Shrubs: larger for year round interest

For a larger garden or to provide height at the back of a bed, decent sized shrubs (1.5-3m height and spread) can offer great structure and function. Large evergreen shrubs also offer screening and provide privacy.  Deciduous shrubs offer practical opportunities to provide shade and shelter in gardens too small for trees. Unlike many trees shrubs respond well to pruning.

Colourful shrubs RHS/Jerry Harpur
Colourful shrubs RHS/Jerry Harpur


Normally at least a third of the shrubs in a border will be evergreen or semi-evergreen. This lends a strong structure, even in winter.

This selection consists of widely available, medium to larger shrubs for general garden use.

See our additional advice page for a selection of smaller shrubs for year round interest.

Practical considerations

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.

  • Note the number of hours of sunshine the position receives as the seasons change
  • Consider the ultimate height and spread of the shrub as well as rate of growth
  • Assess the microclimate of your garden and choose suitable plants

Suitable plants

Shrubs have been chosen with an emphasis on flowering qualities and there are many other good shrubs for autumn colour or winter berries. Plants are grouped by season of flowering.


f = female
m = male
v = variegated

Spring flowering shrubs

a) Evergreen
Berberis darwinii AGM, B. ‘Goldilocks’
Camellia japonica, C. × williamsii (many) – lime hating
Ceanothus ‘Puget Blue’ AGM
Choisya ternata AGM
Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ (m) AGM
Osmanthus delavayi AGM, O. × burkwoodii AGM
Pieris ‘Firecrest’ AGM – lime hating
Poncirus trifoliata
(many) including deciduous azaleas – lime hating (size 2.5-4m) (size 4-8m)

b) Deciduous
Berberis × ottawensis ‘Superba’
Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Moerloosii’ AGM
Cornus mas
Cytisus multiflorus, C. scoparius
Deutzia × hybrida ‘Mont Rose’ AGM, D. × rosea ‘Carminea’ AGM
Enkianthus campanulatus AGM
Forsythia × intermedia ‘Lynwood’ AGM – lime hating
Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’ AGM – lime hating
Magnolia stellata ‘Water Lily’ AGM
Paeonia ludlowii(s)
Ribes sanguineum ‘Pulborough Scarlet’ AGM
Stachyurus praecox AGM
Viburnum × burkwoodii ‘Fulbrook’

Summer flowering shrubs

a) Evergreen
Escallonia ‘Donard Seedling’, E. ‘Peach Blossom’ AGM
Hebe ‘Great Orme’ AGM (slightly tender)
Hypericum ‘Hidcote’ AGM, H. ‘Rowallane’ AGM
Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ AGM
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’ AGM

b) Deciduous
Abelia × grandiflora
Buddleja alternifolia AGM, B. davidii
Ceanothus × delileanus ‘Gloire de Versailles’ AGM
Fuchsia ‘Riccartonii’ AGM (slightly tender)
Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ AGM
Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Pink Cloud’ AGM
Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ AGM, P. ‘Virginal’ AGM
Rosa (many shrub roses)
Spartium junceum AGM
Spiraea nipponica ‘Snowmound’ AGM
Syringa × josiflexa ‘Bellicent’ AGM, S. vulgaris ‘Katherine Havemeyer’ AGM, S. ‘Madame Lemoine’ AGM
Tamarix ramosissima ‘Pink Cascade’
Viburnum plicatum ‘Grandiflorum’
Weigela ‘Mont Blanc’

Autumn flowering shrubs

a) Evergreen
Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’ AGM
Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ AGM

b) Deciduous
Abelia × grandiflora
Berberis × ottawensis ‘Superba’
Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii
Cotinus ‘Flame’ AGM
Cotoneaster bullatus AGM
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Hamabo’ AGM, H. ‘Woodbridge’ AGM
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Altona’ AGM, H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’
Rosa ‘Geranium’ (moyseii hybrid) AGM, R. sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha

Winter flowering shrubs

a) Evergreen
Cotoneaster lacteus (berries) AGM
Mahonia × media ‘Charity’, M. japonica AGM

b) Deciduous
Lonicera fragrantissima
× intermedia ‘Jelena’ AGM, H. mollis ‘Pallida’ AGM – lime hating
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus
× bodnantense ‘Deben’ AGM, V. ‘Dawn’ AGM, V. farreri (syn. V. fragrans) AGM

Foliage effect

a) Evergreen
Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ (v) AGM
Fatsia japonica AGM
Ilex aquifolium ‘Handsworth New Silver’ (f/v) AGM
Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ AGM
Prunus lusitanica ‘Variegata’

b) Deciduous
Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (v) AGM, C. ‘Spaethii’ (v) AGM, C. mas ‘Variegata’ AGM
Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple’ AGM
Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ AGM


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Further reading

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.

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