Shrubs: smaller for year round interest

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.

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Potentilla fruticosa 'Kobold' RHS/Tim Sandall
Potentilla fruticosa 'Kobold' RHS/Tim Sandall


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 0.1-0.5m
Selection of small rhododendron size 0.5-1m
Selection of heathers

See our additional advice page for a selection of larger 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

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) Evergreen
Berberis microphylla '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) Deciduous
Berberis 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 'Procumbens' AGM: 20cm (8in)
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) Evergreen
Brachyglottis (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) Deciduous
Artemisia 'Powis Castle' AGM: 60cm (2ft)
Caryopteris × clandonensis 'Heavenly Blue': 1m (3ft)
Cytisus 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) Evergreen
Abelia schumannii: 2m (6½ft)
Cotoneaster conspicuus 'Decorus' AGM: 1.5m (5ft)
Gaultheria procumbens AGM: 15cm (6in) – lime hating
Hebe 'Autumn Glory': 60cm (2ft)
Viburnum davidii AGM: 1.5m (5ft)

b) Deciduous
Ceratostigma 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)

Winter – all evergreen

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 hating
Mahonia 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

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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