Growbag Blog

10 stunning summer shrubs

Today we’re talking about some of our favourite summer shrubs.  Everyone knows about the spring beauties – philadelphus, spiraea, azaleas and the like, and of course, they are lovely.

But somehow the summer bushes get overlooked amongst all the mad floweriness of perennials, annuals and bedding.  Let’s redress that balance now (I warn you, Laura’s are particularly weird this week…)


1.There’s one shrub that always draws comment and enquiry when my garden is open in the summer and that is Physocarpus opulifolius I do love P. ‘Dart’s Gold’ whose bright green-gold leaves are a delight in spring but they fade to a plainer green in summer when P. ‘Lady in Red’ starts living up to its sexy Chris de Burgh name. The young crimson serrated foliage deepens to burgundy as the season goes on, with flat pink flowers to boot. The Lady in Red dances beautifully.

Physocarpus ‘Lady in Red’ gives off a zingy vibe – just what you need in the summer garden

2. Abelia is one of those shrubs you don’t even notice until suddenly it’s in flower laden with happy bees enjoying its tubular pink and white scented flowers. You can get fancy varieties, but it won’t surprise you to know I only grow the simple pretty A. grandiflora.  There is actually no ‘grandi’ about their ‘flora’; they are all small flowers, but this shrub has the neat trick of remaining attractive through the autumn by retaining the bright calyces on the stems once the flowers have fallen.

Here’s a carpenter bee having some great buzzy fun on the pretty Abelia flowers and calyces

3. I do love a Lavatera!  What generous flowerers they are!  I grow various varieties including the richly-coloured L. x clementii ‘Burgundy Wine’ which is good enough to have been awarded an RHS Award of Garden Merit.  As far as I can see, you can be as brutal as you like with these shrubs – every year.  They seem to thrive on a crazily hard prune in spring. Fantastic. Pass the secateurs. Tiny word of warning: the stems are brittle, so cut them back by half after they’ve flowered to stop the wind damaging the plant.

Lavatera olbia rosea
Lavatera olbia Rosea – a serious pruning-job will reward you with a fabulous show

4. No way I’m going to leave this topic without a shout-out for Hibiscus. I’m not talking about the tender tropical species though, just the H. syriacus varieties that will get through an average UK winter fairly confidently (sorry Caroline, probably not with you). Everything from sophisticated chic singles to OTT ruffles and flounces can be had in the range of varieties.  Personal fave at the moment? H. syriacus ‘Purple Ruffles” – oh yeah, baby! (But did you register Laura’s shiver of disdain?)

Hibiscus ‘Purple Ruffles’ – a glorious frilly wonder

Laura and Miscanthus Yakushimo Dwarf

Yes I admit I struggle even with the words ‘summer shrub’. Maybe it’s a hangover from the sixties gardens of our youth with their dwarf conifers, rockeries and ubiquitous ‘shrub border’ which are at odds with my credo that your garden, rather than just being a pleasant backdrop, should be a dynamic and  inspiring adventure into botany.

5. So I will freely admit that my first choice looks rather inanimate for 11 months of the year with its stark outline and steely green leaves but when Acca sellowiana, or feijoa, does pop open its curiously arresting flowers you simply have to stop and wonder at them as you can see from our featured image at the top of this week’s blog.

6. My next offering is actually related to Elaine’s fluffy ruffles (or whatever it’s called) hibiscus thingy, but is a much more refined and unadulterated species native to Australia. I first saw Alogyne huegelii on a Chris Beardshaw Chelsea garden a few years back and have coveted it ever since. It flowers literally from April to October but not only will Caroline be unable to grow it in the Scottish Highlands but Elaine won’t either because she doesn’t ‘do’ bringing tender plants in for the winter … it’s only an H2 rating.

