Small Tree or a Large Shrub?
June 1, 2024

by Kate and Len Lucas

An article like this runs the risk of some readers saying that’s a question looking in vain for an answer and in any case what was the problem in the first place?

When you are sitting on your veranda on a warm sunny evening scanning your garden whilst pouring yourself another one the thought might just enter your head that “something needs to go just over there and fill that gap but I don’t know what”. That’s when you need to be on your guard because we think that a small tree does not do the same job as a large shrub or vice versa.

As far as we know there is no botanical difference between a small tree and a large shrub and conclusions here are difficult but we do think that there is a difference between the two. We would suggest that a shrub has leaves all the way down to the ground, what the experts call “fully furnished”, and on many more than one stem and a tree has very few stems and leaves that start half way up, and incidentally referred to by the experts as” crown lifted”. Obvious that isn’t it.

There is also a difference between fiddling about in the border with a tray of plants you have just bought from the garden centre and closing up that gap which has been annoying you and keeping you awake at night for some time. This purchase may well be a bit expensive and we will take a gamble and go one step further suggesting that most of the time what is needed is in fact a large shrub and not a small tree.

Well let’s test it. As you stare at that gap in your garden what comes to mind to try to fill it- anything? Let’s see if we can help. We believe that garden plants should keep their leaves all year, never get any pests or diseases, only need pruning when you feel like it and you don’t need a degree in horticulture to know how to look after them and frankly don’t mind being neglected and so are quite capable of looking after themselves.

Here are eight shrubs, that we know from our own experience, come very close to satisfying all those characteristics because they are all evergreen, have very few pests or diseases and can be pruned by an amateur gardener only when they need to be kept in shape. And, most important of all, will fill that troublesome gap very nicely.

EUONYMOUS FORTUNEI –  There are two main variegated varieties in garden centres, one is gold and cream and the other green and cream.

VIBURNUM RHYTIDOPHYLUM – Not seen very often probably because the spreading habit puts some gardeners off. Gets better looking as it gets older.

CHOISYA TERNATA – Like the one before there is a green form and a very attractive golden variety which is not keen on full exposure to the sun.

VIBURNUM TINUS – A good solid plant and underrated, very well behaved.

OSMANTHUS DELAVAYI – Very fragrant flowers. Looks a bit like holly.

AUCUBA JAPONICA – This is a striking version of the evergreen laurel you find as a hedge. Can produce red berries.

EUPHORBIA X PASTEURI – Very striking and we cut ours right down to the ground last spring and it has grown back just fine.

GRISLINEA LITTORALIS – There is an all green form and a cream variegated version to choose from.

































We have grown all of them and some are in our garden today and would buy them again if we needed to.

We only have two small trees in our garden. They are out numbered by large evergreen shrubs and we will leave you to come to your own conclusions as to why that might be.