The 10 best shrubs for your garden, by the legendary gardener who’s dedicated his life to them

The revered gardener Peter Catt — one of a tiny number of people to have won the RHS’s top accolade — has bred and grown some of the finest shrubs in Britian. He told Val Bourne about his ten favourites.

The name Peter Catt might not trip off the average gardeners’ tongue, but, in the horticultural world, he is highly revered. He’s one of 63 recipients of the Victoria Medal of Honour (shortened to VMH, the highest accolade given by the RHS), has been chair of the Woody Plant Committee and continues to serve on countless woody trials.

His family-owned Liss Forest Nursery, Hampshire, supplies well-grown, quality woody plants to all the RHS gardens and the very best garden centres. In short, you’ve almost certainly planted something he’s grown.

Peter, a sprightly octogenarian, has been growing shrubs man and boy. ‘They provide a background and add structure and, without them, a garden is merely a flat affair,’ he explains.

Here are his favourites:

Rhododendron Blaauw’s Pink (Kurume) AGM

One of Wilson’s 50, this compact evergreen Japanese azalea flowers in April or early May, generally missing frost. It’s stronger than many, with soft salmon-pink flowers held above dark-green foliage.
For partial shade and acid soil, or containerise in ericaceous compost. 3ft by 3ft. Available from £20.99 from Thompson Morgan.

Cornus kousa Miss Satomi AGM

This dogwood has a spreading habit, with pink flowers (more correctly, bracts) sitting on top of the branches. Full sun or partial shade and perfect in the middle of a border or as a specimen in lawn.
Neutral to acid soil. 6ft by 10ft. Available from around £20 from IR Garden Centre via their Ebay shop.

Abelia x grandiflora Lake Maggiore AGM

A refined form of this Italian hybrid, first raised at Rovelli Nursery on Lake Maggiore in 1886. This has slightly fragrant clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers between June and October. Prune in March if space is limited.
Any soil and full sun. 5ft by 6ft. Around £21.99 from Thompson & Morgan.

Mahonia x media Lionel Fortescue AGM

A November-flowering bee pleaser with rich-green foliage and a cockade of lucid-yellow fragrant flowers. Remove the previous year’s growth after flowering.
Grows in shade, on any soil. 7ft by 7ft. £13.99 from Ashwood Nurseries.

Mahonia × media ‘Lionel Fortescue’

Cotinus coggygria Smokey Joe

A compact, green-leaved smoke bush with pale-pink puffs of smoke in summer. The flowers fade to leave a tracery of wiry stems; the plant hangs onto these until autumn. Found at Sheffield Park in East Sussex and introduced by Peter.
Full sun among tall grasses and perennials on any soil. 5ft by 5ft. From £11 from Provender Nurseries.

Cotinus coggygria 'Smokey Joe'.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Smokey Joe’.

Osmanthus delavayi AGM

A Chinese evergreen, with tiny dark-green leaves and sweetly scented, pure-white tubular flowers running up the stems in late spring. Good to cut for foliage or flower.
Full sun or partial shade. 8ft by 8ft. £22.99 from Thompson & Morgan

Osmanthus delavayi

Enkianthus campanulatus

An upright, woodland shrub, with masses of delicate bell-shaped greenish flowers, tinged with pink, hanging down in clusters. Good autumn foliage follows.
Lime-free soil, but not too dry. 12ft. £26.99 from Crocus

Enkianthus campanulatus

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum Elizabeth Bullivant

Tiered branches, with good, green foliage, support lacecap white flowers in April and May. Red berries follow and the plant often produces a later crop of flowers among the red berries. From the late Elizabeth Bullivant’s Stourhead House in Wiltshire; sometimes known as .
Prune after flowering. 6ft by 8ft. Hard to find, but Thompson & Morgan sell the similar Kilimanjaro and Pink Beauty varieties from £16.99.

Berberis x stenophylla Etna

Bright-green foliage with fiery-orange buds that open to orange-yellow flowers in April and May. This statement ever-green sometimes produces a lesser flush in autumn.
Prune after flowering to keep it more compact. 8ft to 10ft. From £16.99 at Coolings

Halimium calcynium

Full sun and good drainage are required for this cistus-like relative, with grey-green foliage and pure-yellow, modestly sized saucers produced in midsummer. Flowers close up in the afternoon. 4ft. From £10.99 at Thompson & Morgan.

Coast rockrose (Halimium calycinum) flowers


This article was first published in 2019


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