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Shrubs form the framework of the garden and if selected carefully, can provide interest throughout the year. Shrubs, especially small ones, are easy to care for and therefore often labour-saving. Small shrubs, especially evergreen ones, can be closely planted to form ground cover.
Our top 5 smaller shrubs for year round interest
Normally a third to a quarter of the shrubs in a border will be evergreen or semi-evergreen. This lends a strong structure, even in winter.
The shrubs listed below have been selected for seasonal interest which may be in the form of flowers, berries or autumn colour. It excludes rhododendrons and heathers but many great selections of these can be found on the RHS Find a Plant;
Selection of small rhododendron size 0.1-0.5mSelection of small rhododendron size 0.5-1mSelection of heathers
See our additional advice page for a selection of larger shrubs for year round interest.
Before choosing a shrub it is important to understand your garden. Here are a few points to consider before making your choice;
A suitable soil test (RHS Soil Analysis Service) will help identify the soil texture and acidity or alkalinity which will influence the range of suitable plants. Acid-loving (lime-hating) or ericaceous shrubs grow best in a pH range of 4-6, and ideally pH 5-5.5.
These shrubs range in height from 20cm-2m (8in-6ft) and are widely available. Plants are grouped by season of flowering or major interest such as autumn colour or berries.
v = variegated
a) EvergreenBerberis buxifolia 'Pygmaea': 30cm (1ft)Berberis × frikartii 'Amstelveen' AGM: 1m (3ft)Berberis × stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta' AGM: 30cm (1ft)Berberis × stenophylla 'Irwinii': 1.5m (5ft)Berberis verruculosa AGM: 1.5m (5ft)Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. repens AGM: 1m (3ft)Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata': 1.5m (5ft)Skimmia japonica 'Nymans' (f) AGM: 1m (3ft)Skimmia japonica 'Fragrans' AGM: (m) 1m (3ft)Vinca major 'Variegata' AGM: 30cm (1ft)Vinca minor 'Azurea Flore Pleno' AGM: 20cm (8in)
b) DeciduousBerberis thunbergii 'Atropupurea Nana' AGM: 60cm (2ft)Berberis wilsoniae AGM: 90cm (3ft)Chaenomeles × superba 'Knap Hill Scarlet' AGM: 1.5m (5ft)Cytisus × beanii AGM, C. × kewensis AGM: 60cm (2ft)Daphne × burkwoodii AGM, D. mezereum: 1.2m (4ft)Genista lydia AGM: 60cm (2ft)Genista pilosa: 40cm (16in)Genista tinctoria 'Flore Pleno' AGM: 35cm (14in)Genista tinctoria 'Royal Gold' AGM: 1m (3ft)Prunus × cistena AGM: 1.5m (5ft)Salix hastata 'Wehrhahnii' AGM: 1m (3ft)Syringa meyeri var. spontanea 'Palibin' AGM: 1.5m (5ft)
a) EvergreenBrachyglottis (Dunedin Group) 'Sunshine' AGM: 1.5m (5ft)Cistus × pulverulentus 'Sunset' 60cm (2ft)Convolvulus cneorum AGM: 60cm (2ft)× Halimiocistus sahucii AGM: 45cm (1½ft)Halimium ocymoides AGM: 60cm (2ft)Hebe × franciscana 'Blue Gem' AGM: 1.3m (4½ft)Hebe 'Great Orme' AGM: 1.2m (4ft)Hebe 'Midsummer Beauty' AGM: 2m (6½ft)Hebe 'Youngii': 20cm (8in)Helianthemum 'Wisley Primrose' AGM: 30cm (1ft)Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote' AGM: 60cm (2ft)Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead': 45cm (1½ft)Phlomis fruticosa AGM: 1m (3ft)Phormium cookianum subsp. hookeri 'Cream Delight' AGM: 2m (6½ft)Phormium 'Duet' AGM: 30cm (1ft)Rosmarinus officinalis 'Miss Jessopp's Upright' AGM: 2m (6½ft)Ruta graveolens 'Jackman's Blue' AGM: 60cm (2ft)Santolina chamaecyparissus AGM: 50cm (20in)Santolina chamaecyparissus var. nana AGM: 30cm (1ft)Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’ AGM: 80cm (2½ft)
b) DeciduousArtemisia 'Powis Castle' AGM: 60cm (2ft)Caryopteris × clandonensis 'Heavenly Blue': 1m (3ft)Chamaecytisus purpureus 'Atropurpureus': AGM: 45cm (1½ft)Deutzia × rosea: 1.2m (4ft)Fuchsia 'Mrs Popple' AGM: 1m (3ft)Fuchsia 'Tom Thumb' AGM: 30cm (1ft)Philadelphus 'Manteau d'Hermine' AGM: 75cm (30in)Potentilla fruticosa 'Elizabeth' AGM: 75cm (30in)Potentilla fruticosa 'Manchu': 30cm (1ft)Potentilla fruticosa 'Red Ace': 75cm (30in)Spiraea japonica 'Anthony Waterer' AGM: 1.5m (5ft)Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame' AGM: 75cm (30in)Spiraea japonica 'Nana': 45cm (18in)
a) EvergreenAbelia schumannii: 2m (6½ft)Cotoneaster conspicuus 'Decorus' AGM: 1.5m (5ft)Gaultheria procumbens AGM: 15cm (6in) – lime hatingHebe 'Autumn Glory': 60cm (2ft)Viburnum davidii AGM: 1.5m (5ft)
b) DeciduousCeratostigma plumbaginoides AGM: 45cm (1½ft)Ceratostigma willmottianum AGM: 1m (3ft)Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Altonia’ AGM: 1m (3ft)Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mariesii Perfecta' AGM: 2m (6ft)Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pia' AGM: 60cm (2ft)Hypericum 'Hidcote' AGM: 1.2m (4ft)Hypericum × moserianum 'Tricolor': 30cm (1ft)Perovskia 'Blue Spire' AGM: 1.2m (4ft)Potentilla fruticosa 'Katherine Dykes' AGM: 1m (3ft)Potentilla fruticosa 'Vilmoriniana': 1.2m (4ft)Rosa 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup' AGM: 1m (3ft)
Cotoneaster dammeri AGM: 20cm (8in)Cotoneaster microphyllus AGM: 1m (3ft)Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety' AGM: 1m (3ft)Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' AGM: 1.2m (4ft)Gaultheria mucronata 'Bell's Seedling' AGM: 90cm (3ft) – lime hatingMahonia aquifolium 'Apollo' AGM: 60cm (2ft)Mahonia pinnata: 1.5m (5ft)Pachysandra terminalis 'Green Carpet' AGM, P. terminalis 'Variegata' AGM: 20cm (8in)Ruscus aculeatus: 75cm (2½ft)Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis: 60cm (2ft)Skimmia japonica 'Nymans' AGM: 1m (3ft)
RHS Find a Plant
The Timber Press Encyclopedia of Flowering Shrubs by Jim Gardiner (Timber Press 2011, ISBN 978-0881928235)
The book is made available through the RHS Lindley Library.
Buying: trees and shrubsGarden design: sources of informationShrubsShrubs: evergreen by sizeShrubs: evergreen for specific situationsShrubs: larger for year round interestShrubs: pruning evergreensTrees and shrubs: colourful foliageTrees and shrubs: plantingTrees and shrubs: variegated foliageTrees for smaller gardens10 AGM shrubs for autumn berries10 AGM winter flowering shrubs
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