The Little All-Year Garden
Part I Flowering Shrubs
‘I want it to flower all summer.’ ‘It must be no-maintenance.’ Just two of the requirements regularly listed from non-gardeners looking for ideas to jazz up an empty front garden. The longer list will also include that any plants suggested must not take over the place. Oh – and the garden needs to look good constantly. The phrase ‘having your cake and eating it’ comes to mind.
The list of demands made of a small garden can be interesting to state the least. Those demands can even be made of a single plant. In real life however, there is no one plant that will do all that. Perhaps a sculpture of a plant might tick the boxes.
But do not despair. You can go to the ball. It is just that several plants will be necessary to fulfil all the requirements. For a low maintenance garden, start with the flowering shrubs. Pick the right ones and it will be possible to fit a perfect mix into even a small space. You can keep yourself entertained walking up the garden path from January to December. But as for the no-maintenance call, know that there must be some upkeep. Green painted concrete is the only truly no-maintenance garden.
Starting with January, the shrub that looks in January will also impress until late February on a good year. Choose one from the many daphnes. These are small, easy to accommodate, gorgeous and capable of delivering delightful scent as well as colour at a lean time of year. Daphne bholua is the best known. Another good, hardy species is Daphne mezereum. It carries raspberry coloured, perfumed flowers through the winter. These are then replaced by wands of berries, that start out like garden peas strung along the branch. They turn to red as the months go on. In addition, the little shrub is almost evergreen and it will not grow more than a metre square in five or six years, so it will not crowd you out.
As it is going over, it can be replaced in the flowering stakes by the pearl bush, Exochorda ‘The Bride’, which drips white flowers from mid to late spring and keeps to a respectable 1.5 by 1.5 metres.
One of the small cut-leaf Japanese acers will take up the ball and run right through summer until the end of autumn, when it will colour beautifully. Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a fine variety. Its umbrella shape renders its bare winter skeleton a sight to behold. too
There are no end of roses, both miniature and carpet types, that will provide flowers all summer without hogging the space. The miniatures also perform well in a container.
Hebes are evergreens and will give the all-year look without requiring much fuss. They also sport white and occasionally pink flowers that are hugely attractive to bees.
Everyone loves hydrangeas and they come with flowers in a range of shades that complement the other flowering shrubs you have chosen. They are easy plants to keep happy. They flower for the second half of the summer and the big flower heads die in a most decorous way, leaving a skeleton of brown, papery ‘bouquets’ over winter. Everyone’s favourite white is ‘Annabelle’. The only problem with this variety is that the flower heads can be so big that the stems cannot always support them, particularly when beaten down by rain. But you can put supports in place to keep the flower heads up where they are wanted. A lot of gardeners use chicken wire netted, loosely over the shrub early in the year before the new flowering shoots appear.
One small shrub that earns its keep for much of the year is Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’, the winged spindle bush. It carries small flowers that turn into the most dramatic orange and pink fruits in autumn. But its autumn foliage colour is also quite stunning. The cherry red, ruby and claret colours that they turn into are one of the great end-of-year shows. Then, as if all that was not enough, when the leaves fall, the stems can be seen in all their winged glory. If it is planted with the sun behind it, you can see these papery wings to best effect.
If you have a desire to grow something productive, you can also include a short line of step-over apples, which will provide both a boundary or ‘hedge’ of sorts to hem in the rest of the show. You get blossom in spring and fruits in summer and autumn. However, be prepared to either learn how to prune these, or to find a gardener who will do the annual pruning and training for you. It will be worth it.
So there they are, a group of small but powerful plants – most of which are easy enough to mind - from which you can pick, to make a compact but good looking, low-maintenance garden.
Next week – the All-Year Flower Garden.