Indian summer will soon be the big chill

It's time to turn your urban space into a shrub-hub - giving your plants a head start before winter
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Japanese maple Acer palmatum dissectum
© GAP photos/Friedrich Strauss
The lacy leaves of Japanese maple Acer palmatum dissectum will turn fiery red
The pelargoniums are still blooming and the strawberries have fruited all over again as a result of our Indian summer, but the still-warm soil means that conditions are perfect for permanent planting. Settle shrubs in now so they get their roots down before the big chill and have a head start for next spring; leave roses, bare-rooted, for the cold months.

Evergreens are the solution for the town garden that is always on view, so it's hard to understand why more Londoners don't plant one of the most glamorous: Japanese native Pittosporum tobira, which has glossy green leaf sprays and, in early summer, waxy white flowers with the most amazing orange-blossom perfume.

It thrives in sheltered urban gardens, either in the ground, where it will reach six feet or more, or in pots, where it makes a terrific tub shrub; to keep it in check, buy the compact version, Pittosporum tobira Nanum, a mere 60cm or so in height and spread.

The second evergreen I would always give bed or border room to is Choisya Aztec Pearl, which, with its finely dissected green leaves and scented white flowers in spring, is a high-style chameleon that fits into any kind of planting scheme.

Give your garden more than a passing nod to autumn with a seasonal shrub or three

For more solid screening, however, a mature Viburnum tinus makes a sound investment; in summer it might get lost in the crowd, but right through the coldest months, in sun or shade, it bears continuous white flowers for which you will be truly grateful - and so will bees, which are attracted to the nectar and pollen, and birds, which use it for nesting and shelter.

From the same family, guelder rose Viburnum opulus adds a woodland note to the town garden. The luscious berry clusters that dangle like glass earrings all over the bush at this time of year, and the white lace-cap flowers in late spring, make it equally attractive to wildlife; before the leaves fall, they turn a burnished red. Like its parent, the golden-berried Viburnum opulus Xanthocarpum is usefully content in shade.

Ceratostigma willmottianum
© GAP photos/Geoff Kidd
Add welcome late colour with the pretty blue flowers of Ceratostigma willmottianum
It's heartening to have a few shrubs that you cut right back to the bone - then watch as they unfailingly regenerate the following year. Fuchsia magellanica var molinae is a case in point: prune it back hard in late winter, and it will produce cascades of slim, elegant bellflowers the following summer of an exquisite ice pink.

Buddleia is another can't-kill shrub that benefits from a simple hard prune in early spring; still number one for bringing in the butterflies, buddleia will bloom later if you prune it later, so buy two - Nanho Blue has gorgeous violet-blue flowers and silvery-green leaves - and extend their flowering period by judicious pruning.

Give your garden more than a passing nod to autumn with a seasonal shrub or three. Japanese maples guarantee fiery fall shades but my number-one choice is Euonymous alatus Compactus, which is a manageable metre high and has simply the best leaf colour, a sizzling, intense crimson; the berries are small, but spectacular in colour too: vibrant orange and purple.

Few shrubs flower at this time of year, so compact, rounded Ceratostigma willmotianum, the Chinese plumbago, is a good front-of-border choice, because it has the prettiest periwinkle-blue flowers on deep red stems as well as green leaves that turn shades of rich russet.

Phormiums are great showcase shrubs, making dramatic foliage fans in border or container; crimson-striped phormiums such as Sundowner and Evening Glow are striking all year round but when that late-day autumn sun shines through those large, sword-shaped leaves, they're simply sensational.

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