Instant impact seems to be the trend in gardening today. Fuelled both by the spate of DIY gardening television programmes and by our consumerist hunger to have it all now, those of us visiting garden centres are noticing more and more large specimen trees and shrubs being precariously wheeled towards the checkouts.

Specimen plants have many advantages. They tend to be low maintenance but at the same time can create a dramatic impact. Huge shrubs and trees are now available to plant saving years of waiting; these include varigated holly, acer, crab apple, beech, birch, pine, flowering cherry, climbing rose, box, magnolia and azalea to name just a very few old garden favourites.

These instantly large plants also allow us to re-conjure a little of that exotic holiday feeling. Plants such as the Chamaerops Excelsa or Chamaerops Humulis (the fan palm) and the Cordyline Australis (patio palm) have bold, interesting, architecturally shaped leaves that create a statement in your garden. What is more you don’t have to wait five to ten years for them to become established.

Recent advances in nursery stock production technology are enabling growers to produce larger and larger plants in pots and containers. Growers prune the plants to create a compact structure with balanced branch-work. A good example is the pyramid shaped Photinia Red Robin. The pruning results in plenty of new flushes of growth – desirable red rushes of leaves. If left to grow untampered, the plant is a large, untidy, straggly shrub.

The Italians are excellent at producing specimen trees and shrubs.  Of course they have superb growing conditions and with their lower overheads, garden centres that buy direct can now sell specimens at such reasonable prices that they really are available to the masses. Set out below are a few tips on what to consider when buying specimens, and how to care for them in your garden.4

Guide to Buying New Impact Plants:

Is the plant going in a pot or will it be planted?  Depending upon your answer you will need to consider the spread of the roots and the overall size of the plant.

What shape do you want and how much maintenance are you prepared to undertake?  Even the most unusually shaped specimens tend to only require pruning twice a year.

Is your garden the formal or informal type?  Where in your garden do you intend to place the plants?  Consider location, soil type (if to be planted), aspect and wind.  Those specimens with exotic leaves suffer badly in windy conditions.

What colours do you want?  Should it be deciduous or evergreen?  What leaf shapes do you like?

Finally, but most importantly check the health of the plant before you buy it.  Make sure that green leaves are not “chlorotic” – i.e. going yellow.  If they are, this indicates that the plant may have been starved due to being root bound and it is unlikely to establish quickly in the ground.

How to Care for Your New Plants:

If you are intending on planting your specimen in the ground you should take some preparatory steps. Dig a hole that is considerably larger than the root ball.  Place the specimen in the hole and then fill up with tree and shrub planting compost.

Mulch over the top to retain water and suppress weeds

Ensure the plant is adequately anchored using tree stakes or if necessary stakes driven through the root ball into the ground below.

Whether your specimen is planted in the ground or in a container you should water daily in dry conditions and weekly otherwise, thoroughly soaking until the plant is established, normally about a year later.

Feed with slow release fertiliser, supplemented by a liquid feed during the growing season.

Other than that, specimens tend to look after themselves and few will be subject to pests and diseases.