Shady spots

It can be a secluded spot in an open space that gets little or no sun. If we’re dealing with an NE/NW facing garden it can be in an area that is chilly / exposed to the elements. Any plant that’s in shade will generally grow slower but it’s worth knowing more plants tolerate these conditions than you’d think.

Daphne’s are known for their flowers / scent in the cooler months though they’re not hardy in extreme conditions. It can be partial shade provided there is some sunlight. It will flower from winter to spring. Daphne odora provides fragrant flowers / variegated foliage.

Rhododendrons, although tolerate full sun, prefer partial shade. Since they’re a woodland plant they often do well in poor soil. They will compete with other plants for moisture, although not to excess, so the soil needs to be free draining. The PH. is important and has a bearing on its performance too. They prefer an acidic soil as do Azaleas, an ericaceous base with organic matter, humus rich in substance.

Camellias prefer an acidic soil but these shrubs are OK in semi shade, not too chilly though. Camellia’s do prefer a warmer aspect, not particularly resilient to the cold, damaging winds. Most Camellias flower in early spring. These are C. japonica. The winter flowering variety, C. sasanqua needs protecting from the sun, cold dry winds – the more sheltered the better. C. ‘winter Star’, however, is hardy and early flowering. Camellia x williamsii is also hardier than C. japonica and flowers in winter. It is good in shade too.

Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel) is a good hardy shrub. It will withstand adverse conditions. It is an evergreen. It offers interesting foliage as a result of the mosaic virus. It is noting this is a friendly virus; doesn’t harm the plant, just mutates the colour. In order to retain this effect, cut out the reverting green growth.

Cornus alba (Dogwood) is very good in a shaded area and exposed conditions. C. canadensis particularly for shade, C. alba for exposed areas. It will provide flowers, foliage and attractive bark in the winter months.

Virburnum davidii is tolerant of sun and shade. A shrub that attracts beneficial insects and provides flowers, foliage and scent. It prefers well drained soil but generally very easy to maintain. It is worth noting it is not a tidy shrub. It has an informal role in a mixed border and will not stay compact. It’s not keen on being exposed so dark but not cold.

Mahonia ‘Charity’ and ‘Winter sun’ most common. These will flower from autumn, suited to a cooler environment. The shrub tolerates being in shade – a strong possibility for those difficult areas. It’s a hardy shrub and provides scented flowers / bursting colour in winter. There is no real pruning, just removing unwanted growth in spring.

Skimmia is an evergreen providing flowers, foliage and berries throughout the year. A scented flower in spring attracting beneficial insects, much needed berries throughout autumn / winter. They will tolerate most conditions; soil, aspect, adverse weather but again partial shade. Skimmia can become leggy so do cut out bolted growth and cut out any unwanted in spring.

Kalmia (Mountain Laurel) is a very good shrub for shade. It flowers in early summer. It does fruit but it’s the pink, purple, white flowers that form a delicate cluster. It needs to be in well drained soil, not an area that gets waterlogged. It also prefers an ericaceous soil – full of humus rich matter and on the acidic side. Also prone to root rot, so make sure the crown of the plant protrudes from the surface, similar to roses.

Sambucus nigra (Elder) this shrub will tolerate a shaded spot but like most plants do better in full sun. It does benefit from lemon scented flowers in summer although the foliage on its own is impressive. It produces berries as a food source; popular with birds. It is hardy, though decidious so it loses it leaves. The soil also needs to be humus rich, high in nutritutional substance so a sandy consistency maybe not. However, the soil can be conditioned so it’s not particularly an issue.

Perennials (Blue, Purple and Pinks)

When deciding on herbaceous perennials in a border, it is worth mentioning to decide how it will be seen. At a 360 degree or head on or at an angle. A characteristic of herbaceous schemes is varying heights so you don’t want something upright and staked masking something mat forming. Herbaceous perennial is a term for plants that die back in dormant months, and usually cut at base level. The goodness returns to their storage organ, the following year they return.

Upright (require staking – not essential / advisable. The plant won’t be damaged by being top heavy or by high winds).

Delphiniums like sun but do require a little shade. The perennial can suffer if overfaced with very dry conditions. It will flower late spring to summer and it needs deadheading to prolong flowering. Every couple of years, divide the plant to retain its vigour. Delphinium elatum ‘sweethearts’ good for beneficial insects, pink throughout summer. If you cut back immediately after flowering, you may get another swathe.

