SHRUBS have much to offer the garden.
They are generally quite long-lived, which means that, apart from a bit of TLC every now and then, you can plant them and (hopefully) they will keep doing their job for years to come.
Unlike annuals, which need to be replaced every few months, shrubs just keep on going, year after year after year.
One of my favourite shrubs is the mussaenda (pronounced muss-ay-end-a), a beautiful shrub native to the tropics, from West Africa through the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia and southern China.
There are more than 200 known species, but only a few are used in landscaping.
The appeal of the mussaenda lies in its extraordinary inflorescence, the flowering part of the plant.
The flower itself is a tiny simple yellow star, only about 5mm across, but the parts surrounding the flower are stunning - extraordinary pendulous bunches of soft, beautifully coloured "flowers", with each "petal" up to 10cm long.
The leaves are mid-green, deeply veined and pointed, with a soft, velvety feel.
Because the shrubs are deciduous in our climate, the effect is dramatic as they quickly grow from bare stems, usually cut back hard in the late winter, into magnificent specimens 1.5-2.5m tall, and covered in these great bunches of "flowers".
Once established, these shrubs look absolutely spectacular for many months, usually from about September through until May.
So you will have colour for most of the year, apart for a few months in winter when they are dormant.
A number of very showy cultivars of Mussaenda philippica have been developed, mostly in The Philippines and Thailand, and it is these cultivars that you are likely to find in your local garden centre.
Dona Aurora is named after Dona Aurora, the wife of a former president of the Philippines.
It is very showy, with huge white pendant masses surrounding deep golden yellow flowers.
Queen Sirikit, named for the queen consort of the King of Thailand, is among the most spectacular, with masses of ivory to pale pink bunches.
Dona Luz, commonly known as the Bangkok Rose, is peachy pink, sometimes with a deep pink to red edge.
Calcutta Sunset is much brighter, with yellow to orange bracts.
Mussaendas require very warm temperatures for propagation, and so they are generally only available from mid-January through until autumn.
They are certainly worth including in the garden, as they are very hardy and will flower profusely for years.
Plant your mussaenda in a sunny to partly shaded position, with a bit of protection from strong winds.
Because they grow so quickly during the warmer months, the branches can be a bit soft and prone to damage in exposed sites.
They are not particularly fussy about soil or position, but do appreciate a good mulching and plenty of feeding once the leaves emerge in spring.
Cut them back quite hard in late winter. A good prune will help promote growth and result in much better flowering.