Shrubs may not have the instant glamour of a luscious new perennial or the eye-popping display of spring or summer bulbs, but they are the backbone of a garden, providing structure and volume. For flower arrangers, they play an additional role—that of supplying filler material to bulk out vases and offering useful contrast to the flowers. Sometimes the shrubs are the stars themselves (think lilacs in spring, hydrangeas in high summer). But there’s a whole world of more subtle shrubs, too. Scatter these through your garden, and you can have year-round blooms in myriad guises, as well as interesting foliage for your floral arrangements. Here are six I adore.
Note: These shrubs are all frost hardy and will tolerate zones 4-9.
Viburnum is a vast and diverse genus of flowering shrubs that come in all shapes, from a few feet tall to twenty, and that flower at various points through the year. Viburnum x bodnantense cultivars (‘Dawn’ and ‘Charles Lamont’ are two of the most popular) flower in the winter, providing delicious almond scented blooms on bare stems which look beautiful as single stems in a bud vase. V. carlesii ‘Aurora’ is a compact shrub with delicious pale pink flowers in spring with the most incredible clove scent, while V. opulus ‘Roseum’ is a flower arranger’s mainstay with delicious lime green to white balls of flower in late spring and glossy bright red berries in autumn. (For more on growing viburnum, see Gardening 101: Viburnum.)
In late winter, just as the overwhelming longing for spring reaches a crescendo, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ bursts forth with her exquisitely pretty pale pink flowers that fill the air around it with an intense clove scent, making it perfect for a path or doorway. One cluster of flowers in a tiny vase will fill a room with fragrance. This evergreen shrub is slow growing and resents being moved so put it in a sunny but sheltered spot.
Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ has deep burgundy palmate leaves that make a brilliant backdrop for bright colors, including hot pinks, reds, and lilacs in an arrangement. In spring the fresh growth has a bronze tinge followed by frothy white flowers, and in autumn by dark berries. Other equally covetable varieties include ‘Lady in red’ and ‘Dart’s Gold’. It’s a stunning garden shrub that will grow to a couple of meters.
Such was her love of the intoxicating white flowers of mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius), that the influential floral designer Constance Spry planted a philadelphus walk at her home, Parkgate House, in Kent. The shrub’s season is just a few weeks long but its transportive scent that wafts around in late spring makes it a must-have. ‘Belle Etoile’ is one of the best known varieties for its delicate single flowers, while ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ is an equally pretty but more compact 90-cm plant.
If you follow florists such as @ruby_marylennox or @fridakim_london on Instagram, you’ll be familiar with the airy candy-floss froth of smokebush (Cotinus coggygria). This vigorous plant will eventually grow into a substantial tree if left to its own devices. Varieties include different jewel colors including ‘Royal Purple’ or the hugely popular amber red ‘Grace’. The clouds of inflorescence which appear in late summer offer a dramatic backdrop to sculptural arrangements or hanging clouds. The large oval leaves also make a rich companion to the jewel toned dahlias of high summer.
Spiraea is a truly low-maintenance deciduous shrub with cultivars that flower from spring and throughout summer. S. arguta (also known as ‘Bridal Wreath’) flowers in spring and grows to a couple of meters tall, while S. canescens has masses of tiny white flowers on trailing or arching stems that create a ready-made bouquet, as pretty in bud as it is in its summer flower.
For more on shrubs, see: