Be creative with shrubs

Gardeners are missing out on interesting shrubs because they are not easy to sell in a garden centre, says horticultural expert Andy McIndoe.

Plants that don’t have immediate pot appeal or won’t fit into a Dutch trolley are being sidelined, giving growers restricted choice.

“As gardeners we need to ask ‘What are those plants that are really good garden plants, rather than good garden centre plants?’” he says.

He cites Cornus ‘Porlock’ as an example of a garden worthy shrub with a long season of interest that is difficult to find because it looks insignificant when young.

“It shows how influenced we are by the appearance of plants.”

Rosemary is another underrated plant that is rarely sold outside the herb section and which he believes is better than lavender as a long term plant.

Rosemary is a good substitute for lavender

The former managing director of Hillier Nurseries, who led the firm to 25 consecutive gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, was speaking at the first lecture hosted by Allomorphic in Stroud. The talk was based on his book, The Creative Shrub Garden, and set out to show how shrubs could be used effectively.

“Shrubs are incredibly versatile plants and can shape and influence in a much greater way than any other type of plant material,” he said.

“Shrubs can provide colour and interest in all layers of the planting picture.”

When it comes to putting shrubs together, Andy advises keeping it simple and starting with the foliage.

“We’re all very much bewitched by flowers but they are very much an ephemeral pleasure.”

He outlined planting trios covering a green-and-white theme, one in sunset colours and another in classic pastels.


Different seasons were also covered with autumn tints and shrubs grown for colourful winter stems.

“You can have just as much colour in winter, if you choose the right subjects.”

Woven through the good-humoured and lively talk were snippets of horticultural advice: using vinca or ivy under Cornus sanguinea as a foil to the stems; planting lavender slightly higher on heavy soil; feeding container-grown box, if it is turning coppery.

Pruning, topiary, what to grow in a pot and how to balance colour in a border were all covered and gardeners were urged to forget the idea that shrubs were something “that gets far too big for the space and challenging because you constantly have to cut it back”.

Allomorphic is hosting a series of gardening lectures

“It’s the bed that’s too narrow not the shrub that’s too big,” he observed.

Gardeners, he believes should be adventurous and not be afraid to replace or move things.

“If it pleases you, it’s right. If it doesn’t, do something about it and change it.”

The next Allomorphic lecture, The Working Garden, will be a practical look at gardening by Benjamin William Pope, head gardener at the privately owned Trotton Place in Hampshire. Details: Allomorphic

The Creative Shrub Garden by Andy McIndoe is published by Timber Press, priced £20.

Experts head for Cotswolds

Shrubs, so often part of the supporting cast rather than the star of a garden, will be thrust firmly into the spotlight at a Cotswold lecture in April.

Chelsea gold medal-winning designer, author and plantsman Andy McIndoe will be showing how choosing the right shrubs can transform your plot.

Andy McIndoe
Andy McIndoe will be talking about shrubs

Andy, who masterminded Hillier Nursery’s 25 gold medal displays at the world famous show, is giving the first in a series of lectures by celebrity gardeners and experts.

The talks are being run by luxury garden shop Allomorphic, which opens in Stroud in March. There are also workshops on offer covering everything from garden design to how to draw.

The business has been set up by award-winning designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes who says the opening talk promises to be a lively affair.

“Andy is known to many for his colourful shirts when interviewed on the RHS Chelsea coverage,” says Paul. “I am anticipating his talk to be as wild and flamboyant with a good dose of humour.”

In May, the secrets of the head gardener will be revealed when Benjamin William Pope from Trotton Place discusses ‘The Working Garden’. Trotton, a private estate, was designed by Chelsea gold medalist Arne Maynard and features stunning perennial planting and a large walled, working kitchen garden.

Benjamin William Pope
Head gardener Benjamin William Pope

“Ben will share his passion for getting the very best from a garden with us and revealing his top secrets to glorious success,” says Paul, who is busy planning a show garden for Hampton Court Flower Show in July.

Other speakers in the series include Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers, Michaelmas daisy expert Helen Picton, and Rosie Hardy, of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, who is building her first show garden at Chelsea this year. The talks, priced at £12.50, include wine and nibbles, and a series discount is available.

Bob Brown
Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers

Running alongside the monthly lectures are day and short courses including DIY wedding flowers and floral arrangements inspired by woodland, how to revamp your border, and the basics of drawing using the techniques of the old masters.

Full details and booking are available at