Fast Growing Garden Plants
Great for new gardens and gaps to quickly give an impression of some maturity, don't plant too many and plant other things to come through later on - particularly true of the shrubs and trees.
Buddleia davidii - Butterfly Bush Shrub
Medium to large shrub, fast growing (stand well back) covered in fragrant purple cone-shaped inflorescences 4"-12" long in summer that are in turn frequently covered in butterflies. Flowers of different varieties come in shades from white through lilac to quite dark purple with pinks too. There's also an orange flowered variety B. globosa with golf-ball sized and shaped inflorescences. The star of the group for my money is Buddleia alternifolia, though not as tough or quick as davidii.
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus - Blueblossom Shrub
Evergreen shrub, blue flowers in spring, small mid green leaves about 1-3" long. To 6m (20ft) high and wide, though easily kept in check by pruning. Variety "repens" frequently sold - creeping blueblossom, height and spread from about 1-2.5m (3-8ft).
Grow with a golden hop as a backdrop to show it off.
Lavatera - Mallow Shrub
There are annual and perennial varieties, all are fast growing, this describes the perennials. Woody shrub with masses of pink flowers about 3" across over a long period in summer. Semi-evergreen, to about 6ft wide and tall given the space, unfussy about position but does better in the sun. "Barnsley", pale almost white, flowers aging to mid pink. "Bredon Springs", dusky pink, "Rosea", rose pink. Short lived but easy to propagate from cuttings in early summer.
Eucalyptus gunnii - Cider Gum Shrub / Tree
Actually a tree if left to its own devices that will go to 50ft + if it's happy. However, don't be too alarmed. What you need to do is treat it as a coppice stool. Let the plant get established for one or two years and then in Feb / March you cut it down to about 4-6" above ground level. This encourages it to throw out new shoots from just below the cut point. The plant will then provide you with lots of very attractive glaucous blue/green juvenile foliage that can grow up to 6ft from ground level in a season. It's also reputed to keep midges and mosquitoes at bay, so plant it near the patio.
A very beautiful foliage plant, excellent against rather dull fences and as a contrast to other leaf colours and shapes. Tends to be a bit fussy about position. Likes to be well drained so incorporate lots of sharp sand and / or pea shingle when planting it and only plant in full sunshine, otherwise 6ft growth a year becomes 6mm.
Prunus laurocerasus - Cherry laurel Shrub
Large dense, bushy evergreen shrub. Long glossy leaves to about 6" long, dark green above, lighter below. Fragrant white flowers produced in spring. With the (quite deserved) decline of x Cupressocyparis lleylandii as a hedging plant, laurels is an ideal replacement in many sitautions. They are dense and fast growing, but respond better to trimming and don't just proceed skywards indefinitely.
Whereas conifers rarely if ever grow from brown wood, even old established laurels will respond to a severe pruning by producing fresh green growth from mature brown wood that hasn't seen direct sunlight for years. Within a year or so, you will be rewarded with a new curtain of attractive foliage.
Don't trim with shears though, you'll cut through the large leaves and they don't look good when they start to turn brown at the edges. A smaller variety "Otto Luyken" grows to about 3ft tall and wide and is suitable for inclusion in a border.
Tough and hardy, a single plant may be grown as an informal wind-break or at the back of a large border where the dark green leaves set off other foliage and flowers admirably. Good as a sound absorber too against road noise.
Anemone japonica (Anemone x hybrida) - Japanese anemone (windflower) Perennial
Late summer - autumn flowering erect perennial, height to about 2-4ft depending on variety, spread indefinite. Pretty, simple flowers for an informal semi-shady border (not keen on lots of sun). Available in white and pinks. Recommended - "Honorine Jobert", white, probably the best. "Bressingham Glow", pink.
Echinacea - Coneflower Perennial
Tall upright flowering plants that tend to do their thing in mid to late summer, various heights from about 20 inches to 4 feet and colours from pinks to purples to orange and red.
Euphorbia characias Perennial
Bluish green leaves to about 4ft tall. Particularly bright green-yellow "flower" heads in spring. Well known and deservedly so. Reputed to emit a coffee scent. Cut leaves and stems exude a noxious sap, so you may need to take care where you position it.
Gunnera manicata - Giant rhubarb Perennial
The common name sums it up very well, although this one is from the South American jungles and inedible. The leaves are enormous, up to 6ft across borne on prickly stalks to 8ft long. It is really a bog plant and needs moist conditions, if you think you might be able to accommodate its requirements and size, then little else will get the same WOW! effect, I love them. Also notable in that it dies back totally in winter (protect the base of the crown with a thick manure mulch) and so all of this fabulous growth happens from ground level each season. To 8ft tall and 10-12ft across.
Miscanthus sinensis Perennial
Large noble grasses and impressive with it. Available as many different named hybrids, many good ones, particularly "Siberfeder" syn. silver feather and "Cosmopolitan", "zebrinus" is a horizontally striped version with yellow bands on mid green leaves. Grow alone or as a part of a border. Flower panicles from 4ft to 9ft long, good for floral art (or hitting friends / siblings - depending on age).
Phormium tenax - New Zealand Flax Perennial
Great evergreen fans of sword-shaped leaves up to 10ft long in green, purple or many variegated varieties. These plants will grow large! up to 10-12ft across. Flower spikes up to 12ft tall in the "interesting and striking" rather than "pretty" category.
On a different note, the Maoris of New Zealand were using these to weave all kinds of things before anyone got the idea of planting them in the garden and showing off about it. "I always liked them actually, they just became trendy afterwards"
The ordinary green one is the best for my money, and Phormiums actually prefer clay!
Romneya coulteri - Tree poppy Shrub / Perennial
A subshrubby perennial rather than a true shrub. Grown for attractive glaucous foliage and large fragrant showy white flowers that are up to 5" across of ruffled white petals with a large group of prominent yellow stamens in the middle. Needs some protection, shelter from strong cold winds and grow against a sunny wall if at all possible. Sometimes difficult to establish, but once way should be fine. Height to 3-8ft depending on how happy it is, spread depends on how far you'll let it sucker as it goes. Sounds difficult, but actually is magnificent.
Red Hot Poker - Kniphofia Perennial
Long thin strap-like leaves and spikes of flowers that go from yellow at the bottom to red at the top - hence the name. To 5 feet tall depending on variety, should flower from the second year on, you might be lucky in he first year.
Rudbeckia - Black eyed Susan Perennial
Long lasting large blooms on tall stems for the end of summer and autumn. Bright yellow or a range of other autumnal tints through orange to red, very striking when planted in drifts.
Alcea - Hollyhock Perennial
Tall and stately hollyhocks come in a range of colours from deep red through pinks to cream, peach and purples from delicate mauve to almost black. I bought a packet of seeds about 20 years ago when we moved into this house and have never been without them since, they live for 2-3 years and self seed so they replace themselves. Ours are mainly this shade of pink and creams which may be the best adapted for local conditions or partially due to the original ones we had. Either way we like them a lot and in when they do their thing in midsummer there are few plants to touch them. Flower spikes up to 6-8ft tall.
Picture credits: Laurel - Mike Dodman - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. | Buddleia - Attaleiv - Creative Commons Share and Share Alike Attribution 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, 1.0 Generic licenses | Phormium - Forest & Kim Starr - Creative Commons Share and Share Alike Attribution 3.0 Unported | Romneya - Ghislain118 - Creative Commons Share and Share Alike Attribution 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, 1.0 Generic licenses | Euphorbia - Salix - Creative Commons Share and Share Alike Attribution 4.0 Intyernational license