foliage. Apart from herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme, there are the myrtles (Myrtus). the sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa), lavender, Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’with a sage-like scent, and the Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa).

Although my small garden is colourful for most of the year it looks rather dull in winter. What shrubs can I plant to brighten the cold months?

Winter-flowering heaths, which are tolerant of slightly limy soil would be my first choice. Varieties of Erica herbacea (syn. E. carnea), E. X darleyensis, and E. mediterranea fall into this category; they come in many colours, especially purples, reds, pinks and whites. Witch hazel, with bright yellow flowers and a strong scent is another must; Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’ is the finest variety. Lastly I would suggest the evergreen laurustinus (Viburnum tinus), in particular the dwarf, bush variety ‘Eve Price’, with pink flowers.

In the local parks there are lots of trees whose leaves turn lovely shades in the autumn. Are there any smaller trees or shrubs that also have lovely autumn colours?

The following plants are especially fine; the figures quoted show the approximate height and spread reached after 10 years. The Japanese maples (Acerpalmatum) make a wonderful show, and the varieties ‘Dissectum’, 0.6 x 1.2 m (2 x 4 ft), and ‘Osakazuki’. 1.5 x 1.5 m (5 x 5 ft), are especially fine. Deciduous azaleas, 2 x 2 m (6-1/2 x 6-1/2ft), are all very reliable when it comes to autumn colour; and try some of the viburnums, such as Viburnum plicatum ‘Lanarth’, 1.8 x 2.5 m (6×8 ft).

I don’t have much time to look after my garden so most of it is grass. In the few beds I have I would like to grow plants that are colourful all the year round and so make the most of the small amount of planting space. Can you suggest some?

There are three types of plants that fill the bill here: the most colourful evergreens; plants that flower for a long period; and plants with more than one season of interest. Of the evergreens, I should go for the variegated Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ or one of the variegated hebes such as Hebe x andersonii ‘Variegata’, which also has lilac flowers.

Long-flowering plants apart from recurrent roses include Mexican orange-blossom (Choisya ternata), which flower late April-November, and potentillas in red, pink, yellow, or white (June-November). Among plants with more than one season of interest are pyracanthas, with white flowers in June and red or orange berries in September-March; and Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea’, with purple foliage (March-November), yellow flowers (May), red berries (August-September), and good autumn colour (October-November).

There are a lot of variegated shrubs to be had these days. Can you tell me which are the best and easiest to grow?

The best, brightest and easiest is Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’, which is evergreen. Other good ones are the variegated dogwoods Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ and C a. ‘Spaethii’, with white and yellow variegations respectively; and the hollies (Ilex), especially the ‘Golden King’, ‘Golden Queen’, and ‘Argentea Marginata’ varieties of English holly (/. aquifolium).

I grow annuals and other flowers for arranging, but I would also like to grow some shrubs for cutting. Can you suggest a few?

Yes – but bear in mind that most shrub flowers do not last long after they have been cut. For blue-tinged silvery foliage, grow the cider gum (Eucalyptusgunnii), but you must cut it back every spring for a constant supply of the best leaves. Also with silver foliage is Artemesia aborescens, which has feathery leaves; but this plant is not completely hardy in colder areas. For yellow and gold leaves grow the bushy honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesons Gold’) or the golden mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’). For variegated leaves the privets (Ligustrum) take a lot of beating; they come in white and gold forms and can be cut back every spring to increase the supply.

Why do some shrubs have silvery fur on their leaves?

Most of these plants come from hot dry areas of the world and the silvery hairs of’wool’ on the leaves help prevent too much water being lost from the foliage. As there is often very little water in the soil, the plants need to retain as much water as possible. It follows that most of these plants grow best in warm, sunny conditions, with a well-drained soil. Good examples include Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), and cotton lavenders (Santolina).

I notice that the shoots on my dogwood are red at the tips, and they look delightful in the winter. Are there any other desirable garden shrubs whose shoots colour up this way?

