You'll be shrubbing up nicely with these; Now's the time to give your garden some structure and what better way than with my favourite special shrubs? gardening.
DRIVING through the countryside with the windows wide open, the glorious coconut scent of gorse fills the air. The bushes are covered with bright yellow flowers trailing a golden blaze across the hills.
Warm weather and sunshine are coaxing other buds to blossom while forsythia and kerria are also bringing sunbeams of yellow into the hedgerows.
Spring-flowering shrubs and trees are invaluable plants for the garden, preceding the great burst of flowering from herbaceous plants.
They provide structure, colour, foliage, scent and flowers, and the really special ones can become your focal point for this time of year.
So here's my pick of the best : Osmanthus delavayi CURRENTLY smothered in small white tubular flowers, they create a cloud of fragrance to walk through. An evergreen shrub with small dark green serrated leaves arranged in opposite pairs, it can be a great hedging plant or planted near a pathway or entrance. Its arching habit also makes it a good standalone shrub. Happy in the sun or shade, it does well in most soils. Clip if required after flowering.
Rhododendron barbatum A MOST elegant rhodo with crimson flowers held aloft handsome foliage - the stems have barbs or bristles, hence the name. An introduction by plant hunter extraordinaire Joseph Hooker from his trip to the Himalayas in 1850, this has the added advantage of ornamental bark - smooth and peeling in reddish and purple tones. It will eventually form a small tree and needs an acidic soil, ideally in a woodland garden where taller trees will shelter it from winds.
Prunus Tai Haku THE great white cherry is out and has the largest flowers of all its type - big single white blooms set against the just-emerging young bronze foliage. It's a dramatic two or three weeks while this is in blossom. If you have the space, plant in the sunshine in some well-drained soil.
Like other cherries, it's shallow rooting so will lift lawn if planted in the centre. It's definitely not suitable near paving for this reason.
Chaenomeles Pink Lady I THINK these flowering quinces look best trained horizontally on a fence where their blossoms can be best admired. Left to grow untamed as a bush, they can be a bit shapeless. Deep pink flowers will mature to green fragrant fruit which can be turned into jelly. Annual tight pruning after flowering is necessary to keep strong horizontal lines.
Exochorda The Bride AN APTLY named shrub as it looks like the full skirt of a bridal dress when it's smothered in large white flowers on arching stems that reach the ground. As a focal point, it will dazzle for around six weeks from April.
Cercis chinensis Avondale IF PINK is your colour, this Chinese redbud is a must. Its magnificent display of deep pink pea-like flowers on bare stems will stop you in your stride. It doesn't require pruning and hates to be moved so be sure to plant it in the right place the first time. It shouldn't be fed artificial fertiliser as this can damage its root system. Some very pretty heart-shaped leaves will follow its colourful flowers.
Halesia carolina I DON'T often come across the snowbell tree, but when I do, I think it should be planted more often. Stand underneath it when in full bloom and gaze up at the bellshaped nodding pure white flowers. Preferring neutral to acid soil, this is an excellent choice for a small garden - it's dainty and rather unusual.
Spiraea Arguta JUSTIFIABLY popular, this deciduous shrub bursts into clusters of flowers along arching stems, earning its common name of Bridal Wreath. It's reliably gorgeous at this time of year and easy to grow on most soils - just remember to clip back stems after flowering to ensure a great display every year.
Chaenomeles Pink Lady