Pyracantha

June 11, 2010

Certain plants we take for granted – and pyracantha is one of them. But they are coming into flower right now, and what a terrific job they make of it, even if the dull cream flowers are not in themselves appealing (at least, not to me), especially as the infinitely more glamorous roses are just beginning.

Pyracanthas are a froth of flowers in June and are excellent wall shrubs

Pyracanthas – or firethorns – make good thorny hedging and are also excellent for training against a wall. This is a subject I’m planning on coming back to, as, at the end of the month, I’m leading a day at York Gate Garden at Adel, Leeds (I’ll be posting details on my website) for the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society (Perennial), a charity I’m thrilled to be associated with. At York Gate – among other plantings of note – is surely one of the most spectacular wall-trained pyracanthas in the country: tier upon tier rising up about 10 metres, the full height of the house.

I may be exaggerating – the memory plays tricks – but it’s certainly a wonderful thing. I’ll be giving instructions on how to do this in my July newsletter – and post a picture on this blog. I would love to see it in autumn, when its red fruits must sing out against the louring dark brick.

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Choisya ‘White Dazzler’

June 10, 2010

I’ve been intending to blog about choisyas (commonly known as Mexican orange blossom) for a while. They’re not among my favourite shrubs, most making uncompromisingly solid lumps of green (or, in the case of Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ bright yellow), but there are a couple I’m fond of.

A newcomer is a hybrid, ‘White Dazzler’. I have a small specimen of this that I’ve recently repotted (it will stay in its pot until I decide where to plant it). It is similar to ‘Aztec Pearl’ – also a hybrid, and one of its parents, and the one I usually recommend ­– but the narrow leaves are a lighter green. Apart from its white flowers (finished now), it has a hidden appeal – the leaves are scented.

The Mexican orange blossom flowers profusely in late spring

This unusual characteristic has been inherited from C. dumosa, its other parent. To appreciate this to the full, plant the shrub by the side of a path so you can brush its leaves as you walk past to release its sweet fragrance. There may well be a second (though lesser) flush of flowers in late summer/autumn.

Overall, ‘Aztec Pearl’ is probably the more elegant plant, being a darker green. But ‘White Dazzler’ is a worthwhile addition to any garden.

Robinia pseudoacacia

June 7, 2010

Last November, I was writing in disparaging terms about the yellow-leaved tree Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’.

Its parent species is a different matter entirely, and the fine specimen in my village square is currently in flower. (It’s possibly a hybrid – you never know.) The flowers, hanging down in pendulous white racemes, are similar to those of a wisteria or laburnum (to which the Robinia is related) and the whole tree has an open, elegant, airy appearance, which somehow ‘Frisia’ never quite achieves – and I don’t recall ever seeing this in flower.

The flowers of the robinia are very similar to a wisteria's

It is, however, a large tree. If space is at a premium, it’s worth considering as an alternative the pink-flowered Robinia hispida, a shrub that tops at around 3 metres. Bluebell Nurseries (bluebellnursery.com) recommend training it against a sunny wall, a lovely idea.

Lily beetle

June 3, 2010

After a busy day spent mostly in the car, I was looking forward to some down-time in the garden. However, I was dismayed to spot the lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) on my Stargazer lilies (now growing strongly in a large clay pot).

The lily beetle is easily identified - a beautiful creature but a serious pest

This is one of the worst pests known to gardeners. Unchecked, it will rapidly strip any lily of its leaves (and also fritillary, if it lights on any). It is, however, a handsome thing, a slim brilliant scarlet beetle. With a tough outer skeleton, it’s probably impervious to most chemical sprays. The best way of control is actually the simplest – pick them off between finger and thumb and squash them.

This is the first year I’ve seen them in my garden – hitherto, this has largely been a pest of southern England. But – like the berberis sawfly – it seems to be marching northwards.