The red-stemmed dogwood (Cornus alba) in its several varieties, notably ‘Westonbirt’, is a very decorative winter shrub, but it needs regular pruning to keep the colour at its best. Cut all its stems back to 75-100 mm (3-4 in) of soil level every spring. Among other shrubs with vivid shoot colours, the varieties of the white willow (Salix alba) with red shoots, notably the brilliant orange-scarlet cultivar ‘Chermesina’, should be treated in the same way, while the white-stemmed bramble (Rubus cockburnianus), with blue-tinged white shoots, must be cut down every one year. Another fine example is the Mount Omei rose (Rosa omeiensis pteracantha), with translucent crimson thorns.

What shrubs can I plant at the top of my 900 mm (3 ft) high garden wall that will hang down and clothe the bare brickwork?

The creeping cotoneasters are ideal. In particular Cotoneaster microphyllus and C. dammeri. Others to try are the shrubby candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), with dense white flowers; the low brooms (Cytisus x icewensis with cream flowers, C. x beam; with yellow flowers, and Genista lydia with yellow flowers). The creeping ceanothus (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Repens’), with blue flowers and glossy evergreen leaves, would also be ideal in this situation.

What plants can I put in the garden to encourage butterflies to settle?

The butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) in its many varieties is undoubtedly the best, but you can ring the changes by also planting lavenders, privets (Ligustrum) – allow these to flower by not clipping them – and lilacs (Syringa), all of which are attractive to butterflies.

Which of all the shrubs that produce berries make the best show?

This is a difficult one. The fruits of varieties of Permettya mucronata come in a range of reddish shades and white and have the great advantage that they are rarely eaten by birds. The guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) has lovely translucent red fruits, but these are popular with birds. The strawberry tree (Arbutus) looks very striking with its red strawberry-like fruits, which the birds usually leave; while the berries of the nrethoms (Pyracantha) in reds, yellows, and oranges are also impressive.

My front-garden path makes a right-angle turn – and all the delivery men step on the flower bed there to cut off the corner. How can I discourage them?

You need something either small and spiny or small and tough. One of the dwarf berberises might give the paper boy an unpleasant surprise, while gorse (Ulex europaeus) could make him keep his distance. Periwinkles (Vinca) and rose-of-sharon (Hypericum calycinum) are very resilient.

On the whole, however, your best plan might be to plant up a tub with attractive shrubs on that corner; this would oblige all callers to walk around it.

I like using willow catkins in flower arrangements. Can you suggest some shrubs that bear attractive catkins?

Three spring to mind. Garrya elliptica is an evergreen winter-flowering shrub with olive-grey catkins up to 225 mm (9 in) long; it grows well on north and east walls. The second is Itea ilicifolia. Which has holly-like evergreen foliage and creamy yellow catkins which may grow almost 300 mm (12 in) long; it must have full sun and well-drained soil for it is slightly tender. Much more resilient is the corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), which has spirally twisted stems that are hung with sulphur-yellow catkins in late winter.

I have a small courtyard garden and wish to grow some shrubs in pots. What are the best varieties for this purpose?

Heathers do well in pots; even if your soil is limy, you can provide an acid soil and so grow the summer-flowering ones. All the hebes (shrubby veronicas) are happy in tubs, as are the less-vigorous berberis-but mind the thorns! For winter colour plant the evergreen euonymuses, especially the delightfully variegated ones such as ‘Emerald Gaiety’, ‘Aureopictus’ and ‘Silver Queen’. New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) is stunning with its long, narrow leaves in many colours, and so are yuccas, with their rosettes of long needle-pointed leaves.

Are there any shrubs that I can plant which will be appreciated by my bees?

In the early part of the year flowering currants (Ribes) and the goat willow (Salix caprea) will be popular. Later there are many shrubs to choose from including the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), Californian lilac (Ceanoth us), firethorn (Pyracantha), lilac (Syringa), gorse (Ulex), and daisy bush (Olearia).

11. November 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured Articles | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Choosing Shrubs and Climbers


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