Best garden shrubs: 10 stunning varieties to plant in your yard

There are lots of brilliant garden shrubs – here are some of our favorites, including new varieties

hydrangea Runaway Bride
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While new types of perennials are still appearing in garden centers, it’s the new garden shrubs that are catching our attention. 

Valuable for bringing structure and form to a space, many also offer colorful foliage, as well as flowers and even fragrance. And evergreen shrubs will provide leafy green interest all year round.

In garden centers, new varieties are sometimes flagged up with special displays, but it’s often mail-order sources that offer us new varieties for the first time. Some mail-order nurseries make a point of checking out all the latest new introductions before offering the best – sometimes in small quantities.

Of course, gardeners have to stay on their toes, as the hot new varieties sell out quickly. The splendid new double-flowered Philadelphus ‘Pearls of Perfume’, which flowers not only in spring but all through summer, sold out in just a few days, for instance.

10 garden shrubs to elevate your planting scheme

Our list of top backyard shrubs features lots of exciting new varieties. All have beautiful blooms, too, to give your space more flower power. 

1. Berberis

Berberis thunbergii 'Orange Sunrise'

(Image credit: Anna Gratys/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z4-7 (RHS H7)
  • Best for: Colorful foliage

New varieties of these tough deciduous shrubs come in new color combinations and with neater-than-usual growth.

‘Orange Sunrise’, pictured, has rich red foliage edged in gold. ‘Chocolate Summer’ has deep chocolate brown leaves, while ‘Venice’ has pinkish leaves turning ruby. All have neat, upright growth.

Berberis plants are tolerant of most soils and situations, but the foliage colors best in full sun.

2. Forsythia

Forsythia 'Maree d'Or'

(Image credit: Holmes Garden Photos/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z4-6 (RHS H5)
  • Best for: Vibrant spring flowers

There are many varieties of forsythia available at Nature Hills. They are early-flowering shrubs that are valuable for brightening the garden after the winter lull. 

In recent years, we’ve seen new forsythias that are neater and more compact, more prolific, and with colorful foliage. At only 23.5in (60cm) in height, the impressively dwarf 'Maree d’Or' is perfect for small spaces. Meanwhile, ‘Discovery’ has yellow-edged foliage to provide color after flowering.

They grow best in full sun in any fertile soil that is not parched or waterlogged. Dwarf types can be grown as part of your container garden ideas.

3. Hebe

Hebe franciscana 'Tricolour'

(Image credit: Geoff Smith/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z7-8 (RHS H4-5)
  • Best for: Neat, evergreen shrubs

Hebes are versatile garden shrubs, adding interest to a scene with their often-ornamental foliage and varied colors. Although it's not a new variety, Hebe franciscana 'Tricolor' (pictured), for instance, has wonderful tones of cream, green, and – in cold weather – pink. It also has pale purple flowers in summer.

There is, however, a never-ending series of new hebes to get excited by, too. The five-color 'Red Wine Series', for example, features deep red winter foliage, plus summer flowers. 'Rainbow', meanwhile, has multicolored winter leaves, and 'Starlight' has white-edged leaves and, in summer, white flowers.

Plant hebes in any good, well-drained soil in full sun. They appreciate shelter from cold winds.

4. Hydrangea

hydrangea Runaway Bride

(Image credit: Wirestock, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z3-8 (RHS H5-6)
  • Best for: Growing in part shade

Whether landscaping with hydrangeas or growing them in pots, these flowering shrubs are one of our favorites. There are many different types of hydrangeas available at Burpee, as well as other plant retailers, and they are commonly spotted in garden centers, too. 

They grow well in full sun or part shade in moist, well-drained, fertile soil. The best way to prune hydrangeas depends on the variety you have.

New hydrangeas come in a variety of styles. 'Miss Saori' is a traditional mophead type with pink and white double flowers, while 'Runaway Bride' has spreading growth with white lacecap flowers. For smaller spaces, the compact 'Little Spooky' has white conical flowerheads.

5. Choisya

Choisya ternata 'Actec Pearl'

(Image credit: blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z7 (RHS H4) 
  • Best for: Prolific flowers

Also known as Mexican orange blossom, choisya is a beautiful backyard shrub for year-round interest. 'Aztec Peal', shown above, is a popular pick and a winner of the Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.

Recent developments in these invaluable evergreen plants include combining neater growth and pretty foliage with prolific, fragrant flowers. The new variety 'Appleblossom' has slender foliage, pink buds and fragrant white flowers and reaches only 4ft (1.2m). We also like the equally neat 'Royal Lace', which has fragrant white flowers and slender golden foliage. 

