1 March 2014 - 12:00am

Interesting Spring flowering shrubs

Shrubs are often seen as the rather boring mainstay of the garden and can look quite uninspiring for much of the year. But in Spring and early summer they really come into their own and can be real stars both in flower and scent. If you plant them in a mixed border you can situate other plants around them that will provide interest at other seasons; most shrubs combine really well with bulbs and perennials. One more unusual planting suggestion: I have a viticella clematis next to a Cotinus so it can scramble over it and provide a bit more interest. I prune the clematis hard in late winter. One of the most effective early spring combinations I’ve seen is the red multi stemmed dogwoods underplanted with daffodils. Really striking, and after the daffodils have finished the dogwoods will come into leaf and hide their dying foliage. In fact spring bulbs under just about any shrub will bring bare soil to life when you most need a lift. Prune one third of the dogwood back to the ground each year to keep the stems brightly coloured and the plant lively. Exochordia x macrantha ‘The Bride’ (pictured) is a gorgeous white frothy meringue of a shrub that is really easy to grow and prune. You can even grow it as a standard but I prefer to keep it smallish and rejuvenated by cutting back all the stems that have flowered when finished, say June time. Most spring flowering shrubs can be treated this way, please don’t prune them into a lollipop! We have an unknown variety of Weigela from a cutting donated by a long deceased parent that reminds me of him every time it comes into flower in late spring. Every other year I prune it hard back, trying to keep its natural, graceful shape while giving it a chance to stay young and floriferous. A good feed and mulch after pruning, plus a good soak if it’s dry will bring best results for all shrubs. I admit to not being a great fan of most Ceanothus. The blue looks somehow artificial to me, making it hard to place. However if you do have one don’t prune it hard unless forced, they don’t like it much and are likely to pop their clogs. Magnolia similarly can protest if you set to with the pruners, but why would anyone would want to prune a gorgeous magnolia? Just do your research before you buy and get one that suits your allotted space, bearing in mind that Magnolias prefer slightly acid soil. The same applies to Camellias; they are woodland plants preferring acid, fairly moist conditions. Keep them well watered, especially in late summer when next year’s buds are forming, otherwise they may drop off. The Viburnum family is a mixed bunch, some more glorious and interesting than others. One of my favourites, especially for the delicious scent, is V. Juddii. It is deciduous but that’s no sad loss: viburnum leaves are fairly boring. But in April pretty pink buds appear and open out to almost white and the whole garden fills with a gorgeous perfume. If you have an evergreen viburnum, watch out from now for the viburnum beetle that will munch your plant and leave it all brown and crinkly. You can prevent it to some extent with the right spray. I prefer to prune out affected branches, which keeps it at bay. I don’t think total eradication is likely but if you have managed it, please let me know how! Don’t forget to deadhead your daffodils, give them a handful of plant food and don’t tie them up into bundles. That way they are more likely to flower well for you next year. If they have stopped flowering it may mean they are a bit tired and malnourished. Dig them up and replant them spaced out a bit with a little fresh compost and good and deep. They may take a year to settle down but then you should have your hard work rewarded by a lovely show in Spring 2016.