Hollyhocks have a single stem with flowers hanging from it. After the flowers are spent, the plant needs to be cut to the base. It is good houskeeping, will reduce disease but the perennial benefits too. Strictly speaking a biennial but in the right conditions it can return. It’s suited to a sunny aspect, well drained soil. These plants need support.

Penstemon ‘Blue Spring’ is a good all rounder but may still need a little more protection. It will do well in full sun and in a sheltered aspect. It is easy to grow but to ensure the soil isn’t saturated and not too poor.

Cosmos provide flowers from summer to early autumn available in pinks, reds. By dead heading you will prolong the flowering until the first frost. The plant doesn’t require any particular care and they’re tolerant of poor soil. If you don’t dead head though they will stop flowering. Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Chocamocha’ is an exception to staking. more compact in its habit.

Phlox paniculata ‘bright eyes’ comes in pink but a variety of other colours, sweetly scented throughout summer, it attracts beneficial insects and free standing.

Echinacea provides flowers throughout the summer, requires no staking. Although upright, these perennials are robust and self sufficient. It is fragrant and attracts beneficial insects.

Salvia nemorosa is a hardy choice, providing aromatic foliage from late spring right through summer. A very straightforward perennial. Shave the top growth in spring and the plant willl come back with luscious growth.

Mat / clump forming (compact habit or sometimes spreading).

Nepeta is a low maintenance perennial. All it needs cutting back at the end of the year. It needs sun and a chalky soil, so full of substance. Common name ‘catmint’ since cats like rolling on it. It will attract beneficial insects, providing you with colour from late spring throughout summer. Again, dead heading this plant will encourage more flowers. It has a spreading habit so this needs to be at the front of a border.

Geranium or ‘true’ Geraniums are perennials. There is a bit of discussion on this. Those with ringed leaves, heavy aroma and furry leaves could be described as a ‘Pelargonium’. This is something else. It is very straightfoward to look after just not in wet soil. It will tolerate shade but performs better in full sun. It is drought tolerant and will survive in adverse conditions. It roots system will spread underground.

Sedums are a succulent but used in perennial borders. A compact cluster of stalks. It doesn’t require any support and provides pink flowers. A very hardy perennial that gets cut at the base in dormancy. It can be divided to multiply and benefits the storage organ.

Dianthus (Pinks) or carnations as the cut flowers are referred to. Clump forming of pink, red, white, purple. A grass like foliage, it will provide scented flowers through late spring and summer. The plant is drought tolerant but the more irrigation it gets in full sun, the better it will do. At the front, low growing.

Vinca (Major and Minor) generally speaking the difference is the size of foliage and flowers. Periwinkle is ground cover, mat forming and provides purple and white flowers spring into summer. What it does not tolerate are very dry conditions, not drought tolerant. Ideally to be in partial shade in well drained soil and some moisture is a bonus.

Osteospermum jucundum var compactum will flower mid summer to autumn, a spreading habit these perennials will fill in gaps where weeding would otherwise be necessary. A low growing habit, they like sun and water. They sometimes don’t survive a cold snap which is why they are considered a bedding / annual but with the right conditions they will come back.

Fake Fruit

Although their names assume a fruit, some of these plants don’t produce any. The ones that do provide effective blossom in the early months and a food source at autumn time.

Mock Orange – Philadelphus – a highly scented large shrub / small tree. It prefers a full sun aspect; good soil too. It flowers in spring although has no leaves in dormancy so only seasonally interesting. The soil needs to have substance but be free draining. It does not tolerate being soaked either.

Mexican Orange Blossom – Choisya – A spring flowering shrub. Different varieties have varying leaves of shape and colour. ‘Sundance’ light green and ‘Aztec Pearl’ dark, narrow and pinnate in shape. This is a shrub that will tolerate some shade and offers spring flowers that are heavily scented. Both attractive foliage and flora. It’s an evergreen, so all year provides colour.

Ornamental Cherry Blossom – Prunus serrulata – an upright tree that is quick to establish. It flowers in spring although has no fragrance. A full sun aspect is preferred. Though its decidious (leaves fall off), this tree provides the biggest of white flora in May.