Happy in full sun, or a little shade, and rich soil, these new choisyas also thrive in patio containers.

6. Salvias

'Hot Lips' Salvia microphylla

(Image credit: Porridge Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z8 (RHS H4)
  • Best for: Summer flowers

Salvias are popular perennial shrubs that dazzle in summer with spikes of colorful flowers.

New salvias of all kinds are arriving in garden centers, with some especially pretty shrubby kinds featuring aromatic foliage.

The 'Lips Series' takes the popular red and white ‘Hot Lips’ (shown above, and available on Amazon) into new colors – while 'Oriental Dove' has deep reddish-purple flowers whose lower lips fade almost to white at the edges.

Grow salvias in well-drained soil in full sun or in a pot on the patio or deck. Pruning salvias is generally done in spring.

7. Daphne

Daphne x transatlantica 'eternal fragrance'

(Image credit: Jonathan Ward/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z7 (RHS H5)
  • Best for: Winter fragrance

These are one of the best evergreen, winter-flowering shrubs. Recent varieties have extended the flowering season, enhanced the scent and added attractive foliage.

'Marianni' combines intoxicating purplish flowers in winter and spring with dramatically variegated evergreen foliage. 'Eternal Fragrance' (white) and 'Pink Fragrance' (pink) have six months of scented white flowers.

Daphnes are not fast-growing shrubs, but their beauty and scent are worth the wait. They are happy in rich well-drained soil in sun or part shade or in a container.

8. Lavender

Lavandula x heterophylla 'Meerlo' in blue patio pot

(Image credit: Gina Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z8 (RHS H4)
  • Best for: Bees

Lavenders are some of the best plants for bees and work well in all styles of gardens. New lavenders are becoming increasingly popular as patio plants, with neat growth and amazingly prolific flowering – plus highly aromatic, even variegated, foliage.

The compact 'BeeZee Series' comes in five distinct colors, while the 'Ruffles Series' has elegantly rippled flags at the top of the flower clusters. For something that feels totally different, though, we like 'Meerlo' (shown above), with its creamy-edged leaves. All are ideal in well-drained compost in terracotta pots in a sunny place on the patio.

9. Buddleja

Buddleja davidii Butterfly Towers

(Image credit: Gillian Pullinger/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z6-8 (RHS H5)
  • Best for: Attracting butterflies

Buddlejas – available at Nature Hills – are a favorite for butterfly gardens. Recent developments have often been in the way they grow – with upright buddlejas and weeping buddlejas now available.

‘Butterfly Towers’ (pictured above) has a unique, upright habit, while blue-flowered ‘Wisteria Lane’ develops elegant weeping growth. ‘Berries and Cream’ has purple and white florets, in the same spike. They grow best in sun and good soil – prune in the same way as other buddlejas.

Bear in mind that in some regions, buddleja is considered an invasive plant – so proceed with caution if you're considering one of these backyard shrubs.

10. Azaleas

Azalea japonica 'Star Style'

(Image credit: Alexandra Glen/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z8 (RHS H5-6)
  • Best for: Patio containers

Two new series of azaleas represent unexpected, but dramatic, developments, and both are ideal for small gardens.

Varieties in the 'Encore Series' (available on Amazon) bloom again after their first spring flush, while the 'Starstyle Series' ('Starstyle pink' is shown above) has pretty starburst flowers and is especially good in containers.

Plant these garden shrubs in lime-free compost in containers set in the sun or in partial or dappled shade. Do not allow the roots to dry out.

Are new varieties of garden shrubs better than old ones?

There is a reason that some plants become firm favorites with gardeners and remain favorites for decades – centuries, even. The most obvious is that they’re attractive, dependable plants that are easy to look after. They may also be easy for nurseries to propagate and develop quickly into saleable plants.

But, new varieties are often developed with today’s gardens, and today’s gardeners, in mind. New shrubs for small gardens, for instance, are invaluable as new properties often have more compact plots. Varieties with a long flowering season give us more from individual plants than those that only bloom for a few short weeks. Pest and disease resistance is also vital, as we try to use fewer pesticides.

So, some new varieties are definitely better than some old favorites. But old favorites are still favorites for a good reason.

Graham Rice
Freelance writer

Graham Rice is a garden writer who has won awards for his work online, and in books and magazines, on both sides of the Atlantic. He is a member of a number of Royal Horticultural Society committees and the recipient of the 2021 Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. 

With contributions from