Savvy gardeners are thinking about shrubs for all seasons

Autumn shrub colour
Autumn shrub colour

As summer marches on, many perennials are now fading, while annuals continue to colour borders and patios. But savvy gardeners should also be thinking creatively with shrubs which will extend the season and provide colour and structure to the border.

So says Andy McIndoe, managing director of Hillier Nurseries and all-round garden expert, who has just written The Creative Shrub Garden, a colourful tome offering his groundbreaking approach on how to make the most of shrubs.

Of course, plant combinations are vital if you want to show any shrub off to its best, says McIndoe.

“The dark wine-red leaves of the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, are a stunning partner for the rich golden foliage of Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame’. The tips of the shoots and new leaves of the spiraea are orange red, which picks up on the colour of the acer.

“For evergreen interest, I might use Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ instead of the spiraea. This is a compact shrub of similar proportions and colouring with the benefit of small pink autumn flowers with colourful calyces.

“For a third shrub, I would choose the round, compact Berberis thunbergii ‘Admiration’, which has rounded wine red leaves that colour brilliantly in autumn. Additional interest could be added with caramel coloured heucheras, which have the benefit of evergreen foliage, and a few glowing orange tulips such as the lily-flowering ‘Ballerina’. This would make a warm, glowing planting combination suitable for a small garden or a group of pots on the patio.”

In summer, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ is perhaps the finest and most reliable variety of English lavender, whose dark blue fragrant flowers and aromatic grey-green foliage are perfect with any silver foliage subjects such as Santolina chamaecyparissus and Helichrysum italicum.

However, in a warm, sunny situation on dry soil it would be better partnered with the perennial wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ which flowers from early spring through autumn. The lavender and erysimum work well with small shrub Cistus ‘Sunset’ with its sage green leaves and cerise pink flowers. Purple heucheras would add contrasting dark foliage and a few Allium christophii a different flower form and another dimension to the planting. These are all good choices for a sunny spot in a small garden.

If you’re looking for dynamic foliage in a shrub, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diable d’Or’ has arching branches and deep copper leaves, orange at the tips of the shoots. It makes a wonderful planting partner for orange shrub roses such as the lovely fruit-scented ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’.

It is also striking with any golden foliage shrub, especially Cotinus coggygria Golden Spirit, an unusual smoke bush with rounded golden leaves and copper plumes which pick up the colour of the physocarpus.

“In a larger space, I would also add a spring flowering, sapphire blue Ceanothus ‘Concha’, perhaps the best of the evergreen Californian lilacs,” McIndoe suggests.

Plant Hibiscus syriacus ‘Hamabo’, among the best hardy hibiscus for late summer flowers in shades of soft pink with wine-eyes, next to the deep purple foliage of Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Eva’ (Black Lace).

“For colour early in the season, add Spiraea japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’, with its deep crimson blooms, and perhaps the mauve pink trumpets and purple green leaves of Weigela florida ‘Foliis Purpureis’. In a larger garden, the evergreen Abelia ‘Edward Goucher’ would add all-year interest and extend the autumn flowering season,” he adds.

Hydrangeas may have been out of fashion in the last few years, but they are a must for late summer colour. Try Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii Perfecta’ (Blue Wave), a classic lacecap hydrangea with a flowering season that extends through summer and autumn. It is happy in semi-shade and will produce blue flowers on neutral to acid soil, or mauve-pink on alkaline.

“Partner it with a soft green and white variegated shrub such as Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald gaiety’, which will cover the ground in low mounds. A large-leaved variegated hedera growing against a wall or fence would make the perfect backdrop,” says McIndoe.

lThe Creative Shrub Garden by Andy McIndoe is published by Timber, priced £20. Available now.