The Japanese Apricot – Beni chidori – Prunus mume – a highly scented specimen offering flowers late winter into spring. It flowers when there are no leaves. It does fruit in summer, but you wouldn’t eat them voluntarily – good for wildlife though. A sheltered site is preferred so exposed areas are not ideal.  This tree needs full sun; the soil free draining too.

Prunus incisa ‘frilly frock’ – a smaller variety with white flowers early in spring. Its habit is weeping and suited to a smaller space. It prefers sun but will tolerate some shade. As long as it’s in well drained soil, it accepts most medias.

Pyrus salcifolia ‘pendula’ – its flowers offer attractive white blooms in mid spring, autumn fruit and interesting opaque / frosted leaves. It bears no edible fruit although there is a yield. No fragrance to speak of either. It needs full sun to effectively perform.

Malus baccata – crab apple – offers highly scented flowers for beneficial insects and berries for birds. It’s very resilient and can withstand a poor environment, an exposed location and little maintenance.

Malus spectabilis – a chinese flowering apple blossom – will offer flowers early spring, fruit early autumn. Its flowers attract beneficial insects.

Berries for Wildlife

Aside from shrubs offering attractive foliage and flowers throughout the year, some offer berries that provide a valuable food source throughout the colder months.

Virburnum tinus is an attractive shrub with dark, glossy leaves. it bears highly scented flowers from late winter through to spring. The berries come after the flowers so don’t dead head until pruning begins in spring. The plants needs to be with another of the same species for pollination. Will perform well in a shady spot.

Sorbus americana (Mountain ash) too offers berries over the colder months, it flowers in summer. This decidious tree will thrive late summer to autumn. An ornamental known for its clusters of flowers and bright fruit. It’s also known as Rowan.

Ilex aquifolium (Holly) often does not bear fruit when over pruned. An evergreen, it provides an effective habitat for wildlife and a food source. Beneficial insects are attracted to the shrub/hedge to pollinate the flowers. Holly bear flowers of both sexes so after pollination fruit will form.

Virginia Creeper is a climber that provides a food source for much wildlife. Similiar to Ivy, it is often used to hide a multitude of sins and can be planted against a wall. it produces clusters of flowers in spring although these are non-descript. It is quite invasive but offers very attractive foliage in the autumn months. It is a decidious vine and both the leaves and berries contain an irritant.

Skimmia Japonica can provide interest all year round. Both the leaves and flowers are scented. An evergreen, the female flowers will form fruit that will cover the the winter months, the male flowers are more scented and when coupled together achieve a breathtaking display.

Cotoneaster is a very hardy, robust specimen. Can be evergreen or decidious and habit can differ. There are ground cover varieites, C. horizontalis or arching habit C. Conspicuus ‘Decorus’. The berries are usually red – save for C. rothschildianus which are cream. It can be invasive if not contained, it usually will just keep spreading.

A close relation to Cotoneaster is Pyracantha. Pyracantha (Firethorn) offers berries in autumn and flowers in spring. It is an evergreen with attractive glossy leaves. It can often be trained against a wall. It does have spines on its branches which can make it difficult to work with. It needs to be in a sheltered spot but otherwise will provide you with a wealth of flowers and berries at different times of the year.

Healthy Growth

Often more than not your choice of shrubs will be performing as you expected them to but from time to time your garden may experience bouts of illness. A result of a Parasite, a Fungal Infection or a Virus.  It can often is exarcerbated by humidity and wet weather.

Rot can set in if roots sit in saturated soil and grass can appear matted, soaked and flat. A lawn can generally speaking is kept in good order if following steps are considered. Most of us have a typical utility lawn which can become compacted as a result of constant traffic, neglect and adverse weather.

By aerating the lawn simply with the tines of a fork air can circulate under the surface and improve the drainage of the area. On a larger scale land drains can be installed by way of a trench, corrugated plastic piping and gravel in the trench.

Making sure the grass is not cut too short. If it is an amenity area the seed is fit for purpose (it will contain premium seed: Festcues and Bents). A typical lawn contains Ryegrass and Annual meadow grass and although more robust and resilient can only be mowed to a certain height. It has not been designed for a very short habit and only cut with a rotary mower.

If you weed and feed each year, only use moss killer and fertiliser moderately. Excessive application will be indicative by black marks. If you’re not fussy it will grow back and knit together or can be patched up by removing the affected area.

