Give shrubs a permanent position in the garden and they’ll provide a long season of low-maintenance and reliable colour for many years. If you want to create a leafy and floriferous oasis, but don’t have lots of time to be watering, staking and deadheading, then shrubs are the perfect choice for you.
How to grow shrubs
- Check the label when choosing a shrub to find out if it’s fully hardy. Hardy varieties are the easiest to grow – all you really need to do is plant them straight outside, water and leave them to it. Hardy shrubs provide fuss-free colour repeatedly each year.
- Plant during autumn or spring, this will give the roots time to anchor before they’re more heavily relied upon during the growing season. Dig a hole that’s wider and deeper than the rootball and mix in a bit of organic mulch and/or granular fertiliser to the bottom to give it a good boost into the season. You can also mix in some grit if drainage is poor.
- Position your shrub so that its best side is facing into the garden, ensure it’s straight, then backfill with soil. Firm it down and then give it a really good water. It’ll need regular watering during its first growing season, but probably won’t need watering at all in the years that follow.
- Different shrubs have different pruning instructions, but the general rule with is to prune them back by about one third just after they have finished flowering.
Dark-leaved shrubs are great for adding contrast to mixed borders and shrubberies. They can also create a dramatic backdrop for bright-flowered plants.
Here are some of my favourite dark-leaved shrubs:
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’
Easy to grow in any sheltered spot in acid soil. Don’t worry if you don’t have acid soil, they will grow happily in large containers with ericaceous compost. You can buy acers in all kinds of lovely shades ranging from bright lime green, to coral and very deep red. ‘Bloodgood’ is a well-known and popular variety. Its outstanding garden performance has won it an RHS Award of Garden Merit. It’s a slow grower (great for small gardens), but it can eventually reach a height of 4m – you can prune it to keep it smaller if necessary. Acers look great in modern or contemporary planting schemes, but can also sit very nicely with cottage-garden flowers.
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ £29.99 from Crocus
Sambucus nigra ‘Black Tower’
Sambucus (also known as Elder), is very reliable and will thrive in almost any location. Dark-leaved varieties, such as ‘Black Tower’ (pictured) provide a very long season of interest with their gorgeous, black foliage. During late spring and early summer you can enjoy additional interest from the beautiful pink and white edible flowers, which are formed in large, flat clusters. Later in the year, the flowers develop into glossy black berries that wild birds love to eat. It’s a great variety for wildlife gardens, but also looks great in ornamental borders or shrubberies.
Special offer at Hayloft – 3 for £12
Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’
This is also known as the ‘Smoke Bush’, producing delicate sprays of tiny flowers on wispy stems that give the effect of little clouds of smoke. The soft dark mauve foliage is evergreen so it provides year-round colour. It can grow up to 3m relatively quickly, so it’s great if you want a fast screen. On the other hand, it’s easy to keep it compact and responds well to annual prune after flowering. Cotinus stems look gorgeous in cut-flower bouquets, too.
Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ £9.99 for J. Parkers
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’
This is a lovely compact shrub, ideal for growing in mixed borders or small gardens. The glossy, rich purple foliage looks good all year round, especially when the young foliage appears in a contrasting shade of lime green.
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ £13.50 from Burncoose
Save on dark-leaved elders! Three sambucus for £12
If you like dark foliage plants, or want to add contrast to shrubberies, this collection is a great choice. These stunning dark-leaved elders provide plenty of interest from spring right through to late autumn, you’ll get three for just £12 with this offer.
Save on sambucus now