Moving the silver and green Holly to another part of the garden after it was almost rocked from the ground in the gales of last month has given me the chance to put a new shrub in its place as a focal point for that border and something to look at from the dining room. A Camellia fitted the bill – they are tough and evergreen for year round interest and of course have exotic looking blooms in spring. The white flowered varieties tend to hold onto their blooms which turn brown on the plants rather than falling off, but I will forgive this ‘fault’ - I can always remove the fading flowers if they offend us that much!
Our soil is not acid, so I will have to make sure that the plant is well fed and enrich the soil with leaf mould. Once the weather warms up, I will give it a liquid feed of Miracid every few weeks through the summer just to keep the leaves deep green and glossy!
Large shrubs make excellent feature plants. Older gardens often had a ‘shrubbery’ where they would be grouped together in a border which would become more crowded each year so that the beauty and shape of individual plants could not be appreciated – the shrubs at the front of the border hogged the limelight as well as the sunlight!
Nowadays, mixed borders are more widely planted and I am all for this. Herbaceous borders have their own beauty from late spring through to the winter when the seed heads and grasses bleach out to tawny browns and buff but they can be dreary places through late winter before spring bulbs flower and begin to cover bare earth once again.
However, an herbaceous border with some strategically placed evergreen shrubs can be interesting all year around and the shrubs will make a back drop to summer flowering perennials before coming into their own again later in the year.
Photinia ‘Red Robin’ is a striking plant that is best pruned hard or clipped to keep it shaped up. Left to its own devices the plant makes a gangling mound but hard summer pruning (into old wood if necessary) encourages more upright growth and more of the beautiful new leaf growth that is bright red. The plant seems to love being pruned – the harder I attack ours, the more it grows back! The bright red new growth in spring rivals that of Pieris but Photinia does not need acid soil.
The spring flowering Viburnums are another excellent choice as a specimen shrub, to be planted near a path where the heady fragrance from their flat white flower heads can be enjoyed. Many of these plants have good autumn colours of orange and red before the leaves fall to reveal a neat twiggy structure through the winter. Our plant has no leaves as yet but is bristling with tight flower buds waiting to unleash their scent – a picture when in full flower, surrounded by the dwarf white daffodil Thalia in late March and April.