For the time-poor gardener wanting a lot of flowers for little input, shrubs are the solution. Plant half a dozen flowering shrubs in the border or in containers and summer is sorted.
Bypass the seductive but high-maintenance perennials at the garden centre and, instead, choose the trouble-free, long-flowering options that merely need a sharp pair of secateurs and an annual spring feed to keep them in great shape.
For example, if you want the effect of hollyhocks without the high-maintenance palaver and threat of rust, grow Lavatera x clementii Barnsley. The flowers of palest pink are similar and bloom generously from midsummer to autumn. All you need do to prevent enthusiastic lavatera from outgrowing its welcome is to cut the stems back hard in spring.
Some shrubs are so beautiful that you can forgive their brief flowering. Lilac is typical, representing the speed with which spring segues into summer, but if you don’t mind breaking with tradition — and want a small plant, not a large tree — try compact lilac Syringa Bloomerang Dark Purple. After its first springtime flush, it blooms intermittently until mid-autumn, so you can enjoy those purple-pink scented flowers for months, not days.
Full-on fuchsias aren’t everyone’s choice, but elegant Fuchsia magellanica var molinae is far removed from the more usual pink and purple trouper. Delicate-looking, long flowers of two-tone shell pink appear from midsummer until early autumn and belie a tough disposition. Just cut right back to the hardwood in early spring for a glorious repeat performance.
If you’re looking for an evergreen to give year-round structure, why not have one that produces beautiful blooms, too. Sheltered, warm, town gardens suit Pittosporum tobira perfectly. From late spring to midsummer, waxy white flowers smother the rounded, deep green leaves and their mock orange blossom perfume is sublime. Variety Nanum is a smaller, rounded version that makes a great container plant.
Variegated leaves can be jarring, but Weigela Nana Variegata’s lemon-edged, soft, green, dainty leaves are the perfect complement for the rose-pink funnel flowers that crowd the arching stems from early summer. An easy-growing, tolerant shrub, this weigela reaches a modest five foot and just needs pruning after flowering.
Cistus revels in a dry, sunny spot and is a perfect partner for other Mediterranean evergreens such as rosemary and lavender. For maximum impact, plant aromatic Cistus x purpureus, which at the start of summer produces spectacular large, papery, deep pink flowers blotched with carmine at the centres. Each bloom lasts just a day, but more keep on coming.
Sambucus nigra is sensational, especially when the liquorice-black, lacey leaves are highlighted against a brick or pale rendered wall. Given a sunny or part-shaded site, the black elder produces rose pink flower sprays in midsummer that put the icing on an already gorgeous cake. To keep the foliage deep and dark, cut back to ground level in early spring.
If you have little space but fancy some razzmatazz, plump for a potentilla, which offers masses of bright, pretty flowers from early spring right through to autumn on a small, neat bush with attractively deep-cut foliage.
Tangerine and fire-engine red Marian Red Robin are just two of the vibrant Potentilla fruticosa varieties to look for, but Primrose Beauty, with soft yellow flowers, is a subtler choice. With all that flower power on offer, buying a pair of potentillas seems only sensible.