In Praise of Euphorbia  

These beautiful and useful foliage plants add structure and texture to the garden. Their exotic-looking foliage can give a lush tropical feel to planting, but these handsome plants work equally well in more traditional schemes. The bright acid green euphorbia flowers in spring add zing to a border and beautifully complement purples and blues. There are many varieties to choose from, whether for height or ground cover, sun or shade. Here’s my pick of the best. 

E. characias wulfenii 

This is probably the most popular euphorbia. Its stems of bluish green leaves (up to 1.5m high) provide year-round rounded structure to the garden and look great with silvers and purples. From March it comes alive with with blowsy lime green flowers that perfectly complement plants such as Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ or alliums. It will tolerate some shade but prefers a sunny spot and is pretty drought tolerant once established – perfect for a gravel or Mediterranean garden. E. characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is a more compact version of wulfenii – growing to around 50cm.  

E. mellifera 

This is a beautiful exotic-looking plant with bright green evergreen leaves and rusty orange, honey-scented flowers in spring. It gets big – around 2m – so it’s perfect if you want a large architectural structure in your garden. Combining it with large or spiky leaved plants or bold pinks, oranges or reds with give it an exotic feel. It likes full sun or partial shade. 

E. pasteurii 

This has long striking leaves (though slightly darker green) and orangey flowers in early summer, but it’s smaller a 1.5 m in height. It’s another sun lover and looks good with yellow flowers or lush grasses such as Hackonachloea macra. 

E. Cyparissias 

This is a low growing deciduous variety with needle-like leaves and tiny yellow flowers. E. Myrsinites is another fab ground cover euphorbia with grey green evergreen foliage and lime green flowers.  

E. griffithii ‘Great Dixter’ 

If you want a bit of summer colour, this is fab. The warm orange flower heads in summer are followed by red and orange autumn leaves. Or E. griffithii has bright red flowers for even more of a wow factor. 

E. palustris  

With its fresh green foliage and mass of bright green flowers throughout the summer months, this is great for brightening up a sunny border – and will tolerate part shade. It looks amazing with blues, such as iris ‘Jane Phillips’ It reaches about 90cm. 

E. x martini 

With red-eyed flowers from march until late June, this striking euphorbia looks good with other dark red/pink early flowering perennials such as aquilegia. It’s compact and upright, at 75cm in height and is a good choice for a smaller sunny border. 

E. Amygdaloides var. robbiae 

Fab for brightening up a shady spot, this low growing (50cm) euphorbia is one of the earliest to flower, with dark glossy green leaves and fresh lime green flower that look great with dark purple tulips. Great ground cover, though it can be a bit invasive. E. amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ 


Some evergreen euphorbias need to have their faded blooms cut back after flowering, while others such as E. characias need their stems cut back down the ground after flowering, to encourage new shoots, which will flower the following spring. Deciduous varieties need to be cut down to the ground in autumn. Bear in mind that euphorbias have a thick milky sap than can be a skin irritant, so wear gloves and long sleeves. Wash off immediately if you do get some on your hands. Euphorbia’s do have a tendency to spread or self-seed – some more than others, but they’re easy enough to weed.