FAMILIAR plants can so easily be overlooked when faced with the tempting, yet perhaps transient latest fashions in flowers. Shrubs are a good example. Their dependable, but perhaps slightly dull presence is in contrast to the more spectacular but often fleeting passage of those currently in vogue hardy perennials.

In truth though, we need all the elements to make a harmonious garden whole. As those albeit exciting herbaceous plants die down for their winter rest, we get the opportunity to reassess the bedrock and background to all our gardens - the permanent structure provided by shrubs.

The Herringbone Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis is one of the best.

Given room it spreads out, piling up its flat branches and smothering all weed. But against a wall, its striking fishbone-like twig formations press flat and fan out against the vertical surface providing a first class covering.

Common it may be, but there is good reason for that. It’s tough, serves many purposes and has full four season interest.

In spring its tiny, shiny fresh green leaves accentuate its unusual branch structure. By early summer it is completely smothered in small pink, nectar rich flowers.

By autumn they have developed into long lasting bright red berries, which are coupled in time by superb foliage colour before leaf fall.

Finally, through winter, when at long last the birds have stripped the berries from the stems, its flattened, arching sprays of branches are shown off to best effect.

The Herringbone cotoneaster is truly a plant for all seasons.

Chris Crowder is head gardener at Levens Hall Chris.crowder@me.com

Jobs to do this week: Lightly prune bush roses, cutting down the longest shoots to about half their height. This helps prevent winter wind-rock. Buffeting by gales will otherwise work them loose.

If you are leaving pots and containers outdoors, pop them up on to pot feet or pebbles to allow for better drainage.

Lay off water and feed for cacti and succulents. They need their winter’s rest, and can be easily killed by kindness in the form of too much moisture.