These shrubs will keep your garden gorgeous all year round

Joanna Cruddas

Fill winter with scent

Evergreen Clematis amandii is best in a sheltered, shady spot where its roots remain cool. It will climb a wall or fence and provide brilliant white, scented flowers against shiny deep green leaves.

Mahonia bealei may have prickly leaves but its yellow, delicate-scented flowers brighten up a border from autumn through winter. Attractive dusty purple-blue berries follow flowering.

Sarcococca hookeriana ‘winter gem’ (sweet box) is evergreen, dense and tolerant of most conditions. In late winter, clusters of red buds open to strongly fragrant white flowers followed by glossy red berries. It’s a valuable, medium-sized shrub for shady areas.

The warmth of spring colours

Chaenomeles superba (ornamental quince) is a compact shrub bringing welcome colour in spring. Red, cup-shaped flowers turn to apple-like fruit later in the year. The fruit can be cooked and eaten.

Slightly different Chaenomeles japonica is an incredibly easy shrub, happy to be trained against a wall. Its fruit makes delicious jelly.

Cercis chinensis (Judas tree) gives a striking spring display. Purple-pink flowers in mid-spring are followed by large, deciduous heart-shaped leaves through summer and autumn.

Halesia Carolina gives a magnificent display of white bell-shaped flowers, which hang in clusters in late spring. Ideal for the edge of a woodland garden.

Something different for summer

Caesalphinia gillesii (yellow bird of paradise) is an exotic shrub or small tree with showy yellow flowers with prominent red stamens. Suitable for a sunny dry garden, it is borderline hardy and may not survive a harsh winter or sudden early frost.

Weigela florida comes in many varieties.

Popular ‘Variegata’ is a fully hardy compact shrub growing to six foot tall. The variegated grey-green leaves make an attractive backdrop for clusters of pale pink flowers in early-mid summer.

Alexandra’ has dark, almost black foliage with a profusion of deep pink flowers in mid-summer.

Autumn glow

Cotinus is a spectacular shrub through summer and autumn; there are several varieties.

‘Grace’ produces fluffy purple-pink plumes resembling a haze of smoke in summer. In autumn the leaves turn to brilliant reds.

‘Candy floss’ is a new variety with leaves that start a soft bronze turning to pale green in summer. It produces a mass of enormous powder-pink flowers. In autumn the foliage becomes a brilliant mix of yellow, orange and red.

Malus (crab apple tree) is a small must-have for autumn.

A profusion of bright, deep yellow fruit hang from ‘golden hornet’ well into winter. ‘Tschonoskii’ excels with its bright orange, red and purple foliage in autumn.

I especially like the weeping varieties, of which there are several.

Acers Palmatum (Japanese maple) are a vital part of autumn. 

‘Red pygmy’ is ideal for a container.

The autumn foliage for all acers is their jewel; leaves vary from gold to deep crimson to a rich burgundy-purple. The only problem is which to choose!  Acers are small, slow-growing and stand well on their own, or as a brilliant contrast to other shrubs. They are attractive round the year.

Joanna Cruddas lives in London and gardens at her plot in Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, on her balcony, and in her window boxes. She is the author of The Three-Year Allotment Notebook with photographs by Edwina Sassoon.