Shrubs are permanent, versatile living parts of gardens and can be used in many ways. These include shrub and mixed borders, as hedges, windbreaks and focal points towards the end of a garden. They can also be used as specimen plants in lawns, shaped into topiary figures and planted in containers. Nowadays, few gardens are large enough to have a single-theme feature and invariably shrubs are either combined with border perennials in mixed borders or planted in small groups, alongside paths or in beds and corners. Small trees can also be selected as feature plants or to add a little height in compact spaces.
Shrubs and trees for small gardens are best selected for their small size or slow-growing nature.
Many of the plants mentioned below can be viewed on our Plant Finder.
QUALITIES TO LOOK FOR
Appearance: shrubs should have an attractive, natural appearance and not have to rely on being radically pruned each year – which seldom works. Some trees will provide year-round interest.
- Slow-growing: avoid shrubs and trees that grow rapidly and soon outgrow their allotted position. Such plants are a waste of money because they have to be removed within a year or two of planting.
- Diversity: where possible, select a shrub or tree that has several qualities, such as flowers and handsome leaves, or beautiful bark.
- Establishment: quick and easy establishment are essential, so always buy a healthy plant.
- Non-invasive: check that the plant is not invasive and will not soon dominate nearby plants or spread into neighbouring gardens.
BUYING HEALTHY PLANTS
Before buying or ordering a plant, check that it is suitable for your garden and will not, after a few years, become too large. It also needs to be right for your soil. Whether evergreen or deciduous, inspect it before buying. Such a check, however, is possible only with container-grown plants. For bare-rooted plants, and when buying through a catalogue, make sure the source is reputable and check that delivery dates are suitable.
Evergreen shrubs for small gardens
- Berberis darwinii (Darwin’s Berberis): hardy, with deep yellow flowers in late spring. Small, prickly, holly-like leaves. Height and spread 1.5m.
- Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’: formerly Senecio ‘Sunshine’, silvery-grey leaves and daisy-like, yellow flowers during early and mid-summer. Height 1.2m, spread 1.5m.
- Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom): sweetly scented white flowers mainly during mid to late spring, but also intermittently throughout summer. The leaves, when bruised emit a smell reminiscent of oranges. Height 1.8m, spread 2.1m.
- Cistus x dansereaui (Rock Rose/Sun Rose): white flowers splashed crimson during early and mid-summer. Attractive dark green leaves. Height and spread 60cm.
- Fuchsia magellanica (Lady’s Eardrops): slightly tender shrub with crimson and purple flowers from mid-summer to autumn.
- Hebe ‘Autumn Glory’ (Shrubby Veronica): hardy with deep
- purplish-blue flowers from mid-summer to autumn. Glossy-green leaves edged in red when young. Height and spread 75cm.
- Helichrysum italicum (Curry Plant): narrow, silvery-grey, needle-like leaves that emit a curry-like smell. Additionally, during early and mid-summer it bears clusters of mustard-yellow flowers. Height 40cm, spread 60cm.
- Hypericum ‘Hidcote’ (Rose of Sharon/St. John’s Wort): hardy, almost evergreen shrub with golden yellow flowers from mid-summer to autumn. Height 1.5m, spread 2.1m.
- Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’: slightly tender, short-lived shrub with green and gold variegated leaves. Height and spread 60cm.
Deciduous shrubs for small gardens:
- Caryopteris x clandonensis (Bluebeard): relatively hardy shrub with aromatic, grey-green leaves and clusters of blue flowers during late summer and into autumn. Height 1.2m, spread 90cm.
- Ceratostigma willmottianum (Chinese Plumbago/Hardy
- Plumbago): half-hardy shrub with small, blue flowers during mid and late summer, and sometimes into autumn. Coloured leaves in autumn. Height and spread 90cm.
- Cytisus x praecox (Warminster Broom): hardy with creamy-white flowers in late spring and early summer. Height 1.2m, spread 1.5m.
- Daphne mezereum (February Daphne): hardy with purple-red flowers from late winter to spring. These are borne on bare stems and followed by scarlet, poisonous berries. Height 1.5m, spread 90cm.
- Forsythia x intermedia (Golden Bells): hardy, with masses of golden yellow flowers in early and mid-spring. The leaves appear when flowering has finished. Height 2.5m, spread 2.1m.
- Hibiscus syriacus (Shrubby Mallow): bushy shrub with an upright stance and three-lobed, rich green leaves. From mid-summer to autumn it bears 7.5cm-wide flowers in a range of colours. Height 2.5m, spread 1.8m.
- Magnolia stellata (Star Magnolia): hardy, slow-growing with fragrant, star-shaped, white flowers during early and mid-spring. Height and spread 3m.
- Potentilla fruticosa (Shrubby Cinqefoil): hardy, with buttercup-yellow flowers from early to late summer. Height and spread 1.2m.
- Syringa meyeri: hardy, small-leaved lilac with violet-purple flowers during early summer. Occasionally, there is a further flush of flowers. Height 1.8m, spread 1.5m.
- Weigela hybrids: hardy with masses of flowers in early summer. Several superb forms. Height 1.8m, spread 2.4m.
TREES IN SMALL GARDENS
Trees give your garden structure, provide shade and make a wonderful resource for wildlife. No garden is too small for a tree, and there’s a wide and varied range of small flowering trees suitable for small spaces.
Choosing the appropriate varieties of ornamental trees for small gardens is crucial – some flowering cherries are much more suitable than others, for example. In addition to ornamental trees, edible and culinary apple trees can be grown in tight spaces: look for those grafted on to M27 rootstocks which will keep them small and encourage early fruiting. See below for some examples of trees suitable for small gardens:
Slow growing and dwarf conifers:
- Abies balsamea ‘Hudsonia’: hardy, evergreen conifer with a slow-growing nature; it forms a flattish top with grey-green leaves that turn mid-green in summer.
- Cedrus deodara ‘Golden Horizon’: slow-growing, evergreen conifer with a graceful then cascading habit.
- Chamaecyparis varieties: C. lawsoniana ‘Minima Aurea’: hardy, evergreen, dwarf and slow-growing conifer with golden yellow foliage. C.pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’: slow-growing, evergreen conifer with golden, thread-like foliage.
- Juniperus varieties: J. communis ‘Depressa Aurea’: distinctive, hardy, evergreen conifer with bright yellow foliage in spring and summer, turning bronze in autumn. J. scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’: hardy, columnar, evergreen conifer with blue-grey foliage. J. squamata ‘Blue Star’: hardy, slow-growing, evergreen conifer with a spreading nature and silvery-blue, awl-shaped leaves.
- Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’: hardy, columnar, evergreen conifer with golden yellow foliage.
Trees with less than 3m height & spread:
- Aesculus x mutabilis ‘Induta’: panicles of yellow flowers, flushed pink, late spring. Height and spread 3m.
- Caragana arborescens ‘Pendula’: Weeping habit. Height 3m spread 2m.
- Catalpa bignonioides ‘Nana’: slender pendulous pods. Height and spread 3m.
- Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’: Height 3m spread 2m.
- Cornus varieties: C. florida ‘Rainbow’: yellow-edged green leaves with pink tints in spring. Height 3m spread 2.5m. C. kousa ‘Gold Star’: green leaves with a central golden-yellow blotch. Height 2.5m spread 2m.
- Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’: Height and spread 3m.
- Euonymus varieties: E. cornutus var. quinquecornutus: pink tinged horn-like fruits. Height and spread 2-3m. E. europaeus ‘Red Cascade’: rosy-red fruits, seeds have orange arils. Height 3m spread 2.5m. E. oxyphyllus: dark red fruits, seeds have orange arils. Height and spread 3m. E. phellomanus: four-lobed pink fruits. Height and spread 3m.
- Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Gum Ball’: Height 3m spread 2m.
- Malus varieties: M. ‘Adirondack’: Height 3m spread 1.5m. M. ‘Laura’: pink flushed flowers, mid-spring. Height and spread 3m. M. ‘Royal Beauty’: Weeping habit. Height 2m spread 2.5m.
- Salix caprea ‘Dwarf/Kilmarnock Willow’: Height and spread 2-3m, depending on grafting height.
- Styrax japonicus ‘Fragrant Fountain’ (Japanese Snowbell): Showy tree with snowdrop-like flowers. Their fragrance grows more intense with more flowers produced. Height and spread 2-3m.
Tall and narrow trees for small gardens:
- Amelanchier, notably: A. alnifolia ‘Obelisk’: Height 5m spread 1.2m. A. canadensis ‘Glenn Form’ (Rainbow Pillar): Height 5m spread 2m.
- Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Rotfuchs’: Height 5m spread 1m.
- Prunus varieties: P. ‘Amanogawa’: Height 8m spread 3m. P. ‘Snow Showers’: Weeping habit. Height and spread 3m. P. ‘Umineko’: Height 8m spread 3m.
We try hard to stock as many of these plants as possible but cannot guarantee availability. If a plant you are interested in is not mentioned in this leaflet, it may be suitable for your garden if positioned carefully.
Please ask a member of our friendly and knowledgeable plant teams for advice.