Regular inspection of your plants will often raise an alert if necessary. If there are notches missing off the leaves, if they are unexpectedly wilting or lost their colour and vigour. If a pattern is emerging throughout the bed, it may be a sign of a cross infection. To identify what it is, it is half the battle! There are organic (non biological and non chemical) and biological and chemical forms of treatment. For a bout of aphids on Roses, Soapy water can often work since the insects cannot stay on the leaves thereby minimising the damage. By growing resistant crops like carrots or beans can minimise the likelihood of verticullum wilt attacking a bed.

Leather Jackets/Chafer Grubs are a problem for lawn and young shrubs or vegetables. They attack the root system and although live under the surface are close to soil level and can be identified just short of the roots.

Vine Weevils are one the most common culprits, a black beetle which has yellow speckles and can be identified as the problem when the leaves show notches eaten. The seem to host themselves in the ground and prowl about causing destruction at night-time. Pesticides can be used or now there are “nematodes” available these predators will eat the problem away. It is worth noting that the majority of the time they invade on Shrubs in containers.  

Verticullum Wilt can also be identified by a sudden setback of growth and appearance of dieback. It harbours itself in infected soil and penetrates through minor wounds or fine roots where their is weakness. It will last one year hosting on tissue so older plants usually recover. Younger ones, however, do not. If you experience a spate of this it is probably not worth putting a replacement in the same location since the fungus will remain in the soil. If you can cut into the tissue you will see a clear discolouration of an infected side and a healthy side.

Camellia’s suffer a mottle virus which produces yellow patches randomly on leaves. Research has shown it is not an insect but has evolved as a result of an infected knife/dirty secateurs. A lot of the time you can minimise these ailments but not eliminate them entirely. The list is extensive and sometimes linked to one particular Shrub. Good Practice should include clean tools, regular spraying if clearly susceptible to a particular condition, removing dead or diseased growth, regular feed and perhaps mulching in the colder months will all help.

Rust and Black spot can be particularly frustrating since it can inflict itself significantly quickly with Roses and on the undersides of the leaves you’ll notice orange spots. They will appear black in Autumn, reproduce and worsen the infection. By adding mulch around the crown in Winter and adopting a spraying programme you can keep these symptoms in abeyance.

Black spot does tend to affect Roses although it is known to attack other shrubs. A yellow -tinged black spot surrounded by a yellow lip. The leaves suffer chlorosis (discolouration) and die. This is usually in high humid, wet weather. Cutting out the diseased growth is the 1st step to its containment. Good housekeeping can help enormously, the debris being removed from the area and preventative spraying before the outbreak.

Viruses seem more difficult to diagnose and can only be sourced by poor management of tools, these should be cleaned regularly and thoroughly to avoid cross infection.
Viruses are usually carried by sucking insects like Aphids, leafhoppers and whitefly. Often agricultural crops will be chosen on their resistance merit as it is not uncommon for whole crops to be decimated.


There is always an isolated spot in an open space that is shaded. Aside from woodland bulbs (Crocus / Bluebells) and perennials (Astrantia / Acanthus) there are some shrubs that prefer this aspect. Some are winter flowering so for dark and cold spots. It can be used to create a biodiverse paradise too. With some moisture and a bit of humidity fungi, ferns can be encouraged. It’s not so much the shade that affects them it’s the lack of water if anything.

Sarcococcoa (Christmas box) An evergreen often used a shrub but can be made into a hedge (mound forming). It provides white fragrant flowers in late winter. The fragrance is delicate notes of vanilla – sometimes referred to as sweet box too. The shrub has attractive foliage, can cope in shade although must be fertile and have substance. If it does get sun the soil must be kept moist.

Virburnum bodnantense “dawn.” A winter flowering shrub, be mindful not a neat one, no formal habit. It is very hardy though. It can be pruned to keep compact but taking away its character really. It flowers in winter and bears berries in summer. It loses its leaves in flowering but provides interest all times of the year. It flowers in winter through into spring. Virburnum tinus offers the same amount of colour, scent, leaves but is evergreen and flowers with its leaves. It prefers a sunny aspect. The soil needs some fertility too and have substance.