Alogyne huegelii
Alogyne huegelii- so much classier than Elaine’s flouncy ruffles thing or enormous swaying lavateras in Barbie pink…

7. My final curiosity is pomegranate, Punica granita, whose bright little leaves dancing in the sunshine would be reason enough to grow it, but last year I also had several lovely red flowers and Lucy Hutchings from She Grows Veg assures me that if I move the pot into our polytunnel in late summer the exaggerated heat through the autumn may encourage it to produce edible fruits. So this fits perfectly with another one of my horticultural credos – ‘it’s better to travel hopefully than arrive.’

It’s good to have ambition

Caroline cuttings

8. For heavens’ sake. If Laura was a marathon runner (don’t laugh) she’d insist on doing it dressed as a gorilla with a fridge on her back. Growing a normal summer shrub in the Scottish Highlands is challenge enough, so why would you pick anything more complicated than a bog-standard buddleja? Strong, dependable, easily hard-pruned and loved by bees and butterflies.

If you consider the mauve ones you see on railway lines a bit ‘meh’ try the white ones or the inky ‘black knight’, or the wonderful orange bobbles of Buddleja ‘globosa’. I bought one recently in Laura’s company – and got exasperated eye-rolling as my reward – and when I spotted a lovely weeping variety in her village and asked her what it was, she simply snapped ‘I don’t know’ and kept walking. She’s a botanist, she knew very well what it was, she was just being a Gorilla with a Fridge.

Too easy for the gorilla carrying a fridge; Buddlejas are wonderful summer shrubs – remember they come in white; pink; inky purple, and orange as well as pale mauve!

9. There is very little chance the ‘G + F’ (as I will now refer to her), will approve of my next very popular recommendation either – hydrangeas. So fantastic I don’t know where to start. Apart from the floriferous mophead hydrangeas beloved by our parents, there are some gorgeous lacecaps; try the relatively new H. paniculata ‘Wim’s Red’ which changes from a creamy white to dark red over the summer and my absolute favourite H. ‘Merveille Sanguine’ (translated: ‘bloody marvellous’) with its chocolately foliage and purple flowers with blue eyes. Nothing a hydrangea loves more than a wet summer so we’re in for a treat this year!

10. Finally, I would 100% recommend Olearia macradonta because 1. it’s evergreen, 2. It has lovely sage green leaves; 3. its daisy-like flowers in summer have a delicious musky/coconuty smell; and 4. it always seems to grow in a pretty shape.

Olearia macradonta – bursting into delicious-smelling flowers right now.

The only drawback is that it’s only hardy to H4 so up here, it really needs to be sited against a south-facing wall. That’s a slight gorilla outfit for me but this shrub is an effortless summer winner for most of you!

Which summer shrubs do you reckon really cut the mustard? We’d love to hear about them, and add them to our growing list (see what we did there?)

Based in her Normandy garden, Elaine goes through the correct techniques for deadheading and summer pruning the four main groups of roses: repeat-flowering, once-flowering, ramblers and climbers, in our video here

This excellent border plant is native to the British Isles and its clusters of tiny white flowers are very attractive to pollinating insects. Louise Sims reveals more about her Great Plant for July..

This slate label and white chalk marker set make the most wonderful gift for a gardener. So much prettier than the basic plastic labels, these have a practical purpose as well as adding to the beauty of your garden! Find out more here

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

14 replies on “10 stunning summer shrubs”

I’m with Caroline on the buddleja!! Another similar favourite is hebe which is also great for pollinators and has the bonus of being evergreen. Leycesteria formosa is fab with it’s hanging flowers that bees love and followed by berries for the birds. I haven’t got one in my garden at the moment but I’m going to try growing one from seed.

