Create beautiful boundaries with easy-care shrubs

Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (Alamy/PA)
Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (Alamy/PA)

Are you fed up with your boring boundaries edged with high-maintenance, low-interest planting? Fear not, because your borders can all be perked up with a mixture of the right easy-care shrubs that will provide flowers and fruit.

So says gardening expert and writer Val Bourne, who maintains that using a mixed planting of ornamental shrubs will require less work than a formal hedge and give you plenty of colourful interest too.

“If you use deciduous plants, the woody canopy will allow light though once the leaves fall. In winter, the woody roots will help to drain the soil, allowing you to underplant with easily grown spring woodlanders, such as pulmonaria, primroses, hardy ferns and hybrid hellebores.

“The overhead canopy of branches will protect the ground from the worst of the weather, be it drought, frost or heavy rain.

“More importantly, woody plants provide a winter framework, just when many plants have retreated underground. Their presence adds another element to your garden – structure,” says Bourne, garden expert at Hopes Groves Nurseries (

Flower Power on the edge

Garden edges don’t tend to get quite as much attention as the rest, so select easy shrubs that don’t need special treatment, such as ornamental elders, or Sambucus, which offer domed flowers in summer and black foliage and berries in winter, she suggests.

‘Black Lace’ (syn. ‘Eva’) and its sibling ‘Black Beauty’ (syn. ‘Gerda’) have dusky elaborate foliage and pale-pink flowers that are favoured by hoverflies.

“These dusky ornamental elders make excellent additions to a summer border of perennials, because the domed pink flowers slot into summer’s pastel palette with ease. The dark foliage creates a contrast and it’s particularly useful at highlighting pale-brown grasses, such as miscanthus.”

The dark elder foliage would look sensational next to the late-spring flowers of the snowball tree, Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’, she suggests. The flowers of this large shrub also cut well, so it’s a floral favourite with flower arrangers.

Seasonal additions

“As summer days arrive, you could experience the lemon-scent of a mock orange named Philadelphus ‘Belle Étoile’. This is my favourite philadelphus, because each single white flower has a soft-purple blotch framing a boss of pale-yellow stamens.

“This arrangement stops the flowers from looking glacial and, as many a gardener will tell you, clear-white is the most difficult colour to deal with under the summer sun. If you do, add plenty of green foliage, or place it in dappled shade to soften it.”

Like all mock oranges, ‘Belle Étoile’ will tolerate poor, dry soil, so it’s likely to thrive in the drier summers we’re tending to get now, she anticipates.

Late performers

The upright Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ will provide flowers from late-autumn until March or April, she advises.

“The small clusters of pink flowers are highly fragrant during November, when they bear a strong hyacinth scent. They continue to flower once the leaves fall, whenever the weather is warm enough, ending in a final spring flourish. This shrub doesn’t do a razzle-dazzle, sock-it-to-you display. It just drip feeds the flowers in, whenever the weather allows.”

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), will always give some January flower in milder winters. “The small, ivory-white flowers sustain early-flying honeybees, so this will need pruning in early spring, otherwise you’ll be cutting off latent flower buds,” she says.

“I’d also add Abelia x grandiflora, because it provides late-summer autumn flowers. There are variegated forms, such as ‘Confetti’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’, but the plain-green leafed form sets off the clusters of pink buds and pale-peach flowers really well.

“If you do go for a variegated form, cut away any shoots that revert back to plain green. You can’t fail to notice the cinnamon-brown stems too, a feature of this twiggy shrub in winter.”

Flowers amid foliage

Try to include some evergreen structure, although be aware that evergreens tend to be less hardy than deciduous plants, Bourne advises, so may need some shelter.

“Everyone, in my opinion, should have the brilliantly architectural Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ for its November flowers. Each gently arching stem is topped by a radiating cluster of pale-yellow fingers of fragrant flower, underpinned by prickly foliage.

“It can tolerate quite a lot of shade and still flower well, although the architectural framework needs space to shine. When planting a boundary edge, position your plants a metre away if that’s possible.”

You’ll also get a sweet perfume from the ivory-white flowers of Osmanthus x burkwoodii, a large evergreen shrub capable of flowering in relatively shady areas, she suggests.

“The privet-like green foliage and clusters of tubular white flowers, evenly spaced along cinnamon-brown stems, are a compensation in early spring. It will flower earlier in a brighter position, and many add some snowdrops at the base.”

If you have a sheltered side to your boundary and enough space for a billowing, flowering evergreen, Mexican orange blossom, or Choisya ternata, will produce most of its white flowers in spring, followed by an autumnal flush, Bourne adds.