Wanted for small gardens: Plants with a manageable size, extreme good looks in all seasons, low maintenance needs, and not prone to diseases or pests. This is a tall order, but we have a short list of dwarf plants that are perfect for the job!
Expectations are always high for plants growing in a small garden with limited space and different sun patterns. You can’t afford to pick the wrong plants, unless you have the energy and resources to replant time and time again… The solution lies within the coffee plant family, and more specifically with dwarf coprosma hybrids bred from Coprosma repens (mirror bush). In addition to their colourful, glossy leaves with variegation that intensifies in cool seasons, we love these plants for their ease to cultivate and year-long good looks, adaptability to many climates (apart from the coldest and frostiest), and high resistance to pests and diseases, as nothing ever seems to eat or plague them. Another bonus is that they use very little water once established. Our recommended dwarf hybrids all have compact and bushy growth habits and foliage tinted in extremely flashy colours, as their hybrid names suggest. This makes them perfect candidates as evergreen shrubs for small gardens, to use as dense low hedges, and also to grow in pots as specimen plants.
‘Tequila Sunrise’ has summer foliage in rich orange and golden-yellow tints, slowly deepening to a rich sunset-orange and finally to a deep burgundy in winter. Size 1 x 1m.
‘Pina Colada’ has golden-yellow foliage with hints of bronze and orange intensifying to a rich copper and bronze in winter. Size 70 x 50cm.
‘Scarlet O’Hara’ has small, curly, nearly cylindrical leaves with red and orange variegation. It changes into a fire ball in winter. Size 1 x 1m.
‘Pacific Sunset’ has glossy wave-shaped leaves with vivid red centres set against a burgundy/chocolate-brown margin that intensifies in cool months. Size 1 x 1m.
‘Midnight Martini’ has rounded, glossy, maroon to bronze leaves, slightly flushed with green and orange in the centre. Size 1 x 1m.
‘Fireburst’ has cream pink tones in summer, exploding into fire-red foliage in autumn and winter. Size 1.5 x 1.5m.
‘Pacific Night’ has dark purplish-green foliage intensifying to nearly black in winter. Size 1.5 x 1.2m.
‘Rainbow Surprise’ has small yellow-green and pink leaves that darken noticeably in autumn and winter. Size 1.2 x 1m.
● Full sun is best, but they will also grow in partial shade where they receive ample morning sun and afternoon shade. If the shade is too deep and dark, the fiery foliage colours will fade.
● Any soil type enriched with compost is acceptable, but drainage in heavy clay soil have to be improved with coarse organic material and river sand.
● Being quite drought tolerant, mature plants can survive for long periods without water, but regular watering will keep the foliage glossy and healthy, and will ensure luxuriant growth. Too much water will cause leaf drop.
● A light feed of a balanced fertiliser in spring keeps the leaves healthy. For potted plants you should also do additional foliar feeding on a regular basis.
● Coprosmas react very well to pruning for shape and, if necessary, for size. You can also use the pretty hybrids with their smaller leaves for topiary-like spheres and cubes.
In combination with other plants…
You are probably going to wonder which other plants you can combine with your dwarf coprosmas in a bed. The following are equally attractive and always well-dressed suggestions that will also hold the fort all year long.
5 graceful ornamental grasses…
- Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’ – soft evergreen grass with lime-green leaves.
- Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’– inky- purple, clump-forming ornamental grass.
- Carex ‘Everest’ – distinctive white-striped foliage.
- Carex ‘Frosted Curls’ – hair sedge in pale silvery green.
- Festuca ‘Silver Eyecatch’ – fine steel-blue to silver foliage.