5 essential … evergreen shrubs to clothe a wall or fence

Many shrubs adapt very well to growing against walls and fences and, once trained in, are usually easier to manage than climbers which can quickly outgrow their allotted space.  Here are five evergreens that lend themselves very well to being wall-trained and between them provide seasonal interest throughout the year.

Ceanothus (or ‘Californian lilac’) make excellent candidates for growing against a sunny fence or wall as they benefit from the protection provided against cold, drying winds.  One of the most strikingly beautiful is Ceanothus ‘Concha’ which produces a dazzling display or intensely dark blue flowers for several weeks in May and June, perfectly offset by the small, glossy dark green leaves.

Ceanothus © Firgrove Photographic

The bushy growth provides excellent screening for fences and walls and a perfect backdrop for a sunny border.  Ceanothus perform best on fertile, well-drained soil and benefit from a good mulch of organic matter after pruning.  To keep in shape, trim side shoots back by one third after flowering.

Ceanothus ©Firgrove Photographic

Some shrubs are definitely shown off to best advantage when wall trained and Garrya eliptica ‘James Roof’ is one of these.  Throughout the year, its glossy, wavy edged, dark green leaves make an elegant foil to other flowering shrubs when it is planted at the back of a border, but make sure it is planted where it can be fully appreciated in winter when the long, silken tassels of silvery flowers that cover it from December to February make it a really eye-catching architectural feature.  It can grow to 4m x 4m and looks best when given generous room to spread.

Garrya elliptica ©RHS

Happy in sun or shade and on any reasonably fertile soil as long as it is well-drained, it simply requires pruning after flowering to remove any dead or straggly growth.  Top tip: plant deciduous clematis nearby and allow to scramble through the Garrya branches to provide summer colour.

Itea ilicifolia is also a tassel bearer, but its striking greenish white, vanilla scented catkins appear in mid-summer to early autumn. It will tolerate shade quite well, but prefers a south or west facing aspect where its shiny, holly-like foliage looks lovely throughout the year with new growth in spring beginning in beautiful shades of red.  Young plants in particular benefit from the protection of a warm fence or wall as they may be hard hit by cold, drying winds and require protection from frost in exposed areas.

Itea ©Firgrove Photographic

Plant in any fertile, well-drained soil and mulch around young plants in autumn.  Grows to 4m x 3m in height and spread, but can be pruned to size.

Osmanthus burkwoodii performs happily when grown against a wall or fence in sun or shade where its glossy, dark green leaves make a neat backdrop, but it is particularly useful for bringing light and interest to shady spots in April and May, when the highly scented, white, jasmine like flowers appear.

osmanthus burkwoodii ©Janet Bligh

It will cover an area of roughly 3m x 3m and is a very easy going plant being fully hardy, not fussy about soil type and requiring only light pruning with shears after flowering to maintain its shape.

Gardeners have had a long and very literally painful love/hate relationship with Pyracanthas, but when properly trained and pruned they make a wonderful architectural feature against a house or garden wall.  Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ has dense clusters of tiny white flowers in May which are followed by bright orange berries in autumn/winter that are a favourite of blackbirds and thrushes.

Pyracantha

It is very versatile, being fully hardy and happy on any reasonable soil and in any aspect apart from very dense shade (but the more sun, the more berries).  Height and spread: 2.5m x 2.5m.
Top tip: Prune in late summer shortening all side shoots that arise from the main framework and stopping just short of the clusters of berries (usually about two to three leaves from the base of the side shoot).  Wear thick gloves!

Top tip for all wall trained shrubs: the area next to a wall is usually very dry so plant shrubs at least 40cm from the base of the wall and make sure to prepare the soil well before planting.  Remove any rubble, incorporate plenty of well-rotted organic matter and water well to establish.

Picture credits: Janet Bligh, Firgrove Photographic, RHS

Jobs for the garden in December

As the year draws to a close you can afford to take a bit of time off from labouring in the garden, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do!  Here are a few of the more important tasks you should be carrying out this month:

Finish clearing leaves and debris, particularly from borders and rock gardens where they can smother small plants.  This will also help to reduce slugs and snails who like to hide in amongst them. Burn any diseased plant material you find while clearing up.

If the ground is not too waterlogged or frozen, dig new planting areas, using boards to stand on to avoid compacting the soil.  Add bulky organic matter such as garden compost or well-rotten farmyard manure.

Well-rotted manure

Winter is also an ideal time to check soil pH and nutrient levels and put right any deficiencies.

While the evenings are dark and you’re likely to be at home more, think about where you could benefit from additional garden lighting, either from a safety point of view, or just to be able to enjoy the garden from inside the house.