Lisa we have similar tastes! If buddlejas weren’t so obligingly irrepressible they would be far more cherished! I also agree about hebes – such a pleasing habit and stoical addition to your garden. I think Elaine grows Leycesteria formosa (I know it as pheasant berry!) and although I don’t, I suspect you wont have to wait long for your seeds to grow to be a useful size. I think they are similarly enthusiastic? Thank you so much for the great suggestions, kindest regards, Caroline

I have a gold-leaved leycesteria , on which the purple/red flowers and berries really pop! They really are such easygoing shrubs

That sounds delightful, Evelyn! I have a Leycesteria too, though just the ordinary one – it still has very bright and attractive young foliage. The dangly ‘earrings’ that are the flowers are little masterpieces, I think. My shrub gets rather gangly rather quickly so I tend to be a little brutal with the long stems in late winter/early spring, to keep my shrub looking a good shape. Thank you so much for writing in, all the best, Elaine (and the other two)

Abelia! 3 years ago my lovely mum died. I took cuttings of Lavender and Abelia from her garden and this year the Abelia has grown into a beautiful shrub. Tall with arching stems and shining foliage of dark green and pink tinged new growth. Waiting for the flowers. I know it will not disappoint and will be a perfect memory of mums glorious,flower filled Cornish garden.

Crinodendron hookerianum with its crimson dangling globular flowers
Desfontanea spinosa with its orangy yellow flowers and holly like leaves
Embothrium cccineum masses of scarlet flowers attactive to bees.
Carpentaria californica large attractive creamy white blooms.
Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ a superb small evergreen shrub which covers itself masses of fragrant white flowers for months on end.
Hoheria ‘Glory of Almwch’ Evergreen with white flowers

Where do I stop?
My daughter has the Daphne in her front garden in Edinburgh and stands a good haircut!

Daphne does well in our cooler climes here in Scotland , mine bears wonderful flowers and gives the gift of a perfumed garden for a long period. It has and has responded well to a light pruning. It stands bravely through the winter frosts, rain and snow. There’s always hope !

What a lovely list of summer shrubs, Bill! Looking at the first three you mention, they are of course happiest in a neutral to acid soil (no good for my chalky Eastbourne garden!), which is an important aspect of successful shrub-growing that we failed to address at all in our article. I do have the Hoheria you mention, but with me, it has grown into a very graceful small tree (flowering right now). It’s very interesting what you say about Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ – I’d always thought of Daphne as flowering in winter or very early spring, but perhaps I should think again? It would be amazing to have that scent around the garden for more than just the coldest months. Thank you so much for reminding us of these beauties. All the best, Elaine (and the other two……)

Gorilla with fridge reference!! 😂😂 Love you Laura but I’m with Caroline on the buddleja varieties. I love the different hues of purple and so do the pollinators!

Ah you should be more adventurous Charlie! I got a lovely grevillea yesterday at a knockdown price in the Homebase garden sale area. It needs a bit of TLC but it’s covered in young buds that I know the bees go bonkers for – time to branch out from buddlejas …..! Laura x

Grevillea Canberra Gem flowers against a west-facin wall on and off all year round in mild spells, and is in full flower now. Bright flowers, lots of them, interesting rather than beautiful.
Daphne transatlantica Eternal Fragrance has a strong, beautiful hothouse perfume. First flush covered the bush maybe May, then stopped, and in full flower again now. This tends to be the pattern all summer. I’ve other daphnes, but this is by far the best.

Hello Barbara, what a coincidence, I’ve just been singing the praises of grevillea to Charlie (see comment above). They’re members of the Proteaceae family, so as you say, interesting rather than beautiful, but that’s right up my street! I had Canberra Gem for a number of years and it was terrifically floriferous but it was in quite an exposed site and eventually succumbed in a -10 spell of weather, so you’re wise to have yours against a protective wall.
Everyone seems to be singing the praises of Daphne ‘Eternal Fragance’ this week so I’m really lucky that Elaine gave me a young plant that she must have grown from a cutting earlier this year. Best wishes Laura

Hi Lynne, thanks for writing in. It’s Acca sellowiana, and is Laura’s first choice in this article. It certainly is unusual, isn’t it! Laura’s suggestions are often only for people who love very weird plants (!) but this one looks like a winner. All the best, Elaine

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