I USED to be a snob. A plant snob. I recall a conversation with my brother in which he said that he intended to plant his small front garden with African Marigolds. I derided the idea, to my shame, of planting this brazen, brash, bright orange bouffant of a flower instead of giving a non gardener some encouragement.
This was not the only common plant to face my derision. Forsythias , Berberis and Spiraeas didn't escape amongst others. Anyway I have grown up since then, that was years ago and I have come to see the value and charm of these ubiquitous plants.
There is a reason these plants are so popular. It is because they are showy, easily grown and effective. What's not to like. April seems to produce these plants in abundance. All the plants listed below if planted with care, in ordinary soil that is not prone to waterlogging and given a bit of sun should be successful for everyone. And not all were on my hate list.
Forsythia x intermedia 'Spectablis' [ Border Forsythia]: The branches of this shrub can hardly be seen for its bright yellow flowers in early April. Generally about 2 m x 2m in size but with varieties such as F. 'Minigold' making only 1 metre x 1 metre. I have still never specified one for a client but recently have planted F. Ashmount Gold a small pendulus variety in my own garden.
Camellia x williamsii 'Donation': We all love Camellias but this one is as tough as they get. I have one planted more by chance than design. It's sandwiched between two Thuja hedges and a brick wall and under a birch tree. It's doing fantastically well. It can make 4m x 4m or bigger and has semi double pale pink flowers. A plant that has a x in its name as with this Camellia shows that it is a hybrid between two species, in this case C. japonica and C. saluenensis. It results in a plant that has the best attributes of both species.
Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' [Perennial Wallflower]: A plant that should be in every garden. There is not a day that this plant does not have some flowers growing, in my garden. The colour is apparent in the name, it is evergreen and about 0.7 m x 0.7m in size. It is short lived, maybe 4 to 5 years then needs replacing. It can make a great informal hedge much the way lavender does. My only qualm is that it doesn't come in white.
Iberis sempervirens [Candytuft]: This does come in white and it's one of those whites that seems to glow at night time. It is only 0.2m high and spreads to 1.2 m and is evergreen perennial. It's great on the ground or over a wall. It grows just about anywhere for me even in quite shady spots and flowers for ages. One of my desert island plants.
Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety': This plant has a similar growth habit and uses as the Iberis and really is indestructible. I have thrown this perennial on to a compost heap only to find it growing a couple of weeks later. It has pale purple flowers and evergreen foliage. It also comes in pink G. mac. 'Ingwersen's variety' and white G. mac. 'WhiteNess' . Both are great and all flower well in full shade as well as sun.
Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' [ Laurustinus]: Visible nearly everywhere this Viburnum starts flowering in January and is still going in April. An evergreen shrub 3m x 3m with white flower clusters followed by purple berries. Grows in shade and sun alike. Makes a good hedge either formally or informally. It is an invaluable landscape and cornerstone plant. Gives so much and asks for so little.
Berberis darwinii [Barberry]: Not my personal favourite flowering shrub in a shade of Marigold orange but hard to deny the value of this thorny plant. Makes a great intruder proof hedge or a spec-
“There is a reason these plants are so popular. It is because they are showy, easily grown and effective.”
tacular feature shrub at 3m x 3m. It never fails to disappoint in its ferocity of flower. There are two dwarf varieties, B. dar 'Nana' 1.2m x 1.2m and B. dar. 'Compacta' 0.9 x 0.9 both equally good for small hedges.
Spiarea x arguta [Bridal Wreath]: The best of the early flowering Spiraeas. Its slender arching branches are, as the name suggests, wreathed in white blossom. It makes about 2.5m x 1.5m and gives a softness and movement to an otherwise rigid shrub border both in flower and later in leaf. Well worthy of its place in any garden.
Iberis sempervirens (Candytuft) seems to glow at night time
Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ Andrew Collyer provides a garden design, consultancy and
planting service. He can be contacted by emailing
Camellia x williamsii 'Donation'