Mahonia A winter flowering shrub. An evergreen too with very attractive foliage, a vibrant yellow burst of colour. Its habit is slow growing so it keeps its shape very well. X media ‘charity’ and X media ‘winter sun.’ They are both slightly different. No maintenance to speak of. Mahonia needs a little shelter so not great in an exposed position but very straightforward otherwise. The shrub is very hardy offering attractive foliage, berries, flowers and fragrance. What more?

Ferns are usually very good in shade. They’re probably one of the oldest plants – prehistoric in fact. Some in damp shade, some in dry. Dryoptens erythrosora is an interesting type since it offers a copper glow along with pretty fronds like ferns have. Multiply on their own. Survive and adapt in the most adverse conditions. A woodland habit so under trees; poor soil; little nutrients; source their own moisture but I think a little humidity help is needed. Incredibly resourceful.

Skimmia japonica. A great evergreen, wonderful in drifts. Quite straightforward to maintain. It can become leggy and only produce at the top of plant so pruning periodically of unwanted growth can help this. This seems to happen in time. They are quite slow growing so not very often. It provides fragrant white flowers and berries in spring. you’ll get berries if you put a boy and girl next to each other.

Euonymous alatus is a decidious E. It offers wonderful red foliage in the autumn. Burning bush to most would be considered a specimen shrub although in some states it is regarded as invasive and a pest. It does produce berries but known more for its foliage. A little bit on the wild side though. There are Euonymous that are evergreen, have a different habit and offer different foliage. These usually have more compact habit as a shrub although there ground cover and climber varieties. The foliage is usually variegated and often cream and green E. ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and green and yellow ‘Emerald n Gold’ and ground cover ‘Colorado.’ Euonymous’s are great foliage plants. Low maintenance in any aspect. No pruning save unwanted growth. They are very resilient and often overlooked.


There are plants that are associated with Christmas, there are plants that have “Christmas” in their name too but have absolutely nothing to do with this festive season.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is associated with amorous engagements purely since it was recognised as symbol of fertility and vitality. In reality toxic although not lethal. Mistletoe isn’t grown, it hosts off other flora sometimes killing the parent plant. So, actually a parasite and poisonous.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) or Spurge to you or me. Not very festive sounding. It is considered a house plant but under the right conditions can be transplanted after the new year and when conditions are warmer. These aren’t very easy to keep though. The conditions are important. The plant needs to be warm enough but not too hot. Some sunlight but not too much. It needs water but not excessive and the soil must be free draining. It will flower again if these conditions are adhered to.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) associated with Christmas largely because of its berries are borne at this time. A much needed food source for birds over the colder months. This plant can take the form of a tree, shrub, or climber by its species. It can be argued that cotoneaster offers an equally stark contrast in the winter months yet it is not associated with this period. There are references to the leaves resembling thorns although this has no relativity to the plant.

Ivy (Hedera helix) is long associated and references made in carols. A very invasive plant. I’m not a fan of Ivy. I take the view that it does impede growth. It takes moisture from other plants and competes for space. Once in situ the growth is very prolific and can cause problems on brickwork or stone. Like other plants not the direct cause of its demise but a contributing factor. With brickwork, will not cause the deterioration but certainly does not help in preventing decay.

Christmas Box (Sarcococca) is perhaps referred to as a winter flowering shrub. It provides sweet fragrant white flora throughout the winter months. An evergreen it provides attractive foliage at other times of the year. It will bear berries after flowering so an important food source. But not directly linked to Christmas.

Lentern Rose / Christmas rose (Hellebrous niger) no link to Christmas or Roses. It is not related in anyway to Rosa. Perhaps because it provides winter interest. An effective perennial in a shaded area needing little maintenance providing colour and interest where there few other plants in bloom.

There are plants that are celebrated at Christmas purely because they flower at this time. Christmas Cactuses being one. Having said this, other cultures bring a wealth of richness with other forms of acknowledgement. Olives for peace, Opium poppy pods for prosperity and bulrushes for prosperity and good fortune which are equally important.


Some shrubs come into their own in this period and rather non descript throughout the rest of the year. They may bear fruits now (feeding wildlife, may flower in abundance) yet produce quite bland foliage at other times.

Dogwood alba (sibrica) does produce foliage, and its stems green . It does flower in spring and bears fruits after but is used for its winter colour. It prefers sunlight and so not suited to a chilly corner. It does remain relatively compact but cut down after dormant period and reduce growth to a few central stems. Remove dead, damaged stems and this will encourage new fresh growth for the coming year. Dogwood (kousa) is a variety not known for red/yellow winter colour but its flowers in summer.

