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Predicting the Future. Part 10. Flowering Shrubs Forever

My final (I think) prediction for 2020 is one that I'm confident will be true. Highly changeable weather, excessive winter wet and a general move towards appreciating plants for 12 months of the year rather than simply during the growing season will surely see these often ignored beauties back in our hearts and minds.

I predict that...

2020 will be the year of the flowering shrub!

Daphne b. 'Limpsfield', Chaenomeles 'Moerlooseii', Cornus k. 'Satomi', Camellia 'Desire'

Now, fairly obviously, we haven't abandoned shrubs in our plantings over the last decade, but we have marginalised them somewhat, often in favour of herbaceous plants that can be more showy for longer periods than many shrubs. Some designers and gardeners, often as a result of the Nurseries and Garden Centres supply chains have at times become a bit stayed with their selections, though I am delighted to work with a number of creative people who love plants and keep inventively using shrubs. I've been guilty of neglecting them myself on occasion, choosing the convenience of availability and sound knowledge that a certain shrub will perform over adventure and creative flair. Worst of all, I have been guilty of choosing simplicity over what I knew to be the best plant for the job!

Time for a change I feel and while we must recognise that some plants are available in such small numbers that it is unlikely that they will become hugely popular for a few years at least; we should consider selecting what is best rather than what is easiest. We should look beyond our comfortable knowledge to seek out experts and ask their opinions. We should also all be prepared to trial a plant in our own gardens before hoisting them on to another and we should all push our suppliers to access great shrub selections on top of the well-known stalwarts.

Lezpedeza thunbergii, Dodonea vis. 'Purpurea', Poncirus trifoliata, Ilex verticillata

I want to see the pea-like Lezpedeza thunbergii, exotic Hydrangea cousin Dichroa febrifuga, the amazing autumn colour and berries on Viburnum nudum and the beautiful and robust Ilex verticillata (which we see in the UK really only in Floristry displays at Christmas). I want to see the gorgeous copper young foliage of Fuchsia hatschbachii, the long, pendant flowers of Buddleja lindleyana, the 12 months of flower on Grevillea 'Canberra Gem', the strappy purple leaves of Dodonea viscosa 'Purpurea', the spines, scented flowers and bitter fruit of Poncirus trifoliata and the flower power of my beloved Anisodontea 'El Rayo' (below) (Click here to read my 2018 article on this plant). These and SO many other truly brilliant shrubs deserve to get a bit more of the limelight than perhaps, other, more available but less enticing candidates get.

At times the market for new varieties has run so fast that really excellent selections have struggled to get enough of a foothold before growers have been moved on to the next big ting. Pictured at the top of this article is Hydrangea macrophylla 'Green Shadow'. Back in my retail days, this was a huge star for a season or two. I would buy as many as I could from growers in Europe and they would sell out to my customers in days, if not hours of arrival. Within two years though it was hardly available. Nothing wrong with the plant, which performs well and flowers with the two-tone red and green flower as well or better than other forms. It just got drowned out by all of the other new Hydrangea macrophylla varieties of the mid 00's. The same has happened to many good, even great plants since, where the wealth of new introductions means that we are spoiled for choice. In itself a great thing for the consumer, but we need to ask if they are all worth introducing in the first place. Good plant breeders and good plant agents, know not to flood the market with hundreds of similar cultivars and this trend for mass-introductions seems, thankfully, to be slowing down in favour of a more measured approach.

All I encourage you to do, is think of the value of shrubs as permanent, typically low-maintenance structural introductions to a garden or planting scheme. Look for species and cultivars that you haven't grown before and engage with specialist nurseries, those wonderful independent thinkers, to find your next great joy and garden pleasure.

There's nothing wrong with using the same selections as you always have, just as there is nothing wrong with eating the same meal every evening, just most of us, don't so be adventurous, push you design and your plant knowledge in 2020 as I intend to.

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Yes, there are many absolute belters out there that we really don’t celebrate enough.


Some amazing flowering shrubs here, Lewis. I have my eye on a few.

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