Kerria japonica

May 24, 2010

There are certain plants that it is all too easy to take for granted, and Kerria japonica is one of them. With its scruffy flowers of rather too strong a yellow, it doesn’t live up to the desired oriental elegance promised by its graceful habit.

Kerria japonica has bright yellow pompon flowers

It’s a suckering shrub, but, with its thin, gently arching stems, is never invasive – and it is remarkably tolerant of neglect. I mention it now, not just because it is flowering in my own garden but because I have spotted in a neighbour’s garden the slightly more desirable single form. And on a walk through the village yesterday evening I came across the even nicer variegated one – a very desirable plant. I have made a mental note to beg some cuttings in July.

Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’

May 22, 2010

I was speaking to a group of gardeners the other day about slug-proof hostas. None is reliably so, but the blue-leaved types have a waxy coating on the leaves that the pests find less palatable.

One of my favourites is ‘Krossa Regal’, a very distinctive plant. The leaves are large and pointed towards the tips and are held on rather longer leaf stalks than is usual. This gives the whole plant a unique, vase-like appearance. Since this is one if its most attractive features, I prefer to grow mine in a large terracotta pot (painted white), so you can really appreciate the elegance of its habit.

'Krossa Regal' is one of the handsomest of the blue-leaved hostas

I always cut off the summer flowers, which to me have little charm. I was quite surprised to find a couple of audience members nodding in agreement – this is normally met with disapproval!

Peach leaf curl

May 18, 2010

Gratified as I was to see developing fruitlets on my peach tree, I was less pleased by a reddening and puckering of some of the leaves – peach leaf curl.

Peach leaf curl is a common fungal disease of peaches and related trees

This is a fungal disease (Taphrina deformans) that often strikes at this time of year. In a sense, it has already struck, as (as I understand it) the fungal spores have been resting in cracks in the tree bark over winter awaiting the onset of warmer (and damper) weather. Apparently, you are supposed to spray the tree with a fungicide in late winter, so it is too late to do much about it now.

Apart, that is, from removing all the affected leaves. This I have done – fortunately not too arduous, as it is still a very young tree and all parts are within easy reach. I have also read that you are supposed to remove the fruits as well – it helps the tree regenerate – but I cannot bring myself to do this. As it happens, only a proportion of the leaves were affected. The remainder have reached full length and appear healthy, so are unlikely to succumb at this stage. Any new leaves should also grow normally.

So I am prepared to take a chance on it (the plant is scarcely laden with fruit anyway). The tree is in my sheltered courtyard, and  I’ll be able to keep my eye on it as I’m constantly out here now the weather has warmed up.

Elaeagnus umbellata

May 17, 2010

Sometimes known as the autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata is a treasured plant in my garden. Around this time each year it is covered with creamy white flowers with a very distinctive scent.

The flowers of the autumn olive are small but sweetly scented

It should produce red fruits in autumn, but mine has never done this, and I wonder why. Though if it doesn’t, this is something to be grateful for. In many parts of the USA, the shrub has proved invasive, seeding itself everywhere – rather as UK gardeners come across the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) all over the place.

The leaves too are attractive – light green with a dusting of silver. And the shrub makes a good shape, spreading rather than upright. Mine is in a container for now, but I’ll plant it out when I find a suitable spot.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum

May 15, 2010

I’ve been asked to recommend some plants for a shady part of a garden, and I suddenly remembered Viburnum rhytidophyllum, a handsome shrub with rather an old-fashioned look to it.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum flowers in May

It’s a tough evergreen, with corrugated, thick green leaves with felty undersides. The heads of dull creamy white flowers are opening now – the whole thing is recognisably a viburnum but unlike any of the others. While it might eventually grow quite big (easily to 2 metres in both directions), it would tolerate pruning.

No doubt it would be best in full sun, but my experience of it is that it is remarkably tolerant and could be expected to perform well in pretty much any situation. In shade it might get a bit leggy in time but I’d expect it to stay healthy and give no trouble. A versatile plant.