TREES & HEDGES
When the leaves have fallen you can start to prune deciduous trees and some shrubs (leave the pruning of more tender shrubs until spring).

Continue planting bare-root trees and hedges when the weather allows.

Prune overgrown deciduous hedges (such as Hornbeam and Beech).

SHRUBS & CLIMBERS

Rose by Firgrove Photographic
Plant bare root roses (shrubs and climbers) now – but not in frosty conditions.

LAWN CARE
Carry out lawn repairs if conditions permit, rake up fallen leaves. However avoid walking on the lawn when it is frosty or waterlogged.

POND CARE
Remove netting from ponds and prevent your pond from freezing over by floating a rubber ball on the pond which you can remove to leave a hole for oxygen for fish, frogs and other pond-life.

frozen pond

Alternatively stand a saucepan of hot water on the frozen surface until it melts a hole in the ice.

PESTS & DISEASES
Keep an eye on overwintering rhizomes and tubers (of plants such as Dahlias and Cannas) for signs of rot.

This is a good time to fork over vacant ground as it exposes pests to hungry birds.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Fabulous plants for August

If you’re looking for colour in midsummer, here’s a small selection of my favourite easy plants for August

Perovskia atriplicifolia
This plant, commonly known as ‘Russian Sage’ is technically known as a sub-shrub, as it grows from a woody base. This is a plant that thrives in hot sunny borders with well-drained soil and it’s always a very welcome sight in midsummer which can be a difficult time to find colour in the garden – the early flowers are over and the later autumn flowering plants aren’t quite at their best yet.

Perovskia 'Blue Spire' at RHS Wisley Gardens

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ at RHS Wisley Gardens, Surrey

To succeed with Perovskia, you should prune plants in late spring when they are starting to put on growth, rather than cutting back in autumn. You’ll then be rewarded with upright silvery grey stems with fragrant leaves and lovely violet flowers in late summer.  The best known Perovskia is probably ‘Blue Spire’ which reaches 1m in height, but I also use ‘Little Spire’ which as the name suggests is a smaller variety, reaching 60-80cm in height as a rule. For maximum impact, grow them in groups.

Geranium Rozanne ‘Gerwat’
This is one of those really long-flowering perennials I seem to include in pretty much every garden I plant!  I’m always looking for reliable, great value plants and this particular hardy Geranium is invaluable.

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

No kidding, it flowers from June to October or even into November, and there aren’t that many reliable plants that can offer that sort of flowering period!
It’s fast-growing and spreading (up to 1 metre wide), forming a wide clump of foliage which is great to smother weeds, and its large blue flowers are held on stems above the mound of leaves.  Fine in sun or some shade, not fussy about soil type and generally very easy to grow.   Hardly surprising Geranium Rozanne was named ‘Plant of the Centenary’ at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013!

Lythrum salicaria ‘Robert’
This ‘loosestrife’ is another long-flowering perennial which provides a real splash of colour in midsummer, and will attract lots of insects in search of nectar, so it’s great if you’re interested in planting for wildlife.

Lythrum salicaria 'Robert'

Brilliant colour from Lythrum salicaria ‘Robert’

Flowering from July to September Lythrum ‘Robert’ has dense upright spikes of deep pink flowers and reaches about 75cm in height.  It will grow in some shade, but Lythrums do need a reasonable amount of moisture in the soil to thrive.  In fact most Lythrums are ideal for bog gardens and to grow as marginal plants next to water. ‘Robert’ though, is alleged to be more tolerant of slightly drier conditions than other Lythrums and I have grown it successfully in the garden above, which has fairly water-retentive soil but is far from being classed as boggy.

Lythrum Feuerkerze

Lythrum salicaria ‘Feuerkerze’ AGM

A slightly taller variety is the reliable Lythrum salicaria ‘Feuerkerze’ AGM (Award of Garden Merit from the RHS).  It gets to about 90cm high and about 45cm wide, so all in all a slightly larger variety than ‘Robert’.

Clematis viticella ‘Venosa Violacea’ AGM
This is a very easy two tone purple Clematis which will tolerate some shade and isn’t too fussy about soil conditions.  Flowering from July to September and reaching up to about 3 metres in height, it’s great to climb up trees and scramble through shrubs which have finished flowering and could do with a bit of extra colour at this time of year.

Clematis venosa 'Violacea' AGM

Clematis venosa ‘Violacea’ AGM

It’s not so big that it will get out of control and is such a good plant it’s been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ AGM
Eryngium (or ‘sea hollies’) are great plants for dry sunny gardens with poor soil, where they will thrive.

