Special Ornamental Shrubs
June 1, 2021

By Kate and Len Lucas

A garden that makes you feel at peace with the world when you sit in it doesn’t happen by accident. Few of us are professional gardeners and even fewer of us can afford to plant a garden in one go. So here are some ideas for plants that should make a difference even if you buy just one of them.

They are special because they either have attractive flowers or leaves or both and ornamental because rather than being a backdrop, they make a very clear statement once they get going.

We have chosen just ten that we see every day in our garden. Nine of these ten are perfectly hardy and whilst they all lose their leaves in the winter it is with great satisfaction and joy that we welcome them back every year.

Cornus kousa “Chinensis” Chinese dogwood
A small, slow-growing tree. There are several closely related species and varieties and all worth growing. Interesting leaves and stunning flowers. No special pruning except to cut out wayward stems. 

Physocarpus opulifolius “Diablo” 
It’s the copper colour of the leaves that make this a significant shrub and it grows quite quickly, so we take out some of the older wood every year. If you are tight for space you can prune it back. The flowers make an attractive addition. 

Spiraea japonica “Goldflame” 
There is nothing else like this in the garden. We have four scattered around and in the early spring, you can easily tell where they are because the leaves start out as a brilliant burnt caramel. We cut ours back hard in the late winter. 

Salvia “Wild Watermelon” 
 There are many very attractive shrubby Salvias. Their hardiness is still suspect in our climate, however, this one has been growing in our borders for several years. We do take cuttings every year to be sure we always have some. It is an absolute stunner when it comes into flower.

Viburnum sargentii “Onondaga” 
This makes an imposing specimen when the red/green leaves break out and then followed by its quite unexpected flowers which look like a lace cap Hydrangea. If you need to prune it then it should be done right after flowering. 

Sambucus racemosa “Sutherland Gold” 
These next two are cultivated forms of the familiar bush used to make elderberry wine. This one has bright yellow finely cut foliage produced in long sprays. We often cut the flowers off if they detract from the overall effect and prune it hard in late winter. 

Sambucus racemosa “Black Lace” 
A very nearly black-leaved version of the one above. We leave the flowers on as they contrast well with the overall colour of the plant. Pruning is the same as above.

Rhus typhina “Dissecta” stag’s horn sumach. 
We chose to grow this in a pot to stop it from running. This is a form of the Sumach with very finely divided leaves and it makes a very imposing specimen on the patio. At one point it was too tall so we cut it hard back and it has regrown nicely. 


Hydrangea Aspera 
This is the lace cap Hydrangea. We have two and we grow them for their magnificent leaves. In late winter, we cut them down to within two feet of the ground every year and it will easily put on six feet of growth. This treatment means we have sacrificed the flowering.

Berberis thunbergii “Orange Rocket” 
Grows quite upright and the leaves are red/orange which is unusual for Berberis. We have put a small cage around it to keep it in shape and sometimes trim off the odd stem. A real gem. 


All of these shrubs should be available in any good garden centre.