The feel-good factor: shrubs

The prize for show-stopping winter winners goes to shrubs, and now is the time to plant them
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Garden with evergreen and deciduous shrubs
© Friedrich Strauss/Gap Photos
A combination of evergreen and deciduous shrubs will ensure colour in your garden all year round
Shrubs are the main event in the garden, and this month is the perfect time to plant them. Without both a balance of evergreen and deciduous shrubs to provide anchor as well as interest, the mixed border would be all froth and no substance.

If pruning sends you into a panic and your garden soil is less than crumble-topping perfect, bring in the kind of shrubs that will flourish in any soil or situation and have few demands.

This month the ground is still warm from summer and it is still moist, giving shrubs planted now time to get their roots down and add some growth before winter.

Go native if you want plants that will thrive on neglect; they need no coaxing to grow, because they are happiest in their own home. Top of the list is the guelder rose, Viburnum opulus, which has beautifully shaped apple-green leaves that make a perfect foil, in early autumn, for the generous clusters of translucent scarlet berries, just like glass earrings. Choose the variety Compactum to suit a more restricted space.

The offspring of our native crabapple are as easygoing as the original, but are bred to produce more flowers in spring, more fruit in autumn. Depending on your preference for red or yellow crabapples, Malus Red Sentinel and Golden Hornet make great choices and suit a small garden.

Strictly speaking, spotted laurel Aucuba isn’t a native of this country but has been here for so long that this easy-going settler has earned an honorary place.

Glossy-leaved spotted laurel
© S&O/Gap Photos
Dry and shady corners are perfect places for the glossy-leaved spotted laurel
Forget fusty Victorian shrubberies: Aucuba japonica Crotonifolia’s place is slap-bang in the border, in the difficult, dry, shady part, where it will thrive, flashing its glossy deep green leaves that are splashed with gold, all through the year.

'Go native if you want plants that will thrive on neglect and need no coaxing to grow'

If there were a prize for the longest-flowering shrub, evergreen Viburnum tinus could surely claim to be the outright winner. The blooms might not rival those of bougainvillea, but what the prettily sugar-pink flower clusters lack in size, they make up for in profusion, and length of blooming - right through winter and early spring, when the garden is crying out for colour. Gwenllian is the improved version that offers the richest pink flowers.

All those stylish, swishy grasses and airy perennials need the occasional visual full stop to avoid the garden going too gauzy. This is where Berberis Helmond Pillar proves its worth, making a handsome column of reddish-purple foliage that turns a brilliant, glowing red in autumn. Just keep its slim, trim shape by snipping out any stragggling stems.

Malus Golden Hornet<br /><br />
© S&O/Gap Photos
Malus Golden Hornet is one of the finest trees for the small urban garden
If you want something more subtle in shade, look for upright-growing - fastigiate - box such as Buxus Graham Blandy; think of it as the slick, urban alternative to the ubiquitous upright conifer.

Hillier Nurseries’ plant expert Andrew McIndoe calls Euonymus japonicus Gold Queen, a good-looking evergreen with gold-splashed leaves, a bullet-proof plant, claiming it will even grow in the poorest soil of new-build houses. He’s right. And his number one shrub for versatility is Euonymus Emerald ‘n’ Gold, which will give you a splash of year-round colour in shade, in a container or under a tree. It will even climb if you give it a wall.

Face it, you simply can’t kill a buddleia. Avoid the mediocre mauves and banish images of the leggy kind that linger on the side of railway tracks and plant a more adventurous cultivar such as Black Knight that has the deepest midnight-purple flower sprays.

Even the laziest gardener can manage an annual brutal prune, once a year in early spring. The reward is masses of honey-scented blooms beloved by bees and butterflies alike.

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