Eryngium Silver Ghost, Perovskia, Echinacea

Great planting combinations at RHS Wisley – Eryngium ‘Silver Ghost, Perovskia and Echinacea

They look fantastic with grasses and plants like Lavender, Perovskia and Nepeta which like similar conditions.  But they are not only valuable for the fact that they will grow where many other plants won’t, but because they offer such a long season of interest, having a beautiful architectural form which lasts long in to the winter.  There are many varieties of Eryngium, and ‘Silver Ghost’ is a biennial (which means it flowers in its second year and then dies after setting seed).  The flowers turn blue as they mature and can be dried for flower arranging.

Eryngium 'Silver Ghost'

Eryngium ‘Silver Ghost’

Many other Eryngiums are perennial and it’s worth growing a mix of varieties for different flower forms, heights, and shades of blue and silver – if you have the right conditions in your garden.

Picture credits: Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Fabulous plants for July

There are so many wonderful plants to recommend at this time of year it’s hard to draw up a short list, but here are just a few of my favourites for July interest:

Clematis Fujimusume AGM

Clematis have to be one of the most popular flowers grown in the UK, and rightly so. There are so many to choose from with colours right across the range, and by mixing varieties you can have something flowering all year round.  They can get a bit big though (!) so I was delighted to discover Clematis Fujimusume AGM a few years ago.

Clematis Fujimusume

This is a compact climber, at about 1.2-1.5m high, suitable to grow in pots and it has MASSIVE flowers!  They are a really lovely blue colour (sometimes described as ‘Wedgewood blue’) with a pale yellow centre, and in my opinion this plant looks good growing next to pretty much anything.  What’s more this is a Clematis that can cope with shade, plus it flowers for months over the summer.  Fujimusume isn’t highly scented, but with everything else it’s got going for it, I can live with that!

Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’

Rosa The Generous Gardener

I have to admit I’m not an expert on roses but when I was looking for a climbing rose for my own garden this was top of my list. Although ‘The Generous Gardener’ is a tall shrub rose (about 5’ high) I have trained it as a climber on a fairly shady wall, and it’s perfect as it doesn’t get too high (maximum 10’).  New buds are pink and the flowers are a beautiful soft pink, with petals turning creamy white before they fall.  It’s a repeat flowerer too which I think is important for a rose when it’s planted in a key position in the garden.  I chose this variety not just because of its disease resistance, beautiful flower shape and colour (and a great name!), but because it has a lovely scent too – which after all is one of the major reasons for growing roses.

Roses are best grown in good soil with regular moisture and feeding.  Deadheading throughout the season will prolong flowering.

There are so many roses to choose from that it can be a bit bewildering (and I speak from experience!), so it’s important to research ultimate size and vigour of plants as well as shade tolerance and of course the length of their flowering period and strength of scent.  If you can get out to visit rose gardens at this time of year, it’s a great way to see the massive variety of roses at their best.

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’
Ornamental grasses have become very popular garden plants over recent years. And it’s not surprising given their long period of interest (often right through the winter).

Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails' in July

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ in July

For a sunny garden with light, well-drained soil Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ is a lovely choice.  More upright than many Pennisetum (or fountain grass) varieties, it has lovely pale pink flowers from midsummer onwards and makes a beautiful low hedge (although its foliage will die back over winter).

Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails' in autumn as the flowers fade in colour

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ in autumn as the flower colour fades

It’s such a tactile (and neat) plant it works really well next to a path or seating area.

Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’
Hemerocallis (or daylilies) are very easy perennials to grow for midsummer colour (generally yellows, oranges, reds and some pinks).  They form clumps of strappy bright green foliage (which can provide a great contrast in texture to many other summer flowering perennials so valuable on that count alone) and they are generally tough and reliable plants.

Hemerocallis Stafford

Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ is an evergreen daylily with striking red flowers with a yellow throat.  It makes a real statement in a summer border, contrasting well with hot colours as well as blues and purples.  Happy in average soil and also clay, they really are easy to grow – as long as they’ve got a reasonable amount of moisture and good light levels.

Trachelospermum jasminoides
This is an evergreen climber I wouldn’t be without.  It has glossy bright green pointed leaves, a lovely twining habit (making it ideal to grow through trellis panels) and is covered in clusters of delicate, star-shaped, jasmine-scented white flowers in midsummer. Hardly surprising then that it’s commonly known as the ‘Star Jasmine’ or referred to as an ‘evergreen Jasmine’.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Trachelospermum jasminoides is quite a large plant so it will need good support and space to spread.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Also, it’s a little on the tender side – but given a well-drained soil and a fairly sheltered position, should cope very well through even freezing winter weather.  Highly recommended!

To get more inspiration about fantastic plants to grow for midsummer interest, check out a couple of my previous blogs:

Flowering shrubs for hot dry gardens and Make room for Pollinators

Picture credits: Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic