Trusty Garden Stalwarts

We wrote about them twenty years ago and we are still doing it today. Here are ten trusty garden stalwarts that you will still find in garden centres today. Why, might one ask? The answer is that they can always be trusted on to grow without much of a fuss!

Jasminum polyanthum (Chinese jasmine)

Few other plants mark the arrival of early spring more prominently on the nose as the pink, or Chinese jasmine. The dainty look of this climber, with its heads of sweetly-scented pink buds opening into white star-like flowers and fern-like leaves, can be misleading. It is a vigorous, evergreen climber. It will rapidly hide something unsightly in the garden. Or cover pergolas and arches in a cloud of perfume when in flower.

Jasminum polyanthum grows best in sun or light shade and loves a well-drained compost enriched soil. It has average water needs.

Flower Carpet ‘Pink’ rose

Long before Flower Carpet ‘Pink’ rose’s release in 1989, Werner Noack had the foresight and the commitment to breed a mega-blooming, easy-to-grow, low-maintenance, chemical-free rose — a rose that anyone could grow.

Where typically sales for any newly released plant will grow over three years then drop off, Flower Carpet rose sales were high from the beginning. They have continued to sell continuously and grow relatively steadily over the 33 years since. This is a remarkable sales profile that has been repeated wherever Flower Carpet roses have been introduced. They are a rose series that performs consistently in both landscape and home gardens.

Inducted into the Rose Hall of Fame

The very first groundcover rose to be deemed worthy of the Rose Hall of Fame title (in 46 years) has been awarded to Flower Carpet ‘Pink’ – the original of the Flower Carpet roses. Only 17 other roses have been awarded this title as its only ever bestowed for a rose with outstanding performance by the members of the World Federation of Rose Societies.

Brunfelsia pauciflora ‘Floribunda’

Brunfelsia encapsulates all the good things about early summer in one good shrub. It has soft shades of ever-changing flowers, romantic scent and lush green foliage. Brunfelsia covers itself in hues of deep purple, lilac and pale white. These hues of the flowers carried simultaneously on the long-blooming shrub, led to its common name: yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Indispensable in a shaded garden, Brunfelsia provide an aromatic feast when planted in a roomy container close to a socialising area. Brunfelsias grow very well in cooler spots on the south side of the house, where hydrangeas, azaleas and camellias also flourish.

Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’

Members of the genus Phormium, commonly known as flaxes, are old plant friends that have stood by gardeners through thick and thin. They provide lovely texture and contrast between other plants, with their curved or upright-growing sword-like leaves. The huge New Zealand species can still be seen in old gardens. But newer varieties of a more manageable size and with very colourful leaf patterns are still popular.

One such variety called ‘Yellow Wave’ has yellow and green striped leaves that arch back. It gives the plant an elegant fountain-like appearance. Other than the other varieties, it is sensitive to hot sun and requires light shade in warmer gardens.

Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Gold Crest’

Whether you love them or hate them, conifers are almost indispensable in coastal and very cold gardens. For many of us Christmas is not Christmas without a decorated ‘Gold Crest’ in a pot. Plants in the genus Cupressus make wonderful subjects for topiary too. They are pruned and trimmed to create balls, lollipop trees, poodle trees, and the most beautiful spirals.

‘Gold Crest’ has needle-like lemon-scented, lime-green leaves that change to an intense yellow-green in winter. This is when it is at its prettiest and growing actively. It has a beautiful conical growth habit.

Duranta ‘Sheena’s Gold’

One of the greatest successes in the horticultural world has been the breeding of ‘Sheena’s Gold’. This is a plant that now enjoys almost iconic status all over. It is used as a feature plant by gardeners and landscapers across the country. This is not surprising because the unusual golden-yellow colour of the foliage is exceptionally attractive. If planted in full sun, the leaves are rounder, smaller and more golden. If it gets morning sun only, the leaves become larger, oval, and pointed and take on a bright lime-green colour.

The natural size to which it will grow is indicated to be 3m x 2m. But the plants rarely reach this size. They are normally pruned into practically any form or size and gardeners take full advantage of this attribute. ‘Sheena’s Gold’ is often used to form low, sharply pruned formal hedges, to shape into standard lollipops, spheres, and cubes.

