Decorative Patio Plants


The long-term inhabitants of the patio need to be chosen with care, as they are to be planted in a small space – but that does not mean that they need to be dull. Evergreen, for instance, does not necessarily have to be green: there are many attractive shrubs and small trees whose foliage comes in golden or variegated versions; holly (Ilex) and box (Buxus) provide several examples. Some of the Chamaecyparis species (including the familiar Lawson’s cypress) have dwarf varieties bearing gold, silvery blue, or purplish foliage; while some heathers (Calluna) are yellow all year round. Many of the hebes have leaves with white or cream edges, as does the variegated form of Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis).

When you are looking through catalogues of shrubs and perennials, make a point of checking to see if there are variegated as well as plain versions of the plants you are interested in. Variegated or golden foliage looks particularly good if the patio is dark and shady, as it will tend to light it up. A good evergreen for shade, incidentally is the false castor-oil plant (Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’) whose huge, glossy green leaves with white tips look very exotic. Resembling an indoor rather than an outdoor plant, it goes well with plants like the yucca if you are giving your patio a tropical look.

Rhododendrons and camellias, with their elegant dark green leaves, are useful additions to the patio because of the shapely, vividly coloured flowers that they also bring. Rhododendrons, especially the smaller azalea forms, are a good choice because they are shallow rooting and therefore suitable for raised beds and tubs; but remember that rhododendrons must be planted in acid soil – they are lime-haters.

Having got your backdrop installed, there are a number of attractive perennials that can be put in place as further furnishings to add interest all year round. Rosemary and lavender will add fragrance, and, like sage (Salvia) and thyme, are useful herbs to have around. Go for variety in colour and shape with your perennial plants -contrasting, for instance, the deep-cut silvery leaves of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) with the round, golden-green leaves of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) together with the sword-like spikes of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax). You should aim at a mix of tall spiky and round hummocky plants, and a range of foliage colours from near golden yellow to the silver shades and blue-greens.

Make bulbs part of your overall scheme, for in a small space nothing gives better value for money year after year. Plant daffodils (Narcissus) tulips, and crocuses in clumps rather than strung out in rows: they look much more effective when massed together. And have at least one tub crammed with colour in this way in spring. If you have a raised bed or two, then consider growing the tiny species bulbs as well, they look wonderful mixed with alpines. Remember that you can have bulbs in flower in the autumn too, if you plant in early summer. The autumn crocus (Colchicum) has crocus-like flowers almost as big as those of tulips; they come up on bare stalks, however, so they need to be mixed in with something else – the silvery sea ragwort (Senecio cineraria) makes a particularly good foil for them (it is, however, not fully hardy and is usually treated as an annual). Later on the nerines, those beautiful pink ‘lilies’ from South Africa, will reward you with their delicate colour from early autumn almost up to Christmas.

Plants for shade:












Coioneaster simonsii


Euonymus radicans








Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’






Rhododendron (Azalea)

Ribes sanguineum

Saxifraga umbrosa

Skimmia japonica




You can almost double the potential growing space of your patio if you use the boundary walls in an imaginative way by planting them with climbers. Moreover, it’s a good way to ‘tie in’ the walls of the house with the rest of the garden. Climbers can also be used to hide unsightly items like sheds, or to screen off the patio from the eyes of neighbours or from a view you would rather not see. The opportunities are endless. A climber can frame a window, or you can build a narrow trellis and grow climbers up it.

Even a humble chain-link fence can have a climber, such as common ivy (Hedera helix), trained and tied to it so that it is completely covered and becomes a lush green ‘wall’. If you have a wall or an unsightly feature that you want to cover rapidly, the fastest, most vigorous climber you are likely to come across is Russian vine (Polygonum baldschuanicum), which can cover 6m (20ft) of wall in the space of one season. However, the trouble is that once you have started it, it is difficult to get it to stop. It is deciduous, too, so you are left with bare branches in winter. But if judiciously clipped and pruned back, it quite quickly forms a thick network of stems which makes it an attractive proposition for, say, a pergola where you want overhead leaves, and its long delicate racemes of white flowers hang down in an attractive way. It is a good idea to team it with a slower-growing, more attractive climber, such as a grape-vine or wisteria, provided you keep it under control. Two other rapid climbers to look for are varieties of Clematis montana and Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’, a very vigorous rambler with huge trusses of white flowers that will eventually need checking.

