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We’ve all heard of shrubs in the garden and know what they look like, but what does the word mean and what is the difference between a shrub and a tree? 

Shrubs are defined as woody plants that tend to have a rounded shape. They can be deciduous or evergreen and can grace your garden with flowers, berries, and colourful foliage and stems.

The main difference between shrubs and trees is that shrubs have several main stems growing from the ground, whereas a tree has one trunk.

Why to grow shrubs in the garden

Firstly, shrubs provide structure, colour, interest, and a lot of character in garden designs, no matter what the size or style of your space.

From small borders to statement shrubs, there’s a huge array to choose from to suit any spot whether in full sun or part shade with any soil condition.

Here is a list of my favourite garden shrubs to get you started…

Evergreen shrubs

Although different evergreen shrubs will come into flower at different times of the year, they will provide your garden with permanent colour and structure.

Skimmia japonica (Japanese skimmia)

Firstly, this densely branched evergreen shrub is dome-shaped and has dark, leathery leaves that have a slight fragrance to them. In spring, white flowers bloom that are sweetly scented and are followed by bright red fruits if the plant is pollinated. What’s more is these fruits can last until the following spring, so you’ll never be short of interest.

  • Sun – Full sun or partial shade
  • Position – South, North, East or West-facing
  • Exposure – Sheltered
  • Moisture – Moist but well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, loam, or chalk
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Hebe albicans (white hebe)

Next up is a dense, dwarf evergreen that has grey-green leaves that are joined by spiked clusters of white flowers. These flowers will also be very appealing to pollinators. Looking lovely in coastal or city gardens, they’ll also be a practical addition as they tolerate levels of pollution and salty air.

  • Sun – Partial shade or full sun
  • Position – South, North, West, or East-facing
  • Exposure – Sheltered
  • Moisture – Well-drained or moist but well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, clay, chalk, or loam

Low growing shrubs

For smaller gardens or to punctuate the front of a border, you can plant low-growing shrubs such as Spirea and Caryopteris, both of which come in many varieties.

Gaultheria procumbens (checkerberry)

Low growing and low maintenance, this evergreen shrub grows to around 15cm tall and can spread indefinitely. With this in mind, they are great for ground cover. The rounded leathery leaves turn from green to red in winter and are fragrant when crushed. In summer, small white-pink flowers adorn the shrub, and are followed by red berries in autumn. Without a doubt, this shrub will bring colour and structure all year round.

  • Sun – Partial shade or full sun
  • Position – North, West, East or South facing
  • Exposure – Exposed or sheltered
  • Moisture – Moist but well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, loam, or clay
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Spirea japonica (Japanese spirea) ‘Gold Mound’

Another low-growing shrub is this compact, spreading deciduous one which has yellow leaves in spring which turn green-yellow in summertime when they are joined by sprays of pink flowers. Hardy and easy to grow, they will look great in a variety of spaces including pots and containers is coastal, cottage and courtyard spaces.

  • Sun – Full sun or partial shade
  • Position – South, North, West, or East-facing
  • Exposure – Sheltered or exposed
  • Moisture – Moist but well-drained or well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, loam, or chalk
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Flowering shrubs

Some popular medium-sized flowering shrubs for the garden include Cistus, Deutzia, Azalea, Buddleja, Forsythia, Hydrangea, Viburnum, and shrub roses. In addition, large shrubs like Rhododendrons make striking features.

Viburnum tinus (laurustinus)

This large evergreen shrub, growing up to 3m tall has clusters of creamy-white flowers that bloom from late winter to spring. These dainty looking flowers are followed by blue-black berries in autumn. In colder areas and windy conditions, protection is ideal.

  • Sun – Partial shade, full sun, or full shade
  • Position – West, East or South-facing
  • Exposure – Sheltered
  • Moisture – Well-drained or moist but well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, clay, chalk, or loam
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Rhododendron ‘Corneille’

Next is a bushy deciduous shrub that grows to 2.5m tall with orange-red coloured foliage in autumn. In early summer, fragrant double flowers appear which are deep pink in colour. The size of this shrub makes it well suited for hedges and screening in the garden.

  • Sun – Full sun or partial shade
  • Position – South, West, or East-facing
  • Exposure – Sheltered
  • Moisture – Moist but well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, clay, or loam

Large shrubs

Whatever size your garden, large shrubs will always make a statement. Mahonia, Camellia, Elaeagnus, Hypericum, Photinia and Rhododendron can all reach a good height to provide extra impact and a focal point to the garden.

Photinia x fraseri (Christmas berry) ‘Red Robin’

Growing to 4m tall and wide, this a low-maintenance option for hedging or screening. In addition, the leaves which are dark and glossy green when mature, start out as bright red. In spring, they flower white flowers, but they are sparse.

  • Sun – Partial shade or full sun
  • Position – South, North, West, or East-facing
  • Exposure – Exposed or sheltered
  • Moisture – Well-drained or moist but well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, clay, or loam
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Shade-loving shrubs

For that shady part of the garden you could choose from evergreens such as Aucuba, Skimmia, Berberis, Cotoneaster or Fatsia japonica. Flowering shade-lovers include Camellia, Azalea, Heuchera and Epimedium.

Camellia sasanqua (camellia) ‘Hugh Evans’

Once you’ve found that shady spot, this vigorous evergreen shrub with dark green will be a cheery addition with his single rose-pink flowers in autumn and winter. Growing to 4m tall, these hardy plants are suitable for acidic soils.

  • Sun – Full shade, partial shade, or full sun
  • Position – West, North or East-facing
  • Exposure – Sheltered
  • Moisture – Moist but well-drained or well-drained
  • Soil – Clay, sand or, loam
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Fragrant shrubs

Finally, to add a sensory dimension to your garden there are several fragrant shrubs to choose from. Ribes, Lilac, Daphne, Myrtle, Lavender, Osmanthus, Escallonia, Buddleia, and Philadelphus are all beautifully scented plants which will enhance the pleasure of your garden.

Philadelphus (mock orange)

Fragrant white flowers bloom on this deciduous shrub in summer, and the centre of the flowers are purple tinted which provides more depth and interest. Perfect for a woodland setting or styled garden, they are low maintenance and easy to grow.

  • Sun – Full sun or partial shade
  • Position – West, East, South or North-facing
  • Exposure – Exposed or sheltered
  • Moisture – Moist but well-drained or well-drained
  • Soil – Sand, loam, clay, or chalk
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Whether your garden is cottage style or a courtyard setting, there’s a shrub fit for your space. Providing structure, colour, fruits and foliage, your garden won’t be short of interest.

For garden impact, look at these fast-growing shrubs:

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas:

fast growing shrubs
Fast growing shrubs
Pinterest
Pinterest Board


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