Sunday, 14 April 2013



Almost every garden needs some flowering shrubs. They give the garden depth, structure, shelter, privacy, and ground cover to smother weeds and save on maintenance. Some are evergreen, some have variegation and many flower, often with fantastic scent. Most are very easy to grow and types can be found to suit full sun, shade, dry soils, moist soils, acid soils, alkaline soils and some such as Escallonia, Rosemary, Broom, Choisya and Senecio can tolerate exposure to maritime conditions.
However when choosing garden shrubs we tend to buy in plants we really like then hope we can create conditions that they are happy to thrive in.
I have always had my “must have” list and over the years gradually acquired many of them.
Rhododendrons and camellias were very high on my list, with R. praecox and Elizabeth essential plus camellias Donation (pink) and Adolphe Audusson (red) but remember these need acidic moist peaty soils that is free draining and do not mind some shade. Coming down in size the dwarf evergreen Japanese Azaleas come in a wide range of colours and are great for ground cover. Deciduous Azaleas will grow a lot taller but can be brilliantly coloured and scented.
Other shrubs like moist, but not waterlogged soil include Amelanchier, Viburnums, Spiraea and for really shaded spots try the Hypericums and Mahonia.
Dry sandy soils are not a problem with the right selection so include Cytisus brooms, Genista gorses, Senecio, Cistus, Ceanothus and Kerria.
Shrubs with scented flowers are numerous but some of the best would include Philadelphus, Viburnums, Choisya, Daphne, Osmanthus, Lilacs and many shrub roses.
Sometimes we like to try out the more tender plants just in case climate change works in our favour. This has worked well over the last ten years or so till we got hit by the one off serious winter two years ago. That was when hardiness got put to the test and most of us lost prize specimens. My beautiful Leptospermum Red Damask never survived as well as my six year old mature date palm, but my mature Eucalyptus was unaffected. The Australian palm, Cordyline and all my outdoor hardy fuchsias got cut back to ground level, but all came back again by mid summer.
Gardeners have plenty patience, but sometimes this gets put to the test. Way back in the late sixties when I was sitting my Diploma practical exams at the RHS gardens in Wisley I came across this gorgeous Cornus kousa chinensis. I never forgot its name and put it on my must have list for the future. I bought one eight years ago, but am still waiting to see the first flowers. The nursery had grown them from seed rather than grafting them. I am now informed that it can take fifteen years for this plant to reach a mature enough condition before it starts to flower. I have pruned the stems, root pruned it, threaten it frequently, but no amount of bad language seems to be working. It just loves to grow with great vigour, but if no flowers appear this spring it is in serious trouble.


Shrubs are likely to last a long time so make sure the soil is in good shape suited to the type of shrub to be planted. Prior to planting make sure there are no perennial weeds and dig over borders incorporating compost to improve the soil. The best time for planting is in the dormant season, but late spring is ok as long as the bushes can get watered if dry weather prevails. Water plants before and after planting and most shrubs will benefit from a dressing of fertiliser, except rhododendrons and azaleas which may get scorched leaves. All shrubs benefit from a compost mulch to help retain moisture and prevent weeds growing. Give plants enough space according to how big they are likely to grow and any resultant bare soil in the early years can be sown down to annual flowers.

Plant of the week

Saxifrages come in many forms and flower colours. London Pride is one of the more common, but well known types. Most are cushion forming hugging the ground in solid clumps that slowly enlarge. The foliage forms clusters of tight rosettes and flowers form in early spring to mid summer. They prefer well drained gritty soil on the alkaline side, in rock gardens or beside stone walls and path edges. They are very hardy and snow and frost will not harm the plants or flowers.

Painting of the month

Lemon Narcissi is one of my spring flower images painted boldly in acrylic on large box canvases. This project also included tulips, Iceland poppies and flag iris. All of the flowers were grown in my garden and allotment in City Road which gives me plenty of ideas for flower paintings. The allotments and my garden will feature in my outdoor art workshop running the first week in July but painting is also planned at Broughty Ferry, Rait village and Magdalen Green beside the bandstand with views of the Tay Bridge.


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