Some climbers are self-supporting and do not need help in the form of netting or wires. Those valued mainly for foliage include common ivy, Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata ‘Veitchii’) and Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia). Climbing roses, on the whole, can look after themselves and just need fastening here and there against the wall. They make a marvellous show, but they should be sited with care in a very small space, as their thorns may become a nuisance.

Clematis and other ‘softer’ climbers, such as winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) and honeysuckle (Lonicera), need plenty of wire, netting or trellis to cling to and climb over and to protect them from strong winds. But they do tend to make fast growth and flower quickly and they do not need tying in. They can also be grown easily in pots, as can passion flower (Passiflora caerulea), which actually flowers better if it has some root restriction. If you are planning on climbers for pergolas and postsaround a terrace, a grape-vine traditionally makes an attractive network of leaves under which to dine out or sit. The most vigorous variety to choose is Vitis vinifera ‘Brandt’, which has foliage that colours reddish purple in the autumn and succulent black grapes.

North walls can be a problem, but fortunately there are a number of attractive climbers that will cope with them, notably Hydrangea petiolaris. Wisteria will also take to a north wall happily, so will the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), which will give you perfume as well.

Then there are a number of free-standing shrubs that will grow anything up to 2.5m (8ft) high and can be used in place of climbers where the backdrop is not able to take them. The best known of these is the Leyland cypress (x Cupresso cyparis leylandii), which makes a quick-growing hedge, especially in its ‘Castlewellan’ form. If you want a different effect, plant it in pairs and tie their tops together so that they bend to form a series of arches. Several of the free-standing shrubs that can be grown against a wall have attractive berries in the autumn. Berberis darwinii, for instance, and the some-what smaller Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) follow their bright yellow flowers in spring with dark purple berries; while species of Cotoneaster, which bear white or pink flowers in June, have rich red berries which stay on for most of the winter. The various firethorns (Pyracantha), too, have masses of red, orange, or yellow berries.

When buying climbers, bear in mind that container-grown plants can be put into the ground at any time of the year. Among bare-root climbers, most evergreens are planted in spring (late March or early April), while deciduous plants should be put in during their dormant period (between October and March).

Climbers for the patio:








Hydrangea petiolaris












Wall plants for the patio:
























Trees, if you have the space for them, are a great asset in and around the patio because they provide shelter from the wind and from noise, and also help to give some degree of privacy. If you feel that an ugly building, say, or a pylon or telegraph pole at the end of the garden needs blotting from view, then a tree placed near the house will do so much better than one that is further away. But you must be careful not to shade the patio in doing so. Choose columnar trees like Prunus ‘Amanogawa’, one of the Japanese cherries, or the Dawyck beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Fastigiata’), both of which cast slender shadows.

Forest trees should be avoided because of their size, but in many cases smaller, fastigiate (columnar) forms of such trees have become available; they take little space and are well suited to most patios. Some of the fastigiate trees worth consideration are Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’, an erect form of silver birch; Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris’, a slow-growing columnar form of common hornbeam, useful for a clay soil; Crataegus monogyna ‘Stricta’, an erect form of common hawthorn; Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’ a form of common oak; and Ginkgo biloba ‘Fastigiata’ (a columnar form of maidenhair tree).

Two weeping trees that are deservedly popu-lar are Young’s weeping birch (Betula pendula ‘Youngii’) and the purple osier (Salix purpurea ‘Pendula’), with its purple-tinted shoot tips. Another favourite tree for town is the Indian bean-tree (Catalpa bignonioides), its golden form C. b. ‘Aurea’ is especially attractive and slower growing, but is not so easy to find.

The Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrun), with rosy clusters of pea-shaped flowers borne on the naked branches in May has great charm. The magnolias are also highly desirable trees or large shrubs; most of them are deciduous, but M. grandiflora is an evergreen with huge, cream, sweetly fragrant goblets, and makes a superb wall shrub; M. stellata, though deciduous, is the one magnolia that will not ultimately outgrow the patio confines. The Primus genus provides many decorative forms of cherry, peach, almond and plum, all of which adapt to town conditions, with pretty flowers in spring or early summer. Choose one of the smaller species (or a small form of one of the others): many a suburban garden suffers from an ornamental cherry or almond tree that has outgrown its site.

Trees that are grown in troughs or tubs will not achieve the same heights as those in open ground, as restriction of their roots tends to have a Bonsai effect on them. It is a good idea to choose a tub with a removable side panel (many cube-shaped ‘Versailles’ tubs have them). This will enable you to remove and renew the soil around the roots occasionally, which is beneficial if the tree has been in situ for some years.

02. August 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Decorative Patio Plants


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