Mahonia offer a scented yellow flower in the autumn shortly after the leaves start to change colour. Having the colour at this time, the foliage is equally attractive all year round as it is an evergreen. Mahonia are hardy. No maintenance to speak of other than control the size so if limited room cut back a little to retain the shape. Although a shrub can be used as part of a mixed hedge or a means of deterrent down to its very spiky leaves. It is not a formal shrub and shouldn’t really be pruned heavily.

Hellebore (Lentern Rose) These can flower throughout the darkest and coldest months, although must be in full sun. The soil needs to be free draining too, they don’t like sitting in moisture. Although they are regarded as perennials. The foliage actually never dies back to the ground, although the flowers are this period.

Pieris ‘mountain fire’ and ‘forest flame’ are evergreens that offer flowers, changing foliage and needing little care. A compact shrub. It bears flowers in late spring as the foliage colour in early. So it is not autumn flowering but provides more interesting foliage in this period. It does prefer full sun and the soil enriched with goodness.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ (Mexican smoke bush) has a deep foliage all year round although in autumn seems richer. A great foliage plant needing little or no maintenance save unwanted growth. It flowers in summer but known for its purple foliage which is enriched in the winter months.

Hamamelis X intermedia/mollis (Chinese witch hazel) – an architectural specimen often looking quite insipid until the flowers appear. It can be the most vibrant orange and yellow. The flowers are fragrant, delicate and appear in the dormant period (usually late in winter though.) It needs some protection from wind damage too. The leaves, although a bit non descript do provide foliage and change colour in autumn.

Virburum tinus, a winter flowering shrubs providing hugely fragrant flowers. Virburnum’s are good in most aspects and relatively resilient to adverse conditions. The soil should be on the heavy side and not too sandy. Water retentive but not water logged since few plants like this. Bear in mind, you should let this shrub/hedge lead it’s own habit. it is not formal any way.

Chimonanthus praecox (Wintersweet) A hardy shrub providing a spicy, fragrant scent. A delicate flower borne on the previous years growth. It needs to be in a sunny position and well drained soil. A little shelter too, maybe by a wall for protection due its delicate habit or an appropriate wind buff.


There are certain plants that rarely work well where you put them. In fact the growth can be rather prolific where you least expect them.

Lily of the valley (Nolinoideae) is one although it is good ground cover wherever it emerges. It never really grows in its intended spot. Or seldomly. A woodland perennial it will tolerate shade and is prolific in these areas. Few nutrients and attention. It is drought tolerant to an extent but it would prefer some moisture.

Crocus (Iridaceae), a spring flowering bulb will also pop up where you least expect. Crocuses are very resilient. The plant does grow in a woodland environment but it’s not tolerant of total shade and needs some sunlight. It is spring flowering and low maintenance save periodically dividing not only to propagate but regenerate the plant.

Primula (Primulaceae) is a primrose that doesn’t mind some shade although not full. The soil too needs to be on the fertile side and will not grow in particularly poor soil or do well. The soil needs to be light though needs to have some substance. It mustn’t get waterlogged either, hold enough moisture but be free draining. These conditions aren’t particularly straightforward.

Polyanthus (Primulaceae) also a primrose is very similar and flowers in spring. It can left in the ground or moved / distributed when its divided. The biggest difference is it has more flowers on each stems so the cluster appears bigger. It prefers a more dappled woodland environment. It’s been mooted that a primrose crossed with a cowslip and as a result has become a hybrid

Crocosmia / Monbretia – Valentine flower (Iridaceae) can be planted in one space. A perennial too. It will die back and re surface the following year, a summer flowering perennial. It can be orange, yellow or red. Monbretia is just another more traditional name. More associated with red for some reason. Perhaps the parent before cultivars and hybrids. These clusters can be divided and propagated effectively. Very easy, just cut back dead growth and it will return. It needs a degree of sun though and relatively dry soil, not waterlogged, compact or heavy.

Oat grass (Poaceae) A grass that is said not be invasive. The seeds from the plumes do germinate. An ornamental grass where you usually would cut it to the ground. Divide it to keep the shape, size and vigour of growth.

