There is a general feeling, that you can choose 12 different shrubs that will then give you flower or colour interest for every month of the year. But, getting the right combinations of shrubs for all year round colour is not as easy as that.
If it was as simple as that, it would be easy to browse through any shrub catalogue, find one that flowers in the month of your choice and bingo, you have the answer. Not so!
We show you how to do and how to choose shrubs for all year round interest.
Many shrubs put on a splendid show of flowers for a relatively short period - sometimes just a week or so - and do little else for the rest of the year, other than grow. Plant your utopian border on this basis, and there will as many periods without flower as there will with flower.
And what of the other aspect of the non-interest of the shrubs which are not in flower. Maybe 12 shrubs taking up a border length of say 24 metres (80 feet) with one solitary specimen somewhere having flowers! So much for the shrub border, having 12 months of colour or all year round interest.
So, let's take it a bit further and see what can be done to give a full shrub border that has interest throughout the year. This is not quite the same, or as simple, as having a shrub somewhere in that border that has flowers for a short period of time. The ideal way to achieve this border 12 months interest, is to choose only those shrubs that have several different ornamental aspects, other than a few weeks of flower. We may even look at some shrubs that do not have any flowers of particular interest! No, I am not talking only of evergreens!
For 12 months of interest using shrubs, we don't have to use evergreens, but of course they are very desirable these days with a huge range of foliage ornamentation and also their flowering qualities. So let's forget Laurels and the like for this project, and concentrate on the most colourful shrubs, for the longest period of of time. Those that will give all year round colour.
Other than choosing the right shrubs, they will need to be planted in the right place. Easy to give that bit of advice, but an area of dismal failure with gardeners at all levels. Every gardener will have an example of a shrub they planted in the wrong place. I certainly have a few!
Ask any ten gardeners - not writers - for their suggestions for twelve suitable shrubs, and I would be surprised if more than two or three of the same shrubs at most were selected by all. That shows the wonderful range of interesting shrubs that are available. We really are spoilt for choice.
I once visited the private garden of one of the royal gardeners (Sandringham) and we discussed the merits of various garden plants. He was almost overcome with excitement when it was his turn to name the best single shrub for twelve months of interest. His choice - Stranvaesia davidiana - now renamed Photinia davidiana. It certainly has merits as a stand-alone shrub, for it is evergreen, upright in habit, creamy flowers in showy panicle clusters midsummer, some of the evergreen leaves turn bright red in the autumn, and it has a good crop of bright red berries through to mid winter. It is a shrub that I also admire and have planted many times and is a shrub that gives year round interest.
Would it be included in my list of twelve for a shrub border of twelve months interest? We shall see!
Let’s firstly lay out some ground rules to see how we can achieve this utopia of year round colour and interest with shrubs.
Evergreens are almost essential, but not just for their foliage.
Long Flowering Shrubs must certainly be included.
Multi-purpose shrubs – such as the Stranvaesia already mentioned.
Attractive Stems would be a good inclusion, and would form part of any plan I do about colour the year round.
Variegated foliage may be an option.
Good or unusual foliage form, or general shape and other attributes of the shrub. This trait is often ignored but can be so important in the choice of shrubs for all year round interest.
Height and Spread will need to be taken into account.