Best Small Shrubs for a Big Impact

Best Small Shrubs for a Big Impact

Flowering shrubs are an invaluable addition to any garden and most are extremely low maintenance once established. They often flower profusely for a long period of time and many are hard to beat for pure visual impact. Those with smaller garden spaces, or those with gardens already packed to the brim with plants may be put off at the thought giving up a large amount of space to flowering shrubs, but happily that can be avoided. There are some fantastic, compact shrubs available that produce the most incredible floral displays despite their smaller size. These varieties also make the ideal specimen for a spectacular display in a large container or patio planter.

I’m going to mention two Hydrangeas, as for me they are undisputed heavy-weights of flowering shrubs. Nothing quite compares to the wow-factor of a happy hydrangea in full bloom! These two are quite different but both real show-stoppers.
One of the most important things to know about hydrangeas is that they need plenty of water to thrive. Dry sandy soil will need lots of well-rotted organic matter added to hold moisture and a thick mulch around the base of plants to retain it. Large containers are a good option but regular watering will be essential, especially in hot dry summers when it may need to be done on a daily basis.

Hydrangea Runaway Bride

A run-away success story, this sensational compact hydrangea produces an incredible, long-lasting show of crisp pure white flowers. Appropriately described as “garland flowering” it is an exciting advancement in Hydrangeas. So far these popular shrubs have only ever bloomed at the ends of the stems but this rather special variety flowers all along its branches. With up to 20 flower heads on each stem resulting in beautiful garlands of flowers. The petals first open in shades of creamy-green and then develop into a pure white. As the weather cools they transform again, taking on a delicate shade of pink. As the garlands of flowers fade the leaves carry on the season of interest, turning a bright orange red in the autumn. A real head turner, this new variety will not fail to impress and is perfect for smaller gardens spaces, patio border and containers.
Mature size: Up to 1.2m (4’) if left unpruned.
Care: Hard pruning in spring is not appropriate for Hydrangea macrophylla, as growth of its flower buds begins the previous summer and autumn, at the end of mature stems and a spring pruning would remove them. Any pruning should therefore be done with a light touch and preferable straight after flowering.

Hydrangea paniculata Little Fresco

The other popular sort of Hydrangea, this is the type with large, dense conical heads. Little Fresco is very special dwarf variety that really must not be overlooked! It’s been specially bred for containers and smaller spaces, but with all the impressive flower power associated with this type of hydrangea. Little Fresco produces its impossibly large and sumptuous, cone-shaped flower heads from mid-summer to autumn. Beginning as greenish, creamy-white they gradually shift into gorgeous shades of pink as they mature. The deep green leaves, which almost disappear beneath the spectacular flowers, come into their own in autumn when they change to warm red and purple tones. With its compact size and flamboyant flowers, Little fresco is a versatile shrub suitable for any size, or type of garden and also makes impressive cut flower arrangements.
Mature size: Up to 70cm (28") if left unpruned.
Care: These shrubs are low maintenance although occasional hard pruning in spring is great for Hydrangea paniculata which forms its flower buds on fresh new growth. Although not essential, (as plants will grow just fine without it) pruning stems back to just a few remaining buds will ensure plants remain compact, encourage lots of new shoots, branching, bushiness, and plenty of flower heads. Pruning can also be done less dramatically, by just deadheading, removing dead stems and any branches that cross over, to open plants up and encourage healthy new growth, but still leave a permanent framework to a desired shape and size.

Buddleja Tutti Frutti

We all know and love the incredible butterfly-attracting powers of a buddleja, often called the ‘butterfly bush’. But unlike the more usual, thuggish large varieties which can easily take over a small mixed border, this wonderfully well-behaved, compact 'Butterfly Bush' only grows to a neat and compact 60-70cm (24-28”) tall. Reliable and easy to grow, with its luminously bright fuchsia-pink flower spikes this is a stunning yet exceptionally well behaved, versatile little shrub, ideal for any size planting scheme, patio borders and containers.
The sweetly scented blooms flower profusely in elongated, eye-catching spikes from mid-summer right into autumn and are simply irresistible to beneficial insects, especially butterflies. What’s more the plants are sterile so they are non-invasive and there's no worry they will self-seed all around the garden, like their less sophisticated cousins.
Mature size: Up to 60-70cm (24-28”) if left unpruned.
Care: Prefers full sun and fertile soil but will grow in most conditions most conditions and is drought tolerant, very handy for container growing. Cut back to maintain shape in early spring, flowers are produced on new seasons growth.

Potentilla fruticosa Hopley’s Orange

An RHS Award of Garden Merit winning variety with an extra compact habit and beautiful bright yellow blooms flushed with orange which gets progressively darker towards the centre. Potentilla are super resilient and reliable, with a super-long flowering period from early summer right into late autumn. These unfussy, easy to maintain little shrubs have good drought tolerance once established, making them ideal for difficult dry, sunny spots where other shrubs might struggle. Low maintenance, hard-working and naturally compact, they are ideal for smaller spaces and make a valuable addition to mixed or patio borders, rock gardens and containers. Trials showed that Potentilla Hopley's Orange was particularly resistant to Spider Mite.
Mature size: Up to 50cm (20") if left unpruned.
Care: Potentilla grows well in poor sharply drained soils. Plant out 60cm (2') apart. Potentilla fruticosa flower on the previous years’ growth so trim after flowering if needed, to maintain a neat shape. Every one or two years remove a third of the old stems to reinvigorate growth, prevent plants getting woody and leggy, and maintain a nice dense bushy shape.

Finally, an evergreen, as these are invaluable in providing the year-round structure and interest that is absolutely essential for a great all season garden!
Convolvulus cneorum

To find an evergreen with the magnificent floral displays of Convolvulus cneorum, also known as ‘Silverbush’ is quite rare. It’s a really multi-faceted evergreen shrub with silvery leaves, large white, trumpet shaped flowers and an attractive rounded habit. The leaves provide a lovely contrast to the green shades of other garden plants, to get the very best out of both. It shows good drought tolerance so is perfect for patio containers, or as a focal point in small borders or dot planted in larger schemes. Not fully frost hardy, it is best planted in a sunny, sheltered position where will survive winters with a little frost protection. Plants in containers can be moved into a frost-free location to overwinter.
Mature size: Up to 90cm (3’) if left unpruned.
Care: Regular deadheading will hugely increase the flowering period of this free flowering shrub. It will eventually grow to a useful 90cm (3') tall but can easily be pruned after flowering to remain more compact if desired for containers and patio borders. Simply trim off the dead flower heads and up to a third of the new growth, focussing on any parts which are spoiling the neat-rounded shape of the plant.

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