Everything that disperses its seeds, pollinated by birds / wind / insects can be invasive. It’s perennials on the whole since they have time to establish themselves, source the energy and develop underground. A bigger specimen will never come true, a little “rogue” seedling can be pulled out within seconds.


As the summer season draws to a close, what should we cut back? Is this everything or a particular plant that may benefit from a prune. Plants that flower off last years growth such as Forsythia, it’s good practice to cut back immediately after flowering not only to curb them becoming invasive but it can affect next years flowering.

Rose of Sharon – (Hypericum calycimum) – this particularly invasive perennial needs to be cut to the base and any unwanted growth removed. It is a part of the Hibiscus family but this common one should be treated as a weed, however lovely the yellow flowers appear. If it is starting to encroach on neighbouring plants, it is worth digging some of out to reduce its size and control its growth. It will come back so a case of managing this.

What is necessary to do is to cut the herbaceous perennials down and start removing the dead growth around them. This housekeeping is important to remove dead growth, apply protection like mulch if it needs it, reduce disease and prevent pests sheltering over the winter. These plants go to sleep underground and above the surface appear dead or dormant.

Russian sage – (Perovskia atripicifolia) – this perennial is so easy to look after. It is drought tolerant, attracts beneficial insects and has a beautiful fragrance. So simple to cut back. A similar perennial is Nepeta. It has the same sort of habit. Marginally lighter purple. It is very low maintenance and once in situ withstands neglect.

Catmint (Nepeta) A perennial that likes sun. It’s long flowering so may be still in bloom. It is low maintenance and only requires cutting back. Do this shortly after flowering but reshape, don’t cut it right back.

Coral Bells – (Heuchera) (Forever purple) or green foliage (Delta dawn). This is great for filling in a gap although do make sure the soil is free draining. They do not sit well in water. A clump forming perennial offering yellow flowers through the course of late spring to early summer. Cut off spent dead growth and expose young shoots.

Hollyhocks – (Alcea) – A hardy perennial that needs full sun. It is important to have rich moist soil too. Pull the canes out and cut to the base. High winds will only break the stem and all the goodness has gone to the ground. Hollyhocks lifespan can be extended by cutting it down immediately after flowering or they can regenerate themselves and self seed too.

Delphiniums are hardy specimens, easy to grow, but not so much in poor soil. A reliable summer flowering perennial. The position needs to be a little sheltered and the soil needs to be fertile. With Delphiniums we can achieve a bold statement of purple, blues, lilacs and whites. Delphiniums do need full sun so worth remembering not for a chilly corner either

Bergamot (Monarda) can be cut down and dead growth removed. A summer flowering perennial. It is hardy offering a scented fragrance from its leaves. It is drought tolerant and will perform in light shade.

Crocosmia/Monbretia – These perennials are clump forming and can become invasive. These perennials however will perform in any kind of soil, any aspect, any consistency. They procreate on their own so pulling a few rogue ones out will do any harm. These perennials are very hardy. There is no difference in the name – Monbretia is more traditional.

Woody shrubs to treat now, the following or left until spring. They require a little more of an explanation so “shrubs” will follow this.

Spirea – mound forming shrub in summer. Cut back to a neat shape to encourage new growth in spring. These shrubs prefer full sun but can tolerate some shade.

The flowering currant (Ribes Sanguineum) A spring – summer flowering shrub, which is accepting of most aspects. The soil needs to be water retentive but still free draining. It will benefit from nutrients in spring but quite tolerant of poor soils. It is important to take away superfluous growth but not all to encourage new growth. A good practice is to thin out crossing branches and leave a number of thick central stems. Cut to a leaf node and tidy.

The Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) and (Hydrangeas) certainly needs pruning but these can be left until spring. Over winter some argue that it helps protect the plant underneath. I don’t think it’s terribly important, If it doesn’t look un aesthetic in appearance, just leave. The important factor is that they are cut back. It regenerates growth and prevents them from becoming woody. Hibiscus too, although I tend to leave until spring. Although these woody shrubs will re generate from a prune. Leave these until spring.

Roses too can be cut down now- any dead, diseased and damaged stems if flowering has finished (although if you dead head you may still have flowers) in preparation for winter. In the event these are untouched shortly before adverse conditions leave until the spring. One or the other but not in between. Roses don’t need to be cut entirely but dead head and start to thin them out. A good practice to cut them a little more in spring and remove any stems haven’t regenerated after the adverse weather.