You would not expect such a showy feature plant to produce flowers as well. But if you allow it to grow naturally and do not prune it too regularly, powder-blue flowers will appear in summer.

READ MORE: Click here to get to know Phormium ‘Maragret Jones’

Camellia ‘Kramer’s Supreme

Camellias, along with many other ‘old-fashioned’ shrubs, have fallen out of favour somewhat. This is probably because they are slightly harder to propagate and take several years before they become marketable. Out of season and without their attractive blooms, they remain unappreciated in nurseries. Unless someone is specifically looking for a specific hybrid. Camellias are however included here. Because they are one of the hardiest of garden shrubs and perfect for very cold and frosty climates.

Another attribute is that the magnificent flowers appear from autumn throughout winter and into spring in such abundance that the shrub sometimes must shed some of them. A big favourite amongst the more than 3000 named hybrids is still the beautiful Camellia japonica ‘Kramer’s Supreme’.

Viburnum odoratissimum (sweet viburnum)

In a small garden, you may need only one of these shrubs to screen off your neighbour, the dog’s kennel, or the washing line. Because Viburnum odoratissimum can grow up to 4m tall and 2m wide. In a larger garden, you could plant several in a crescent, circle or square. They will create a peaceful green ‘garden room’ wherein you will be able to relax or simply hide behind their bright green leaves.

Sweet viburnum hedges can also be used to divide a big garden into rooms for different planting themes. Vast farm gardens can accommodate rows and rows of them. Formal or informal hedges to act as windbreaks that will protect other plants. Next to the pool in large pots, they become dramatic foliage plants if they are trimmed into balls or cubes.

In the herb or vegetable garden, you can trim them regularly to form low hedges that keep the dogs out of the beds. They flourish quite happily in narrow passages between tall buildings (usually dark and cold wind tunnels, where the sun seldom shines). There is no limit to the ways in which this dense, fast-growing, evergreen shrub can be used in a landscape. And the fact that it is pest and disease free is simply a bonus. They flower rather abundantly in spring. The tiny white flowers are lightly scented. A sparse harvest of small black fruit is quickly snatched up by birds.


The delicate appearance and exceptional fragrance of any exotic and old-fashioned gardenia flower, has earned a place of honour in the hearts of many a romantic. It is known as the flower of love. These flowers have adorned many a bridal bouquet and grandmothers across the world, from those in tiny villages in China to those in our very own Germiston, still cherish pressed dried gardenia flowers in their Bibles, diaries or old cake tins filled with love letters.

There are ample species, equally showy indigenous ones and quite a few hybrids which are still grown. I have yet to see an ugly gardenia! They bloom prolifically from late spring, throughout summer and into autumn. The last stray buds may manage to remain there, tightly closed during winter to unfold in early spring.

Gardenias like warm, humid gardens in subtropical regions. But they will also grow in cooler climates in pots if they are protected against cold winds and frost. When in flower, potted gardenias can be moved indoors to a room with plenty of natural light. But once the number of blooms reduces, move them outside again.

Grevillea lanigera ‘Mount Tamboritha’

‘Mount Tamboritha’ is an utterly charming, low-growing shrub that copes perfectly in a wide range of climatic conditions ranging from coastal winds, to hot and dry summers, to extreme winter cold.

It is a very neat evergreen that only grows to a height of 50cm. But it can spread to a width of about 1,5m and more. This growth habit, its dense and soft needle-like foliage and its toughness, makes it ideal for planting over terrace walls and for filling gaps on warm slopes. It is also lovely in a rock and gravel garden. Unusual-looking, pinkish-red and cream flowers resembling spiders appear from winter to summer at the tips of all the branches.

Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’

‘Red Robin’ is guaranteed to bring a blast of colour to hedges. The foliage is the main feature on this plant with brilliant glossy copper red leaves appearing on new shoots, which then matures into a dark and glossy green. The foliage colours become more intense with cold weather. This ensures a fiery winter when the rest of the garden looks drab. It is a large to medium evergreen, which when fully grown, should reach a height and width of approximately 2.5m by 2m but is easily trimmed to any desired height. ‘Red Robin’ has a dense growing habit and is extremely hardy, even in the coldest of locations. It is drought-resistant once established but will also handle wet garden conditions if need be.

READ MORE: Get to know more about the evergreen Red Robin here

The Gardener